A Londoner on a mission to celebrate cinema from all parts of India

A Londoner on a mission to celebrate cinema from all parts of India

Ashanti Omkar is a London-based film lover and critic who has been deeply connected with Indian cinema for several years, including as a collaborator with the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF).

Here, the Sri Lankan born broadcaster, who grew up in Denmark and West Africa, reflects on her cinematic and musical journey, strong connect with India and some of her life lessons.

As a child, I would visit London on holiday but I had never visited India until my mid-20s, when I fell in love with the country. I'd grown up learning Indian and Western classical music as a child aged 7, and my learning continues to date. I was also immersed in Indian cinema while living in Nigeria, thus rooted to the sounds and the culture.

My parents, being Tamils, instilled many of their values into me, from embracing Hinduism, to a sound understanding of the Thamizh language. Funnily, it was when I moved to London aged 12, that I really embraced Indian culture, from weekly trips to the temple to a deeper love for Indian music. The access I had to Indian culture in east London, where we lived, made it so easy to buy an A.R. Rahman or Ilayaraja CD in Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam, or Telugu back then.

My music classes allowed me to experience teachers from Bengaluru, Chennai, and Jaffna, which gave me a strong understanding of India, all while enjoying the UK pop charts, and following artistes I loved, like Michael Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and in future years, soul, RnB and Hip Hop music.

I love that I can champion India to the UK, and to an extent, vice versa, through my work and my social media.

Life lessons

The world is your oyster. Don't assume that what your parents did for a living is what you're meant to be doing. You can learn anything; you can walk into any career you choose. Embrace the idea that knowledge is power, and that technology will change the world.

Meet, mingle, network, and take full advantage of the energy you have as a teenager, and at university, and don't get stuck in a single circle. Learn all you can, travel all you can, embrace the sheer diversity of the world. I'm blessed that my dad introduced me to an early Apple computer when he was a professor in Nigeria, and technology was part of the science department, where he was a brilliant Mathematician. I had immediately understood the potential of technology, that very day, but didn't push to do more with it till I was 16, as my school had less resources at the time. But once I delved into technology, it opened a lot for me.

Keeping up with technology is imperative to life today, but use your time online (and offline) wisely. In Tamil, we have a saying "Vaaname Ellai", which means the "the sky is the limit", so go shatter those glass ceilings.

Career highlights

Interviewing Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra were some highlights for me, as I'd watched ‘Sholay’ countless times as a child in Nigeria, where it was screened on TV. Working with BAFTA, double Grammy, double Oscar winner A.R. Rahman (pictured above) on various projects is another highlight.

An unforgettable moment was meeting Aamir Khan in Golden Square, Soho, where he took me on to work on his independent films. My consultancy work has brought me in contact with Deepika Padukone, Gillian Anderson, Priyanka Chopra, Sharmila Tagore, Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Freida Pinto, the late Irrfan Khan, and many such talented people I greatly admire.

I have also been invited as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the UK Critics' Circle, which have been some milestones in my career thus far.

by Ashanti Omkar

Ashanti, a collaborator of the London & Birmingham Indian Film Festival, presents her eponymous weekly radio show at the BBC Asian Network and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

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