Girl Rising: Day Three at the IIFA in Tampa, Florida

Ruksana was a small child, living with her parents, on the streets of an unnamed Indian city, They were so poor that they hadn’t a proper home, instead they lived behind and below plastic sheeting, and corrugated cardboard, and pieces of wood or bits of tarpaulin. Life in this city was described by the narrator (speaking as an adult Ruksana):

This place teemed with life. With so many people each going their own way like thousands and thousands of different rivers.

As poor as they were, Ruksana’s parents sacrificed what little they had to keep her in school. They deemed that an education was the only chance for Ruksana to escape from the endless chains of poverty that go on for generations and generations in some parts of the world.

Then later, when urban planners, government ministers, city health inspectors, and private developers put their heads together, the shanties, and street dwellings came down. The people were displaced under the guise of urban renewal.

Now the narrator spoke again in the voice, or thoughts of a young Ruksana:

With thousands and thousand of rivers, we are now adrift.

It was a heart breaking moment. The narration for this particular segment was made by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra. What’s more, this segment also included another famous voice, that of Liam Neeson.

The film is called Girl Rising and it is the story of nine girls from Peru to Nepal, from Sierra Leone in Africa to India, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Haiti. Their stories are remarkable.

Here’s a description of the film from the website

From Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins, Girl Rising journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned actors give them voice.

The voice actors included Anne Hathaway, Priyanka Chopra, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett, Chloe Moretz, Kerry Washington, and Liam Neeson.

To say the film has impact is just being truthful as well as being an understatement. As we hear in the film in the voices of some of the girls portrayed: I am change. I am my own master now. I feel as if now I have power. I feel I can do anything.

Said another way: One girl with courage is a revolution.

And from the trailer: There comes a film – about changing the world – one girl at a time.

The India segment of Girl Rising was played for those of us in attendance on Day Three of the IIFA. Held in the Tampa Convention Center, this was a part of the FICCI-IIFA Business Forum. There was a panel on hand to discuss the Girl Rising film, the Girl Rising Project, and the absolute necessity of educating young girls so they can become empowered as adults.

The panel was chaired by Renu Khator, the president and chancellor of the University of Houston, and three Indian actresses – Priyanka Chopra, Shabana Azmi, and Sakina Jaffrey, most recently seen in House of Cards. Also on hand was Tara Abrahams, a Deputy Director of Girl Rising.

(l) Priyanka Chopra and (r) Tara Abrahams

(l) Priyanka Chopra and (r) Tara Abrahams courtesy – Wizcraft International/IIFA

The topics ranged from why educating girls is so necessary and important, to each of the panelists telling the audience which filled six meeting rooms opened into one huge room, about their parents and the life they experienced as young girls, and how those experiences shaped and molded them. They also discussed what led them to not only supporting Girl Rising, but how they became a part of the film and the continuing project.

Sakina Jaffrey

Sakina Jaffrey speaking at Girl Rising – courtesy -Wizcraft International/IIFA

I thought this was for me, time spent beautifully. I’m sorry that I’m not able to quote the actresses and Tara and Renu, but trust me, I was impacted.

So you know, this segment of Girl Rising was a world premiere – we were told that we were the first people on the planet to see this film segment in public. As I said, I was tremendously impressed. So much so that I have ordered the DVD.

As of now, the film is not playing in theaters, but it is available via streaming and or DVD. There are currently 10 theaters nationwide that will be screening this film, in May and June, and about 144,671 tickets reservations have been placed at this time. In comparison over 1,000, 000 people have viewed the trailer

As a post script, I had a chance to talk with Sakina Jaffrey. While she is the daughter Saeed and Madhur Jaffrey, both native-born Indians as well as film actors, Sakina grew up in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. She related how few Indians lived in the city in the 60’s and 70’s. And that a sighting of an Indian was a rarity. I told her that I had been to her Mom’s restaurant Dawat on East 58th Street more than few times.

I also told Sakina how nice it was to see her smile, as on House of Cards, as Linda Vasquez, the White House Presidential Chief of Staff, she never smiled. That brought out a bright new smile right in front of me. When I asked her if she was going to return to House of Cards for a third season, she told me she had been told by the producers of the show to not reveal any answer to that question. So we will see.

In the mean time, have a look at the Girl Rising trailer: