Sapna Moti Bhavnani is a person who embodies a sort of fearlessness that is hard to find. She is an artist, a filmmaker, and an activist who believes in self-expression no matter the odds. She is known to be a rebel but her rebellious streak isn’t one that exists without a cause.
Sapna’s life story is so interesting that it could easily be made into a movie. In order to dabble more into her life, we caught up with Sapna this week and tried to find out more about Sapna’s interests, her passions, and the things that she truly believes in.
Sapna’s early life and role models
I was 18 when I went to America and that was in 1989. Back then, India was not as regressive as it is today. I think we were far more progressive then, and clubs were open till 5 am in the morning in Bombay. But, I felt like when I got to America, somehow the freedom of expression that I experienced was something that was really really amazing for someone like me. I felt that in India it was way too early to have women express themselves. Of course, there were a few that did it and sort of paved the way.
My role model was Protima Bedi. She still is. I don’t think anyone comes close to her when it comes to being rebellious like, for instance, streaking on Juhu beach for a magazine. That was something that really wowed me. Growing up with that and also looking up at people like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi were moments that stayed with me. It kind of also encouraged me to shave my head when I was just 14 or 15. But, I think these moments were way ahead of their time.
Did living in America change you or impact you personally?
As far as living in America goes, I went to a college in the Chicago area. I went to a really ‘white’ college and it was a private college. I wanted to study fashion in the beginning but back then studying fashion was not something that was encouraged and I ended up getting a double major in marketing and communications with a minor in public speaking. Once I finished and got out on my own, I moved into Boystown, Chicago. I feel like my first apartment in 1991-92 was such an amazing eye-opener.
Growing up I always idolized Boy George, and to actually be able to get to America and live in a neighborhood where I was surrounded by such freedom of expression was amazing. The LGBT+ community and their struggles were still considered taboo back in ’91-’92 in America forget about the rest of the world. It was quite wonderful, though, to be a part of that community. I met Flame there who soon became one of my best friends. She helped introduce me to a new land and a new life that was utterly fabulous in a lot of ways.
About art in general and what it represents
I don’t really have an art form that I like the most. I see art in everything. Anything that one does, can be turned into art based on the person’s interests and the person’s intentions. I also feel like that IS the beauty of art. It makes you see things in perspectives that you wouldn’t have even imagined. Art also has the ability to change your perspective in a beautiful way. It has this uncanny ability to break barriers and tends to not blend with the mundane.
When my mom first came to America, she met Flame for the first time and was shocked at the neighborhood that I was staying in! But, Flame invited us for dinner, cooked a wonderful meal, and gave us an impromptu show where she performed and my mom was completely blown away. She came back a changed person.
Moreover, my dad used to own a cabaret bar in Bombay called ‘The Blue Nile’, and a lot of families used to come to watch the cabaret. Can you imagine? This was during the 1970s in India!
So, yeah. Art does have a unique way of changing people’s perspectives and impacting people’s lives.
What are your thoughts on the decriminalization of section 377 and the current LGBTQ climate in India?
It’s not just the LGBTQ climate in India, but everything in India that is happening at this moment. It’s just shit! We’re all in the same shitty boat. We have loads and loads of miles to walk before we become comfortable in our own shoes.
But, when it comes to the LGBTQ community, I’m really happy to see that there are so many voices that HAVE come out in India. There are so many voices that are out there leading the way. My only thing is that in villages, there still are a lot of people who are fighting their sexuality. I know this because I have a little house on the rural side next to an Adivasi village and there is a little girl there who goes to school. She’s probably in ninth grade, but, somehow she came out to me. The saddest thing, however, is that she’s petrified and has no avenues through which she can express herself.
We are all in that ‘city’ state of mind and someone needs to penetrate and give rural people a voice.
Can you tell us a little bit about Sindhustan? How did the idea of Sindhustan take birth?
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. happy to announce that my film @sindhustan.thedocumentary is an official entry and in competition at the Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival ! Many more announcements coming soon! #tothemoon Please follow @akbarpains_pictures if you would like to know of my future projects as there are many lined up 🖤 #filmmaking . . . . #losangelesmotionpicturefestival #losangeles #film #documentary #sindhustanthedocumentary #sindh #india #pakistan #partition #sapnabhavnani #directorslife #filmfestival #inked #tattoo #tribe #refugees #sindhi #2020
Once you kind of grow up, at whatever age that might be, this constant question of ‘Where the fuck am I from?’ does come up. You want to know more about your roots. For me, personally, because I lived for 14 years in America, I had a lot of questions. In America, I was very disconnected from India. I did not carry my Indian roots with me at all. I just wanted to live the life that was present in front of my own two eyes. Eventually, I got bored with that life, and that is what made me come back.
As soon I came back it was very evident that there was an itch inside of me that really wanted to know where I was from. So Sindhustan kind of started because of that itch. With Sindhis, you know, a lot of people have no idea who we are. It’s as if we’re magic. We’re there but we’re not there!
Here is the teaser to Sindhustan:
The performance that had Sapna intrigued
So I started digging and I had gone to see Susheela Raman, a good friend of mine perform and there were a few Sindhi people who came onto the stage to perform before her. Every single person there was so blown away at what they had seen. My boyfriend at the time who had come to see the performance with me told me, “Do you realize that’s where you’re from?’ and I just had to find out more. I went home, googled, and started finding out more about my roots. This is how I found out that Abida Parveen is also Sindhi. This fact changed a lot of things for me. She’s the only woman to penetrate the Qawwali world and does not look at herself as a gender. She has this one quote – “I’m not a man or a woman. I’m just a vessel for divinity.”
That, to me, is exactly what a human is and what sexuality is. We’re all just floating somewhere in between, trying to just figure shit out, man.