For Sunny Seher

Maahi Shah writes about SCM's brand new Seher Latif Studio's inauguration 

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Illustration by Shristi Roy

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.


Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
 

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

The event had sombre overtones, yet the room that afternoon was brimming with a warm energy and nostalgia. It began with an unveiling of the plaque of the ‘Seher Latif Memorial Studio’ and lighting a candle. The walls before the studio were decked with photographs of yesteryear. The ceremonies, the achievements, the events, the SCM legacy. The studio was cool with a gentle hum of the air conditioner and a faint smell of paint. As everyone settled down in their seats, the photographers from the class rose to capture the moments; the happy ones, the pensive ones, the in-between ones.

On the November 17, 2021, writer and faculty member Jerry Pinto read out this poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson to commemorate and celebrate the life of Seher Latif (1981-2021), who passed away of non-Covid-related complications on June 7, 2021. It was also the day on which the SCM Studio, renovated with the help of a generous grant from Ms Latif’s company, was inaugurated.


The event had been planned for days but it was not just a journey in logistics but also a way to get to know one of the alumni of whom the department is proud. For Seher Latif, we discovered, had touched the hearts of everyone she met. 

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Photograph by Mrinal Varhadi

Photograph by Mrinal Varhadi

The head of the Department, Ms. Nirmita Gupta began with a short introduction to the studio, which was redesigned by architect Mr. Navroz Siganporia. The renovation was aimed at making it a more professional space for students to work in. Mahalaxmi Singh and Umme Salma Saifee, our hosts for the evening, then took over and called upon Doctor Sister Anila, the Director of Sophia Polytechnic since 2013 to say a few words. She spoke about the studio, the celebration of the journey of the department itself, and of course, Seher. “Seher came to Sophia’s in 1999 for a BA in literature. She left a mark as a casting director. She was truly a live wire,” she said.

Ms. Shivani Saran, Seher’s partner at Mutant Films, an independent production company which the two founded in 2016, told us that Seher had always spoken of wanting to give back to SCM. When Seher died, Ms. Saran took it upon herself to fulfil that wish, and she was determined to contribute towards the renovation of the studio, in memory of Seher. “Seher was grateful for SCM. She was a believer in giving back and she was extremely proud of being a student at Sophia’s,” said Ms. Saran, with a glint of reminiscence in her eyes.

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Photograph by  Meenakshi Madaan

Photograph by Meenakshi Madaan

A short video clip of Seher’s journey was played thereafter. We all knew that Seher had been a producer and casting director. Her filmography includes international films like Eat Pray Love, Zero Dark Thirty, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among others. But what struck us were the last few lines in that clip. It was an interview with Seher, and the question was what she would tell her 16-year-old self. She said, “I think I want to go slightly earlier, maybe my six-year-old self, and I’m actually the same. I loved swimming, but I hadn’t jumped off the deep end. And I would constantly walk up to the diving board. And I remember that day, so clearly, the first time I jumped in and I was a really brave kid and I think that’s what I’d want to follow through my life, just be brave. Brush it off and carry on.”

It was one of many glimpses we would have into the kind of woman Seher was. Ms Jeroo Mulla was head of the department when Seher was a student at SCM. When she came to the podium, she couldn’t hold back her tears. “I remember the Statement of Purpose that she had written; she said that she wanted to shine like the sun,” she said. She recalled how much, like Ms. Mulla herself, Seher adored wearing sarees. But what she loved most about her was that she was always smiling.

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Photograph by  Mrinal Varhadi

Photograph by Meenakshi Madaan

By the time Jerry took the stage, the warmth and the sunshine energy was being felt all around. “When Seher was a student here, we were a volcanic bunch of teachers!” he said, as everyone laughed. He recalls the time when he was on a rant in class and he had been yelling at the students. At the end of the session, “Everyone avoided me, but Seher came up and said, ‘Jerry, it’s not good for you when you shout so much. What struck me then was that she was able to be worried about a teacher who was blowing the class out of the water.’”

Seher left behind more than an impression. Ms. Smruti Koppikar, the former editor of the Hindustan Times and professor of journalism at SCM tells each batch: ‘Don’t think of what you become, think of who you become,’ She said: “Seher paid attention to that.” 

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Photograph by Meenakshi Madaan

Photograph by Meenakshi Madaan

“Seher was light,” Jerry said “She still is.”
Here’s to Sunny Seher.

At the end of the event, Seher’s batchmate and member of the faculty Ms. Shyma Rajagopal came up to say a few words. A tear rolled down her cheek as she spoke, “It’s difficult to see that plaque. It says: She’s gone. And she’s gone too soon.” Ms. Ishika Motwane, a film actor, recalled how they met for the first time on the sets of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and had many ap[preciative words for Seher’s professionalism and good spirits. In the end, Ms. Gupta along with others urged Sister Ananda (Principal of the Sophia College for Women), who had taught Seher, to come up and say a few words. She went on to speak of how Seher was bright and accomplished so much, but above all, she says, “Seher was such a good and kind person.”

While the rest adjourned to the lawn for snacks, two of the students volunteered to record audio and video bytes from the guests about Seher and what students at SCM could learn from the qualities she possessed. Jerry spoke of the fearlessness that drove Seher, not only as a student but also later on in her career. Neha, one of her batchmates went on to speak of how Seher’s ever-smiling face will always be one of her fondest memories. She described her as someone who was willing to try her hands at anything and everything, and it was this very attribute that inspired the people with whom she worked. 

 

In some strange way, we all felt we had encountered Seher even though this was physically impossible. But we had met her in a deep way, in an all-inclusive way, encountering the producer, the casting director, the student, the woman, the human. 

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In picture: Seher Latif

Source: Google