Searching For Hope at the Bottom

February 23, 2009

Gargi Shinde is an actress portraying a Pakistani illegal in the Oscar nominated film, “Frozen River,” starring Melissa Leo, who is also nominated for Best Actress. Though the film didn’t win both Best Original Screen Play and Best Actress awards last evening, Shinde is proud to be part of this fine feature film.

But Shinde is not only an actress. She is an instructor in the Department of Speech, Communications and Theatre Arts and a full time faculty member since last semester. And she loves her scholarship and teaching.

Early love of theatre arts
Shinde, who is a theatre scholar, and is actually Indian, has inherited her love for performance from her mother. She began training in Indian classical dance and music as a young girl in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India.  She says she was very fortunate to have two of the finest artists in both fields mentoring her.

“I have been performing since I was ten with my first television appearance on Indian national television. I am a classical dancer and I lecture on the history of Kathak, which is a northern Indian dance form, heavily influenced by Persian music and dance.”

She is also a classically trained sitarist and collaborated on several original compositions integrating Eastern and Western music. The sitar is a classical Indian stringed instrument.

A history of acting and directing
While “Frozen River” is her first film, Shinde has acted in numerous plays, whether in the United States or in India. Among some of the productions, she appeared in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. She has also directed Waiting for Godot in Mumbai and co-authored Purush, which was awarded “Best Original Script” in the Hindi language.

“I have a relatively young career at the moment. Theatre is my first love so I am currently in a production at Columbia University, in an adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. As soon as that one closes I’m in a screwball comedy with the Heights Players in Brooklyn.”

Making her way to “Frozen River”
Shinde says she was fortunate to get her role in “Frozen River” because one of her directors at SUNY Albany (where she received her M.A. in Theatre) had seen Shinde in a production and recommended her to Courtney Hunt, the director.

“One evening Courtney and I just had coffee in Albany, and we just talked. It wasn’t an interview. She wanted to get a sense of who I was and that was it.  She offered me the part of a Pakistani illegal. Then she contacted Rajesh Bose, an actor, to play the role of my husband in the production. And so he came on board. We were literally found actors who just came together.”

Shinde says “Frozen River” takes place in the days before Christmas near a little-known border crossing on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec. Here, the lure of fast money from smuggling presents a daily challenge to single moms who would otherwise be earning minimum wage. Two women – one white, one Mohawk, both single mothers faced with desperate circumstances – are drawn into the world of border smuggling across the frozen water of the St. Lawrence.

For Shinde the film is also a story about struggle–for survival and to keep the family unit together– a theme that runs throughout “Frozen River.” Andrew Urban, an online movie critic for, reveals that struggle when he writes, “the two women land in difficulties more than once, and there is a moment of extreme tension when a fleeing Pakistani couple bring along a duffle bag, which the women promptly abandon on the ice, only to later learn of its precious contents.”
Acting and Teaching
Shinde admits that her acting definitely informs her teaching.  She sees a hunger among the students at BMCC. When speaking to her students she says, “Your goal should be to be an effective speaker, actor, musician, or professional, what have you.” She adds, “They are a great age. They are very open and are willing to learn.”

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