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RITE OF PASSAGE

Sisterhood on the campaign trail

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RITE OF PASSAGE: From body image to body hair, the film explores issues that crop up in every 20-something's life

A bitter-sweet coming of age movie in which passions meets politics has won the first Nora Ephron Prize. The director of 'Farah Goes Bang', Meera Menon on why she wanted to tackle female friendship

It is a road movie, 90 minutes of spliff-smoking in loos, fart jokes and skinny dipping. There are black eyes, assault charges and arrests, bail. Some things go wrong and a lot of things go right. No, this is not Hangover Part III. 

Farah Goes Bang is a coming-of-age story of three young women featuring, one Iranian-American, an Indian-American and a white American. The film has just won the first Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival (it was an official selection). Directed by Meera Menon, 28, it was awarded for work and talent that embody the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker and writer, who gave us extraordinary films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Julie and Julia. 

Feisty, idealistic, unapologetic, confident, self-deprecatorily funny - the three early-20 somethings could actually be characters out of an Ephron film. Menon, an Indian-American and a first time writer/filmmaker, believes it is impossible to be a female writer who hasn't been influenced by Ephron, especially by how the latter finds humour and humanity in painful and shameful personal experiences. 

In Menon's film, Farah, Roopa and KJ, embark on a trip with two objectives - to help John Kerry win the US presidential election in 2004 by campaigning for him door-to-door and ensure that Farah loses her virginity along the way. The film tackles two diverse issues on parallel tracks with equal urgency - divisive politics in a country torn apart by a war and the deeply personal one of losing one's virginity. 

For Menon, who co-wrote the story with Laura Goode (producer), an old and close friend, the 2004 Kerry campaign was chosen deliberately because of a personal connection. "I was a college student during that campaign and I, like many others, was politically motivated by the direction our country was moving in. A lot of young people had a lot to say about the war and it was a tremendous growing experience. It was a good backdrop for a coming-of-age movie, " says Menon. 

The Kerry campaign also had a comedic side. It was piloted by a lot of energetic and excited young people who wanted to motivate change but they could not because of the candidate. Menon, who didn't go doorto-door to campaign for Kerry but did volunteer for political events in New York City, says, "I totally respect him as a politician but he is not really a sparkling personality like our current President". The movie pokes fun at Kerry's campaign and lays bare its weaknesses. But it also displays youthful idealism and hope when Roopa, at the outset of the roadtrip, says: "This is our generation's 1968. Our Vietnam. We might not have Bobby Kennedy but we cannot let this one (Kerry) get away". 

Farah Goes Bang packs a whole lot in - immigrant angst and ambition, political strife and bigotry, body image, boy problems and Asian vs American body hair issues. "That time-period has a lot of different kind of revelations and self discoveries, some are sexual, some are political, and some are romantic. There is just so much growing up to do in the 20s, " says Menon. 

But the film does not delve deep into Farah's or Roopa's immigrant pasts and motivations. True to the ephemeral nature of films about journeys, this one also has that gentle touch that can feel a bit shallow. "We wanted to stick to the aspects of self-discovery. We wanted Farah's past referenced (she is of Iranian descent) but not highlighted. This is a story of girls who are completely American but from various backgrounds, they make up the fabric of America. They are young and confused but are trying to find their way. I never saw my face in most American coming-of-age movies though I was born and raised here. This movie is what I see as America, " says Menon, who grew up with movies. Daughter of Vijayan Menon, a producer from Kerala, she says that her father might not have influenced her filmmaking style but he did teach her how important movies are to a culture. 

Farah Goes Bang is essentially a celebration of modern female friendship, of the times it can inspire and those when it can fail. It is also refreshingly feminist in tone without being preachy about it. In a way, Menon's collaboration with her girlfriend, Goode, aided the writing process. She feels it was necessary to write a story on female friendship with a woman who has been one of her closest friends since the age of 18. Some scenes, such as the one where Roopa and KJ argue about hair removal for brown versus white skin, are inspired by a real-life conversation between Goode and Menon. 

The three characters - the intense, ambitious Roopa, the spunky, slightly wayward KJ and the sensitive, subdued but deep Farah - are glued together with the hope of a new dawn in their country and personal lives. Menon sees a bit of herself in all three characters. She says, "I actually see aspects of all the women I know in these three. With them, we are trying to show the femininity that is there in all of us. "

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