The Indians - Madeleine Sami
The Indians - Madeleine Sami
"You'll just have to do a few moves - nothing complicated," the director told me. Yeah, right. Here I was, suddenly lined up with a troupe of gorgeous classically trained Indian dancers, and I had to remember a really complicated routine AND talk to the camera!
Yeah, that was challenging! And the thing is, I didn't learn Indian dancing when I was little; I learned Irish dancing. Sure, my dad's Fijian-Indian, but I was more familiar with my Irish Catholic mother's culture growing up.
I mean, before I did Here to Stay, I'd only worn a sari once in my life.
So, until I started filming, I hadn't really thought much about being Indian. My identity growing up was just being a plain old Kiwi kid. I didn't feel different from the other kids, nor was I treated any differently.
My Fijian-Indian - or Indo-Fijian - family came over in the 1970s, when the immigration laws relaxed to allow much-needed "non-white" professionals in. I always thought most Indian-New Zealanders were recent immigrants too, but I was wrong.
And I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that because I was a history nut at school. Still am. But I had no idea about the early Indian immigrants. They came to New Zealand to make money to send back home; money that could only be made from doing the really crappy jobs like swamp draining, bush cutting, collecting bottles - stuff like that.
They were hard working and just put their heads down. They took the mistreatment without complaint. Admirable I guess, but also really sad.
So for me, learning about this part of our - my - history was really important. And meeting all these amazing people was really fun, if a bit intimidating. I only wish the weather during the shoot hadn't been so cold! It was grueling!
I really loved meeting New Zealand's dairy royalty - the Bhana brothers, whose family has run a fruit and vege shop on Auckland's Ponsonby Road since 1940. Also, the Punjabi family that's been farming in the Waikato for generations. I had no idea such Indians existed. It was great to see these guys jumping up on those horses - they were Indian cowboys!
They were also the first other Indians I'd ever met who were into rugby rather than the usual hockey and cricket.
I also really enjoyed meeting the "Mindians" - the Maori Indians - in Rotorua. They'd put up with their own racism, living in such a staunch Maori area, but they were so generous with their food, and their company, and their stories. In fact everyone was so generous. Everyone was so open and welcoming. I felt like I was part of their family for a while, and that was really exciting.
Interestingly, for a lot of them it seemed like it was the first time anyone had asked them about being an Indian New Zealander. Often people said "Oh, I hadn't thought about it before..." It felt like our talks were the start of something nourishing for them.
When I was approached about fronting the show, I wasn't sure, because as an actor I wasn't into talking about me rather than creating a character. So I found being me, being myself, in front of the camera quite hard. But I really wanted to learn about the experiences of other Indians in New Zealand, and learn more about what I thought too.
So, doing this documentary gave me some really great insights into my Indian side. I learned my first words of Hindi. Yes, it was only "Hello, my name is Madeleine" but it's a start! I wore a sari for the second time in my life - I felt so regal and elegant. I was one of about a thousand guests at an Indian wedding. I did yoga at a primary school. I helped cook a goat curry.
I've still got a lot to learn about being Indian. Being Fijian Indian, I haven't been to India. But I will, hopefully this year even. While I'm there I'll make a point of learning Hindi and how to cook a cracker curry. I'll master Indian classical dance and the art of tying a sari.
2008 is shaping up to be a year of lessons - lessons in making the most of being a Kiwi-Irish-Indian.