It is rare that an 8 minute documentary trailer would make me cry, but that is what Ravi Chand’s “Five Year Grandma” did. For the most part, I think it is how Chand narrates as it comes directly from the heart and stems from his experience – issues ALL Asian Australians face growing up as a “minority”– self hate, doubt, being a target of racism and just wanting to desperately fit in with the other kids.
After having a conversation with him (which included an interview), I reflected upon all the similarities in the experiences Chand and I had growing up, and as adults we are pretty much on par in terms of being passionate about our Asian roots as well as understand issues around colonialism and the importance of being able to communicate in our cultural tongues. But what makes Chand’s life story really special is how he describes his grandma who waited to find him for 24 years in the same house in Fiji which Chand was bought up in as a toddler. Chand’s documentary not only talks about reconnecting with his grandma with whom he thought had died, but also connects the impact of racism on a personal level and delves into the history of colonialism of South Asians in Australia and Fiji. This documentary project is definitely something worthy of supporting.
As a Fiji Indian Australian man, bringing up a young family in Melbourne, Chand spoke to me about all his childhood years of self hate, and not wanting to be who he really is. He like many of us would delude himself trying to be other people in a bid to fit in with the majority and just to be accepted.
Whenever I think about navigating my identity and understanding who I am, it always ended up being a complex answer. Growing up in Australia and as a brown kid who lost his mum at an early age, I use to get asked “what are you? and where are you from?”. It always was perplexing when these questions got asked, because really how do you answer them? I just wanted to be treated as an “Australian”. But later on I realised that I was born in Fiji with Indian heritage and uniquely Aussie – and really that is pretty cool. Even as an adult, I am still finding out about myself, my identity and my history. It took me 24 years to really try to reconnect and understand that the grandma whom I thought I had lost was waiting for me and that she was the key into opening up who I was.
As I continue to research more about all this, I feel I am more myself. Growing up, the only black people I used to see on television were hip hop artists and for awhile I identified as “black” rather than “brown”. It took time for me to acknowledge and be proud of being “brown” and it was due to more people of colour coming into Australia which made me realise this. I am still finding out about myself and I think there is a lot more to find out as I am in the process of rediscovering myself.
Chand’s documentary project “Five Year Grandma”, as stated above is all about him reconnecting with his grandma in Fiji as well as discussing his journey of self discovery of his identity, racism and the history of colonialism. What is most interesting about this premise is how much emotions must be invested to create such a personal project, and this is what Chand and I discussed – how did he feel in not only reconnecting with his grandma, but also with his Fiji Indian heritage.
With regards to reconnecting with my grandma, just before I walked into her house for the first time, she had already lost 6 of her 8 children (including my mum), so really I not only represented the grandson with whom she missed, but also a piece of her representing all her lost children, particularly my mum. My grandma told me that I am like her son, her best friend and her everything. It was the most pure and unconditional love I have felt in my entire life, and as I found out more about her I realise that I am who I am because of her.
As I said earlier, growing up I saw no one who looked like me on TV and I never knew about any heroes who looked like me. As a kid I would watch all the cowboys and Indian films and at a certain point in life, I realised that I am the Indian/bad guy and that we were and are portrayed as idiots on screen or as stereotypical taxi drivers and terrorists. It took me ages to convince people I used to meet for the first time that I wasn’t Apu from the Simpsons, so all that really made me feel ashamed of who I am. On the feelings of reconnecting to my Fiji Indian heritage ( after all the above trauma I faced), I realise how much of my culture I had ostracised in a bid to assimilate.
But when I met my grandma, she told me that I am who I am and should never be ashamed of it. She told me I was her son, the blood in her veins and I was born in Fiji with Indian heritage and I should be proud of who I am and have become. Her saying this to me led me to start research into colonialism and I realised it is a structural thing to contrive and hence we have white supremacy. When other Asian kids go through this process of understanding who they are, they need to know that we are all interconnected in some way, that we are all different and that’s okay.
Finally, Chand and I discussed the topic of representation and visibility in Australian film, TV and media ( as we always do on this site) to find out what he thinks about this issue.
I think there is certainly positive steps forward in Australia particularly seeing what Screen Australia and Film Victoria are doing to push this topic into action and I commend them on it. To be honest, I wouldn’t be where I am today without Film Victoria whose program was aimed at telling diverse stories. This is not to say that we do not need more representation, of course we do, but what is most important is to be able to tell authentic stories. We must also ensure that those telling the stories represent the community the story originates from and they must be in the writers’ room, making the decisions and actually contributing to the direction of the story/project. There is definitely more work to be done in this area but when we push we will see more positives for diverse stories.
If you are interested in checking out the trailer for the documentary project, please check out this YouTube link. To donate and support Chand’s work and the “Five Year Grandma” documentary project, please click here (the website) to donate. The project is supported by Documentary Australia Foundation, so every donation made by an Australian resident over $2 will be tax deductible. Also, don’t forget to check out the Five Year Grandma Facebook page to get updates and find out more information. But really, anyone from anywhere around the world can donate to this awesome project!