SEHER LATIF (SCM Sophia 2002-03)
Remembering Seher Aly Latif
On June 7, 2021, the SCM community lost Seher Aly Latif (Batch of 2003). She has not been forgotten by the many people whose lives she touched. By Shreya Muley.
Renowned casting director and producer, Seher Aly Latif, passed away at the age of 39 on June 7, 2021 in Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital from a non-Covid related infection. Seher was the first Indian to become a member of the Casting Society of America.
Those who knew her were shocked by the sudden eclipse of someone who everyone described as ‘sunny’ and ‘cheerful’.
Jeroo Mulla, Head of the Social Communications Media Department from 1986-2013, remembers Seher Latif as a very bright student whose statement of purpose remained fresh in the memory of someone who has read thousands of them. Ms Mulla said, “She was one of my favourite students. In the essay that she was required to write for her application, she had said that Seher means ‘sun’ and that she wanted to shine. I was quite charmed because she even drew a little sun in the margin. (It’s another thing that ‘seher’ actually means dawn.) She really did shine, you know. She was so bright that I thought she should make films. She even did her practical training with a filmmaker. I remember asking her, ‘Why don't you make films, Seher? You would be so good.’ She said with her lovely smile, ‘I love casting.’ And in the face of that smile, the happiness of someone who had found her metier, what could I say?”
Ms Mulla had to pause to collect herself. “I can’t tell you how upset I am. I can’t tell what a bright child she was. Whenever you saw her, she had a radiant smile and I loved her for that. She was just adorable. I think you will find that everybody has nice things to say about her, everyone. The students used to call her ‘Mini Jeroo’ because she also, like me, used to wear sarees.”
Ms. Mulla was almost in tears as she said, “When I heard that she was in the hospital, I was so sure she would recover. When the news came that she had died, I was devastated. No one should go at that age, at 39. How can you go when you are 39? I almost feel embarrassed that I am alive and she is no more.”
Jerry Pinto, writer and journalist, who has been a visiting faculty of journalism at SCM Sophia, taught Latif and shared his memory of her as a student. “My memories of Seher are of a bright, positive energy. She was not very vocal in my class but I could see that she was a good team player. I knew she would do well because she enjoyed listening more than speaking and that is central to a media career. She will be missed.”
Latif’s batchmates and friends from SCM 2002-2003, poignantly expressed their collective grief by sharing an elegy in her memory. Her batchmate and friend Praveena Shivram penned the following elegy on behalf of her friends, Aditi Seshadri, Avehi Menon, Bhakti Patwardhan, Faiza Khan, Neha Jain, Purnima Raghunath, Rosemary George, Shalinee Chatterjee, Shyma Rajagopal, Simone Patrick and Surbhi Mehta.
For Sunny Seher.
I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I tell myself,
Even as my body proceeds to do both quite efficiently,
Slicing through grief like a lonely boat in the ocean,
Telling me, ‘Look, there’s the horizon.
Stay the course just a little bit longer.
Sit on this boat and see the patterns of mourning.
See them under the moonless sky
As it sucks you dry
And then under the mocking dawn as
It sneaks under your skin, even as you cry.’
‘And what then?’ I ask, ‘What when I reach the horizon?’
What of the grief left behind and the pieces
I carry like patterned bits in a bag,
Discarded for now but perhaps useful later,
When the sum of the parts might mean something;
When words can become enough again,
And even fill in for the words now lost,
With a breath now gone;
When the futility of absence can make up
For the willingness of presence, also now
In pieces of memory: one for you and one for me.
So I can sit on this boat, just a little bit longer,
Stay the course, knowing full well
Nothing is quite gone unless I allow it to be.
Deeba Syed, an education management professional, another batchmate and friend, looked back on a fond memory she had of Seher from their SCM assignment days when they travelled around the streets of Mumbai together.
She wrote, “Seher and I were partnered for one of the early assignments at SCM. During our travels for the assignment, one time I had to make a stop at my grandfather’s place on Bomanji Petit Marg. I pointed to the apartment balcony to show Seher where I was going, while she waited downstairs. After I came back, Seher asked me if I visited this apartment when I was little. I found it to be a strange question but replied anyway. Yes, my family had been living there since before I was born and yes I was there all the time until a few years ago. Seher then told me that she had this vague memory of summer evenings, walking down that lane many, many years ago with her mom, and she remembers waving out to another little girl who would be looking through the balcony railings, waving back. And although I didn’t remember Seher specifically (because standing at that balcony and waving at passersby used to be my only occupation then), we had a lovely long chat about childhood memories, evening walks to the park and our own little corner of Breach Candy. In my memory at that time I had conjured up a little girl bouncing along down the hill holding her mom’s hand and waving at people in balconies. That cheerful little girl has Seher’s face. That’s how I will remember you always, my lovely friend!
In the words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz:
Saba ne phir dar-e-zindaan pe aa ke di dastak
Seher qareeb hai, dil se kaho ke na ghabraaye.”
(Once more, the breeze has come to knock on the door of the jail,
Whispering, ‘The dawn is close; tell your heart not to fear.’)
Another batchmate and friend, Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh who is a screenwriter, shared,
“Seher was a golden girl, she was my pillar in my year at SCM. She was always chasing something deeper- depth of field, depth in conversations, depth in life, I will miss the pure love and attention that she gave everyone in her life. Her light and her love will stay with each one of us forever.”
Latif’s casting assistant and a very dear friend, Munish Sharma poured his heart out and wrote,
“My family are my friends and Seher is a part of my family. We met and then we were, are and always will be. After three years of being together as her casting assistant, associate, friend, confidant, family, we parted ways and got busy in our respective lives. I was broken and in the process of my healing I did not get in touch with her because I knew how hurt and angry she would be. I was guilty. Until recently, when we started talking. When I felt that now I can get back to my Seher and tell her the things I am doing and want to do. I wanted her to be proud of me. I wanted her to give back all the love and care she had bestowed upon me. I knew when she was happy, sad, worried, upset, angry. I met her when she was in love. It was beautiful. And her passion was contagious. Her being was contagious and inspiring. I hate it that I'm writing this down. I know she would be laughing at me right now. Ass. She decides to leave us, leave me on my dead father's birthday (she knew my father issues), her last post on Instagram is my theatre workshop that she so happily promoted a week back.
Sehera, this happened for a reason, a total fucked up one. I am going to make you proud one day and be what you always wanted, expected me to be. I have capped my drinking, big time. Will try to reduce my smokes and will discover new faces, actors and share them with your team. I wanted to take you out for dinner, where I would pay and tell you everything I have planned for myself and wanted you to be with me on it. I will bag an award one day and it will be yours. Pukka promise. Only and only yours. This sucks.”
On June 9, Zishan Aly Latif, her younger brother who is an independent photographer, shared a post on his Instagram, expressing gratitude for support and love she received. In the caption he wrote, “A part of me has died but a larger part reborn to carry on the legacy meri badi behen leaves behind. She leaves behind a drive, a passion that is infectious so let’s all make meri badi behen proud.”
Seher Latif’s first production was the short film Masterchef directed by Ritesh Batra for the Sundance Institute. She has successfully co-produced a trilingual musical stage adaptation of The Jungle Book with 50 shows in India and abroad independently. In 2016, she co-founded Mutant Films India, an independent film and series production company with Film producer Shivani Saran. Under the banner of Mutant Films, in 2020, Seher co-produced the Netflix series Bhaag Beanie Bhaag starring Swara Bhasker; Shakuntala Devi starring Vidya Balan and Netflix Original, Maska. She was last working on the production of the Netflix anthology series Feels Like Ishq under Mutant Films when she succumbed.
Her filmography includes Eat Pray Love, Zero Dark Thirty, Durgamati: The Myth, Monsoon Shoot, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 1 and 2, Million Dollar Arm, The Lunchbox, Hundred Foot Journey, Viceroy’s House, and series such as like Sense8, Homeland Season 4, The Good Karma Hospital, and McMafia for the BBC.