SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — What happens when Sita from the U.S. meets Jisha from India, and the two girl cousins are forced to share an apartment in Hollywood? This is the premise of a new Web series, “THE FOB & I,” which aims to dismiss the stereotypes and misinterpretations of Indian culture, as well as showcasing how people who might share genes might not share their personalities.
Directed by Indian American Meenakshi Ramamurthy, the series chronicles the journey of Jisha, a starry-eyed fresh off the boat woman, who lands in San Francisco to live with her cousin Sita, who was born in the U.S. and is as American as apple pie.
“Realizing that there are a lot of stereotypes about people who come fresh off the boat, I wanted to have an authentic portrayal of Indians and Indian Americans,” Ramamurthy told India-West by phone from Los Angeles.
“A lot of times when kids are raised in America, their parents come here and raise them in the India that they grew up in, maybe the India of 1970s and 80s, and they are kind of stuck in time. We wanted to see what happens when those two versions of the same India are staying in the same household.”
Sita, who has lived her whole life in America, is too cool for school, cynical, sarcastic and a little culturally ignorant, while Jisha, who has lived her whole life in India, is outgoing, feisty, and can’t wait to take on every experience America has to offer.
The series, which reflects the many colors of the Indian culture, and not just the stereotypes, is a heartfelt and poignant portrayal of the two women who have been forced to live together by their parents.
Will they be able to find a way to take on each other’s culture or live up to each other’s expectations?
This five-episode series, replete with light-hearted moments — such as when Sita learns how to wear a sari, or when Jisha tries to form a romantic alliance with an African American and dreams Bollywood-esque dance sequences — will strike a chord with anyone who went through an adjustment period in the U.S., said Ramamurthy, though the target audience, she added, is first-generation Indian American women.
“A lot of people who grew up in America will relate to the content. The art of the characters relates to people on the larger scale; it appeals to anybody who has ever felt out of place or felt they didn’t belong here,” Ramamurthy told India-West.
“I think there is a backdrop of cultural festivals and cultural issues, and for people who are not Indian, it will be nice to learn about the differences and the different Indian cultures,” she added.
The series also highlights the inherent differences of the lead actors, who are Indian cousins, but have been raised under different circumstances and are very different women.
“I also wanted to show that there can be a lot of differences just in the place you grew up in. We wanted to make sure we were creating complex Indian characters on screen,” explained the Los Angeles-based director.
“A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of cultures in India can be very progressive. The stereotypes are very conservative, so we wanted to show a side that has not been seen before.”
“THE FOB & I” was made with resources provided by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and New Form Digital, a digital media production company funded by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
Ramamurthy is a radio-television film graduate of the University of Texas and a recent graduate of the University of California’s Master of Fine Arts production program. She is a recipient of the James Bridges Directing scholarship and the Jack Oakie scholarship in honor of Lisa Kudrow.
Uttera Singh, who stars as Jisha, is an actress who completed her training in acting from New York, and is currently completing her Master of Fine Arts in film production at the University of California.
Shefali Deshay, who plays Sita, graduated in musical theater from the University of California, and is now pursuing acting full time.
Singh’s energy as the fish-out-of-water Jisha is contagious, while Deshay is funny and charming as Sita, and the series is warm and witty, drawing inspiration from real-life situations and encounters.
The Web series will be released on YouTube and Vimeo Dec. 9.
Watch the "The Fob and I" trailer: