By Renu Jain Chandarana @renujc
Writer and Filmmaker Leena Pendharkar tells us about her career and being a mom.
Writer and filmmaker, Leena Pendharkar is no stranger to juggling. In addition to teaching these subjects at Loyola Marymount University and Otis College of Art and Design. Leena grew up in Oregon and North Carolina and went to UNC-Chapel Hill to study English Literature and public policy analysis then got into making movies.
When I saw Leena Pendharkar’s short film “Yes! He’s the Perfect Boyfriend!” on YouTube, I found it refreshing and so so entertaining. In the film, comedian Monrok plays the main character in search for the perfect boyfriend…and what she finds is quite unusual.
I found the comedic timing really bang on, and I hope that Leena continues to pursue comedy in her future projects.
Check out the short film here:
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How did you get into filmmaking?
I was always into storytelling, and read pretty voraciously as a kid. I was also very involved dance, drama and theater. Plus my mom is a pretty prolific painter and so she we were very involved in the visual arts growing up. In high school and college, I started writing for newspapers, and getting work published. Then my junior year in college, I got into web design and making graphics and just fell in love with tinkering around with video.
This is all very nerdy and dorky, but I just fell in love with making movies as it brought together everything I love, storytelling, visual media, and writing. At the time, was very much into social issues, so I went to the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and got a Master’s degree in Documentary Film Production. From there, I just kept on working on sets and making my own little videos, short films and writing lots of screenplays.
What kind of films do you make?
I make mostly dramedy/comedy style films. I like telling stories that are about real people, but perhaps explore something weird, strange or interesting about them.
How does your cultural background influence the films you make (if at all)?
Being Indian, I definitely have a specific perspective on life, and I do enjoy telling stories about the ways in which we as first generation immigrants are caught between two worlds. My feature, Raspberry Magic, explored a young girls’ confusion as her parent’s marriage falls apart and in many ways is about how children cope with some of the stress in families and especially in immigrant families.
What are some other projects you have worked on?
Prior to developing this YouTube channel, I made a feature film, Raspberry Magic. It’s a coming of age story about a young girl and her connection to nature. It’s currently playing on Starz/Encore and it played in a number of festivals. I made some shorts before the feature, as well. Here’s the website for the film: www.raspberrymagic.com
How did your YouTube channel come about?
I had come off a six-year journey of working on Raspberry Magic. It was an amazing process to make that film, but I was really craving doing something short and immediate, and a little “out there.” Also, being a new mom, I think I just needed an outlet to make fun of the crazy natural moms I’m surrounded by here in LA.
So I teamed up with a crew of hilarious comics, and we started out with the “So Natural” sketches. They were a lot of fun, and I love working in the digital space, as it’s familiar to me, and there is so much innovation happening there right now, it’s really an exciting time to be a filmmaker. (Here is one that got the most views:
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How has being a mom changed your career/goals?
It’s made me want to work harder and stay even more focused. I always feared that being a mom would make me feel unmotivated and not want to work, but it’s so the opposite. I feel terribly focused which is a wonderful feeling. I really love what I do, and it’s so important to me that I show my little girl that she can realize her dreams, as well, and that she too can live the life she wants. I don’t think that was always possible with my mom’s generation, and for me, it’s so important that I live by this every, single day. I think it’s too easy for women to sometimes throw in the towel once they become moms, but for me, I decided that I just need to focus, which means that I prob don’t have much of a social life, but that’s ok by me!
How do you make motherhood a priority while juggling work obligations?
It’s not easy! But I really prioritize, and make my days count. My husband is an entrepreneur, and prior to having a family, we were both used to working all the time. But we made a rule in our house, that between 6pm-9pm, no calls and no emails. We cook at home, hang with our daughter and try to do something fun that she enjoys. She gets up pretty early, so we do this in the morning too, play something fun with her before we all start our days.
When you make a film with a female role model are you thinking of the kind of role models you’d like for your daughter?
For sure. My first feature, Raspberry Magic, was about a young girl who was very thoughtful, and just wanted to be helpful. I’ll have to show my daughter that film when she gets older.
How do you juggle the daily parenting challenges like school, etc with your schedule as a filmmaker?
I think it’s about planning ahead and getting help. My husband is amazing, he does a lot, so we take turns with things like making lunches, school drop offs and everything. If I have a big shoot day, he’ll hang with her, or we have some awesome friends/family who help us out. It really does take a village, something I’m completely dialed into, because I really saw my mom struggle with taking on too much when I was growing up. I feel like as Indian women, we feel like we have to do it all, but I’m ok with my husband cooking dinner once in a while.
Growing up, how much of a role did your mom play in your career path, projects etc?
My mom played a huge role in shaping my desire to work in a creative field. She is an artist–she is a very prolific potter and painter. Many of her pottery pieces are in stores around Raleigh, NC, where she lives and she is most definitely one of the hardest working people I know. It’s not easy to show up with your work and see if someone likes it, but she does it and has been in a lot of shows.
Growing up, my mom always had many different projects she was working on, between working at her day job and painting, pottery, sewing and lots more. She also really ignited my passion for creativity by putting me and my sister in dance and art classes growing up. Honestly, I never wanted to do anything else but continue my love for the arts, and my mom showed me that anything is possible if you work at it!!
Who is Monrok?
She’s a hilarious comic with such an edgy interesting voice. I thought it was so refreshing to find a South Asian woman who is this raw and “out there.
How did you come to collaborate with her?
I saw her perform at Laugh Factory and thought that I would like to work with her some time. Then a few months later, I reached out and was so excited when she agreed.
How did the idea for the perfect boyfriend film come about?
I had been mulling over this idea of a girl finding joy with a “non-boyfriend” for a while. Originally, I had thought about making it a monster of some sort, but then I thought it might be nice to do something with a little levity, you know? And I love color, and experimenting with color in my movies, and had thought a balloon would be a lot of fun.
What are some of your future projects?
I am working with producer Jane Kosek on a show called “Two Moms” for So Natural TV, which is about two moms who are old friends but change as they become mothers. It’s funny and wacky and a little crazy but very exciting to make it happen. We also have another show coming out this August called Honest Andy, about an earnest single guy who meets all the wrong ladies online. It’s fun and really out there. Long term, I want to make more shows for the web and also make another feature. I got a development grant from Tribeca All Access to make my second feature, A Day with RK, a dramedy about a 60-something Indian man who spends a day searching for a car his daughters innocently traded away.
Where can readers catch your films?
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