“Isha” is a cinematic work-in-progress both literally and figuratively. Recently a 15-minute screening, as well as an actual location shoot, happened back-to-back at Long Island City’s Clock Tower Gallery as part of the ongoing How Much Do I Owe You? exhibition. It’s a ballsy attempt by Indian writer/director Meenakshi Thirukode to break into show biz and the art world in one fell swoop. Some of it is good, some not so good. But, as they might say in a Busby Berklee musical, “The girl’s certainly got moxie.”
There already exists a subgenre of “young (girl) comes to big city to make it,” starting with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, then Sex and the City which morphed into Lena Dunham’s Girls, as well as the snarky art world send-up Gallery Girls, and even smatterings of Ryan Trecartin’s hilarious opus of cinematic tuff fluff.
“Isha” is huge on ambition and wonky on acting, pacing, and technical finesse but worth noting even in its current start-up phase for a number of reasons. Isha, an East Indian middle class girl, gets an acceptance letter (according to Episode One) to work (intern?) at Christie’s Auction House in New York City — the chance of a lifetime, except Mummy and Baba must foot the $60,000 bill to send their sumptuous little samosa-ji to New York. With Daddy having been recently unemployed for two years, a rich uncle steps in to loan the money (with accruing interest, and further plot twists promised down the line), and Isha jets off to pursue her ultimate goal of becoming “an internationally acclaimed independent curator.”
Doesn’t sound like much. But there is a different aesthetic and premise operating here that calls for a reevaluation. First, when Isha arrives in America she not-so-magically transforms into a “woman of color,” an irrelevant term in her comfortable middle class world in India, but oozing with meaning when the coddled girl child finds herself quickly categorized as exotic “other.”
Thirukode plays up that exoticness by having Isha traipse through the New York, snottier-than-thou art world (including scenes from Bushwick’s own Bogart Street lofts) not in the vein reality TV show or docudrama, but with all the hyperbole, trappings, and vampings of a full blown Bollywood soap opera, where overkill and cliche are the name of the game. It’s a robust genre decidedly not endemic to North America that even makes telenovelas pale by comparison. Promised for future chapters are “dream-like fantasies with live performance,” which play out like flashbacks steeped in memory mit schlag. They promise to combine “Art,” “Fear,” “Betrayal,” “Egos,” “Love,” and, of course, this being India, “The Mothers-in-Law,” as Isha deals with a creepy collector, a privileged white man, and an evil gallerist. This gives Thirukode wide latitude to mess up in the execution and production and get away with it because she’s inventing the form by the seat of her pants, mashing up ancient Indian culture, Bollywood, highbrow art, docudrama, and reality TV shows with a hacker, DIY aesthetic.
Thirukode also takes relational aesthetics to a whole new level by asking anyone and everyone who is in the room (gallery) at any given moment to play a character in her hopeful, 12-hour-to-be opus, thus snatching her cast by the seat of their pants (or saris) and feeding them lines about 30 seconds before production. She then barks “shoot” before the hapless volunteer realizes what they have gotten themselves into. I saw one Korean artist from the Clocktower exhibition pulled in to play a bitchy gallery director. Under those daunting circumstances, she actually wound up having a hoot of a time pulling it off.
After all, this is New York. With a dollar and a dream, hey, you never know.
Isha: A Tell-All Tale showed on February 2 from 4 to 6pm at No Longer Empty at The Clock Tower in Queens, as part of the exhibition How Much Do I Owe You? Hyperallergic’s review of How Much Do I Owe You? was published on December 19, 2012: “Revealing the Hidden Truths of the Financial World Through Art.”