Not very often does an occasion come where two legendary Zarathushti women photographers have exhibitions of their works on the eastern seaboard of the United States. However now is one such time. In July, India’s pioneering woman photographer Homai Vyarawalla’s retrospective opened at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York.
And come October 25th, 2012 Sooni Taraporevala shall exhibit her pictures from the seminal book “Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India” at the Carpenter Center, Harvard University.
The result of a thirty-five year labor of love, Sooni Taraporevala’s Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India is the first visual documentation of India’s Parsi community, followers of the world’s first prophet, Zarathustra. Taraporevala offers a rare insider’s view of how the Parsis, a people whose ancestors sailed from Iran to India in 936 AD to escape persecution, survive today as a religious and ethnic minority of India—and exist in small communities in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
Unesco recently celebrated 3,000 years of Zoroastrianism, once the religion of Cyrus the Great’s mighty Persian Empire. The world’s oldest monotheistic religion greatly influenced other major religions and civilizations, and its followers once numbered in the millions. Today Parsi Zoroastrians are said to be on the verge of extinction: of an Indian population of more than one billion, Parsis number a mere 76,000. Yet the community has produced many well-known leaders and artists, including the world-renowned conductor, Zubin Mehta; the late rock legend Freddy Mercury; and the international award-winning author, Rohinton Mistry. Part of the Indian fabric for over 1,000 years, Parsis have gained a reputation as a highly educated and urban people who are quite private about their religious practices, which include leaving their dead in specially designed open air towers for vultures to devour, a last act of charity on earth.
Taraporevala’s photographs offer a vivid window into Parsi life in all its vibrancy and diversity. Her lens takes us from public celebrations to private rituals, from fire-temples to living rooms, from the streets of Bombay to the villages of Gujarat. An intimate insider’s view, Parsis is a stunning chronicle that brings to life a community of intense contradictions and endurance.
Sooni Taraporevala was born and raised in Bombay, India. After studying at Queen Mary School, she received a scholarship to Harvard University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and took courses in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies in film and photography. She earned a Masters of Arts from New York University in film theory and criticism, and returned to India to work as a freelance still photographer. Her photographs have been exhibited in India, the United States, France, and Britain.In 2000 she authored and published a book of her photographs titled PARSIS: The Zoroastrians of India, A Photographic Journey which went into a second edition in 2004. In 1986 she wrote her first screenplay, Salaam Bombay!, for director/producer Mira Nair. The film was nominated for an Oscar, won more than twenty-five awards worldwide, and earned Taraporevala the Lillian Gish Award from Women in Film. Her second screenplay, Mississippi Masala, also for Mira Nair, was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and won the Osella award for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival. Her other production credits include the film Such a Long Journey, based on the novel by Rohinton Mistry and directed by Sturla Gunnarson, which earned Taraporevala a Genie nomination from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television; My Own Country, based on the book by Abraham Verghese and directed by Mira Nair for Showtime television; the film Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar directed by Dr Jabbar Patel for the Government of India and the National Film Development Corporation of India, and The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair, based on the book by Jhumpa Lahiri. She directed her first feature film, Little Zizou based on her own screenplay which was released in 2008 and won ten international awards including the Audience Choice Award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, Time/Warner Best Screenplay and Best Director awards at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council film festival in New York city. She lives in Bombay with her husband Dr Firdaus Bativala, and their two children, Jahan and Iyanah.
SOONI TARAPOREVALA: PARSIS The Zoroastrians of India
October 25—December 20, 2012
Sooni Taraporevala in conversation with Homi Bhabha
Thursday, October 25, 6 pm
Reception in the Sert Gallery to follow
Screening: LITTLE ZIZOU, with director Sooni Taraporevala in person
Q&A to follow
Saturday, October 27, 2 pm, Harvard Film Archive
free and open to the public