Priya Jaikumar started her career in India as a print journalist, model and television correspondent. She moved to the US on an academic fellowship, and received her PhD from Northwestern University’s Department of Radio, Television and Film. Currently an Associate Professor at University of Southern California’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies, School of Cinematic Arts, Dr. Jaikumar has also been part of the faculty at Syracuse University’s Department of English. She is author of several articles, and was recipient of the best essay award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in 2013. Her book, Cinema at the End of Empire, was published by Duke University Press in 2006. Most recently, Dr. Jaikumar appeared on Al Jazeera’s “Hollywood: Chronicle of an Empire” hosted by Marwar Bishara (March 2014) and the German documentary “Tiki-Pop Paradise Remade (ARTE channel, Germany, forthcoming). She has been invited to give talks by various universities, including Williams College, UCLA, NYU, Rice, Princeton, University of Pittsburgh, Harvard, Stanford and others.
What do you do best?
I am good at assimilating a lot of material and finding what is most important in it. As with ideas so with people: I enjoy moderating conversations and debates with large or small numbers of people, finding their common threads and points of contention. I can listen, give each person or idea its due weight, and pull it all together on a written or verbal canvas. If I had not chosen to be a professor, I would have made a good television moderator or a diplomat…though, unlike a university, the TV format doesn’t offer the luxury of sustained time to develop discussions, and diplomacy is far too political constrained. So academia has been the ideal place for me, so far.
What makes you the best?
Am I the best? No one can assume that. But over the years I have learnt my strengths and weaknesses, and that knowledge gives me an edge. I don’t try to be the best at everything.
How will you stay the best?
By not sticking to one notion of “best.” Flexibility, openness to different possibilities, curiosity, and accepting that things don’t always have to go my way in the immediate term for them to eventually reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Making a life and career of my choosing, in my adopted country or karmabhoomi, the USA.
Most challenging moment?
Dealing with the ageing and death of my loved ones, and in the future, I suppose of my own body.
What are your aspirations?
Personal: To live long enough and well enough to see my daughter find her place in the world.
Business: To keep writing, to write for a wider audience, to return to television work involving my first love: film, and to work with the community. To collaborate more in my work.
What fascinates you?
The deep sea and its strange bioluminous creatures.
‘What we have learnt is a handful but what we have not learnt is the size of the world,’ attributed to one of the Avvaiyars, a title given revered Tamil female poets of antiquity.
All tolerant, smart, open-minded and openhearted people with the ability to not take themselves too seriously. Thankfully, I have met a few such people in my life.
Our planet Earth, if we can learn to preserve it. In the realm of the imaginary, I would have to include Uqbar from the Borges short story, and Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood.
I try not to have my loyalties defined by brands. But I admit that the sheer need to not waste time over the market’s numerous products makes me turn to a few of them routinely. My cosmetics tend to be from Mac. I tend to shop in Anthropologie’s Petite section. I like Bottega Veneta’s designs and colors, and the way DVF clothes fall on women’s bodies.
Shouldn’t passions, unlike fashions, be more than current? Mine: Seeking and finding the right words, the right images, good vegetarian food, good stationary.