Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Asian Pop-Up Cinema partners with The Block, features screening of ‘Shankar’s Fairies’

Misha Oberoi/The Daily Northwestern
Irfana Majumdar made her directorial debut with “Shankar’s Fairies” in 2021.

Shot over a 35-day span, “Shankar’s Fairies,” directed by Irfana Majumdar and written by her mother Nita Kumar, is a bittersweet, unembellished glimpse into Kumar’s childhood in 1960s Lucknow, India.

The 2021 film was screened Wednesday as part of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema at The Block Museum series.

The inaugural initiative is the brainchild of Northwestern’s Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Asian Pop-Up Cinema, a Chicago film festival aiming to foster appreciation for Asian culture through cinema. The series included screenings of four films from South Korea, Japan, India and China on April 3, 4, 10 and 11, respectively.

Asian Pop-up Cinema founder and Executive Director Sophia Wong Boccio said she originally watched “Shankar’s Fairies” when it was chosen for the 57th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival in 2021.

“It’s such a personal movie, too, because it’s three generations of people involved with this: mom’s memory, her memory growing up in the house and also the house itself — it’s like a cast,” Wong Boccio said.

Based on true events from Kumar’s childhood, the film depicts a tender relationship between Anjana, a girl growing up in an upper-middle-class household, and Shankar, a personal servant of the family.

Although Anjana and Shankar’s warm friendship frequently lights up the screen, the film is often a commentary on the silent hierarchical relationships in the household — either within the family or within the larger class system that haunts post-colonial India, said Majumdar.

“I think that the hierarchical nature of the household is one of the main reasons why (my mother) wanted to tell the story,” Majumdar said in a Q&A after the screening.

She added that it was important to work with her family to bring this story to life.

Majumdar’s husband Gaurav Saini had many roles in the film’s production, including as an actor and associate director.

Majumdar also acted in the film.

“We had a lot of arguments, as you can imagine, but I have always believed that one should do those really hard things with the people who are closest to you,” she said.

Wilmette resident and producer Kayenn CocoMay said he was walking past The Block Museum when he saw an Indian film playing and decided to check it out.

CocoMay said his wife grew up in an Indian family with similar relationship dynamics and felt he could deeply relate to the film.

“I could relate to this movie in every sense of the way,” he said. “I like that the story was told exactly the way I’ve seen it, witnessed it in person.”

History Prof. Melissa Macauley, the chair of NU’s Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, said collaboration with Asian Pop-Up Cinema aims to bring films like “Shankar’s Fairies” to the North Shore to expand people’s awareness of Asian culture.

Macauley said the department has also found ways to incorporate the screenings into its curriculum. Japanese language Prof. Noriko Taira Yasohama said she tasked her students with writing a review of the Japanese film in the Japanese language. She then passed on the reviews to the director of the film.

“We are hoping to make this an ongoing relationship,” Macauley said. “I think the students really do enjoy it. Writing a movie review that the director himself is going to read … I wish I could do it.”

Both Macauley and Wong Boccio said they hope to make this partnership an annual series.

Malia Haines-Stewart, associate film programmer at The Block, said the museum is eager to continue supporting Asian Pop-Up Cinema by providing space and future iterations.

“I feel very good, and the department seems to be happy about it,” Wong Boccio said. “For next year, we should do even better.”

Email: [email protected]

Related Stories:
Curtis Chin talks memoir at Evanston ASPA event
The Block encourages innovation, contemplation in new exhibitions
Vertigo’s ‘The Thing About The Dream’ explores assimilation, self-reflection and South Asian identity ‘The Thing About The Dream’ reflects on South Asian identity

More to Discover