Beyond Bollywood: 5 Most Frequently Asked Questions

Click to download PDF flyer

A Message from Curator Masum Momaya

Warm summer greetings! One year into my role as Curator of the Indian American Heritage Project and less than five months away from the opening of Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation exhibition, I wanted to share the five questions most frequently asked of me.

1. Will this exhibition contain art and artifacts from India?

Beyond Bollywood focuses on the experience of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in the United States; all of the art and artifacts represent life here. The exhibition will contain art works by a dozen artists of Indian origin living and working here in America and artifacts which are significant to our history as Indian Americans, including the turban of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a doctor bag used by Abraham Verghese and the Olympic silver medal of Mohini Bhardwaj.

2. Is [fill in the name of a person] in the exhibition?

Maybe – but as part of a larger story of our communities.  I, as curator, have chosen to tell our larger story of the diverse contributions of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans to shaping American history – culturally, politically and professionally. Our contributions here are larger than any one individual, and I feel a responsibility to use the amazing platform that the Smithsonian is to tell this story in a nuanced, visually compelling way.

3. I have this precious and rare [fill in the name of an object] in my basement.  Can this be in the exhibition?

We are finished collecting items for the exhibition.  In fact, both the script and design for the exhibition are complete; all the components are being fabricated.  If you have something precious and rare that you would like the Smithsonian to consider including in its collection or future exhibitions, please email me at, and I will try to put you in touch with the appropriate person.

4. How much does the Indian American Heritage Project cost and who is paying for this?

The total cost of the Project’s Phase 1 (research, the exhibition, public programs, a traveling exhibition, a curriculum and a website) is $1 million.  The revenue sources for this Project are derived from a public-private partnership which includes a significant amount of leadership and support from the Smithsonian Institution.

Earlier this summer we announced there was $200,000 left to raise by the end of 2013.  Readers like you heard the call and we raised $99,000 or roughly 50% of our remaining goal.

Help us raise the last $101,000! Gifts of $2,500 and up made by September 30th will be recognized as Founder’s Circle Members. To make your tax-deductible gift, please visit:

5. What if I cannot come to Washington DC to see the exhibition?

Don’t worry!  In addition to showing at the Smithsonian, a version of Beyond Bollywood will be traveling around the country from 2015-2020, hopefully to your city.  If you would like more information or to help us identify a venue in your locality to host it, please email me at


Amar Gopal Bose — An Audiophile Ahead of His Time

Photo from the Bose Corporation

By Nimita Uberoi and Kalyan Venkatraj, Summer 2013 interns

Have you ever heard a piece of recorded music so clearly and vividly that you felt you were at a live concert?  Chances are that this came about due to the refinement of speaker technologies by Indian American inventor Amar Gopal Bose.  Bose (b. 1929) passed away on July 12, leaving behind a legacy that included a 40-year research and development career in acoustics technology at MIT and the widely-recognized Bose Corporation, whose non-voting shares he donated to the university to further research and education.  Bose’s father, who campaigned for India’s independence from the British, arrived at Ellis Island in the 1920s with twenty dollars in his pocket, settling in Philadelphia with his mother, a schoolteacher of French-German ancestry. Bose recounts the racism his family endured there: “the prejudice was so bad in the United States at that time that a dark person with a white person would not be served in a restaurant.” (1)

At age 13, to supplement his family’s income, Bose enlisted school friends as co-workers in a home-based business repairing model trains and radios; thus began lifelong endeavors to better instrumental sound.  A doctoral degree from MIT and subsequent professorships there supported the founding of Bose Corporation,  “whose products can be found in Olympic stadiums, Broadway theatres, the Sistine Chapel, and the Space Shuttle (where his noise cancellation system protects the astronauts from permanent hearing damage).” (2) From changing the way we enjoy music to enhancing the safety of our vehicles, the corporation’s products mirror the maverick nature of its founder.

To learn more about other Indian American inventors, and their contributions to American history, visit the upcoming exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation towards the end of the year and through 2014 at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.


1. Bose, sound pioneer and solid teacher, falls silent

2. Amar Bose, Inventor of the Week

Nimita Uberoi, a rising junior at Brown University studying Political Science and Environmental Studies, and Kalyan Venkatraj, a rising senior at University of Texas-Austin studying Government and Ethnic Studies, are both interning with Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project this summer.


Call for Submissions: Be(com)ing Desi in America

Call for Submissions: Be(com)ing Desi in America
An Exhibition and Performances by Subcontinental Drift in collaboration with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

In February 2014 in Washington, D.C., Subcontinental Drift, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, will present a visual and performing arts exhibition entitled Be(com)ing Desi in America. This exhibition will run parallel to the Smithsonian exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, which will be on display at the National Museum of Natural History from December 2013 through Spring 2015.

In our own unique ways, each of us challenges, claims, defines and redefines what it means to be South Asian in America. How does desi-ness manifest in your life? And how did the desi that is you come into being?

Do you tweak your mom’s or dad’s recipes? (Re)fashion a desi garment for your current wardrobe? Embody beauty beyond Bollywood ideals? Remix raagas with “western” beats? And push beyond prejudices—internalized and in the wider world—about how to look, who to partner with, and what occupation or hobbies to engage in?

For Be(com)ing Desi in America, we’re interested in recipes and works of visual and performing art that show your unique desi-ness AND tell the story of how you came to embrace it (or not), while sharing your perspective on issues of aesthetics and (body) image.

Send us your photographs, painting, sculpture, poetry, performance clips (spoken word, theater, dance and music), films, cartoons, comics, drawings and digital graphics.

Submissions and questions should be sent to Both new and existing pieces are welcome.  The deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, October 13, 2013.


Designing Beyond Bollywood

Beyond Bollywood postcards. Click to enlarge.

By Masum Momaya, Curator

As I write this, Smithsonian exhibition designers are putting the finishing touches on the gallery design for Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.  Come December, the 5000-square-foot exhibition on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History will be adorned with artifacts, images, and works of art showcasing Indian American history.  Contextualizing these items with visual elements to transform the gallery into an Indian American space has been a yearlong undertaking.

Last summer, I chose paint colors for the exhibition walls, deciding on marigold yellow, deep purple, and bright magenta to convey the vibrancy of material elements of Indian American culture, such as our garments and spices. Smithsonian designer Lynn Kawaratani and I visited an Indian clothing shop, grocery store, and my very own closet to identify visual elements to include in the gallery design. We photographed textile patterns, matched colors with a very large book of Pantone swatches, identified recurring motifs (such as paisleys), and chose the trusty, ever-present stainless steel thali as a frame to be used throughout the exhibition.

New York-based designer Minjal Dharia gave an Indian-inspired treatment to the exhibition title, which will be carried in all the exhibition text panels, and designed various postcards to help us spread the word using a few of photographer Preston Merchant’s images.  Recently, we put out a call to the community to collect both Indian and American shoes, many of which will grace the exhibition entrance.

Colors, patterns, motifs, fonts, and commonplace items such as the thali will merge to create the backdrop for  telling our history.  We look forward to sharing both the educational and aesthetic experience of Indian America with you later this year.

Click to enlarge and view more photos.


“My Thali” – The Indian American “Plate”

A traditional Indian thali plate.

By Kumu Gupta

As a President’s Challenge Advocate, I would like to introduce “My Thali”, a concept equivalent  to USDA’s MyPlate program, a fun way to eat healthy for the Indian American community.

MyPlate was introduced in 2011, as a replacement for USDA’s My Pyramid program. The Food Pyramid was introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture in the year 1992, and was updated in 2005 to MyPyramid. A food guide pyramid is a pyramid shaped guide of healthy foods divided into sections to show the recommended intake for each.  Using the new USDA plate icon, basic suggestions of MyPlate food groups are to:

  • Balance calories (reduce portions)
  • Increase certain foods (vegetables, fruits and whole grains)
  • Reduce other foods (sodium and sugary drinks)

Thali (Hindi: थाली [t̪ʰaːli]) meaning “plate” is an Indian meal made up of a selection of various dishes. Thali dishes vary from region to region in India and are usually served in small bowls on a round tray. Sometimes a steel tray made with multiple compartments is used.

An Indian American diet is similar to the American diet in that dairy, vegetables and fruits constitute most of what is eaten in the course of the day. But the Indian American methods of cooking or preparing food can be a fun experience for one to enjoy the pleasures of the culture while adopting healthy eating habits. For example, mango, a favorite Indian fruit, can be enjoyed as mango lassi, a popular and traditional yogurt-based drink (can be substituted with low fat yogurt) of India. It is made by blending yogurt with mango juice. This would take care of the fruit as well as dairy requirements for the day. Dal (also referred to as dahl or daal, or dhal) is a preparation of pulses (dried lentils, peas, or beans) and is a ready source of proteins for a balanced diet containing little or no meat. Similarly, chapati is unleavened flatbread and is made of whole wheat flour and cooked on a tava (flat skillet). This is a low-fat to no fat alternative for the grains food group.

This fun and easy way of enjoying an Indian meal also applies for breakfast. With today’s 1 Minute Cream of Wheat, you can alternate upma (a hot breakfast dish) one or two days of the week with toast, eggs, pancakes, and fruit for a not-so-boring 7-day plan for a fresh start to your day.

Thus “MyThali” combines healthy and delicious alternatives of Indian American cuisine in conjunction with the guidelines of MyPlate and goes a long way in helping you stay fit in your new home away from home.

Kumu Gupta is a guest contributor to our blog. She is a President’s Challenge Advocate with the President’s Challenge Program, a premier program of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.


Donate Shoes to the “Beyond Bollywood” Exhibition

Donate a pair of shoes to the exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian American Shape the Nation.

Want to be part of Beyond Bollywood? Donate a pair of new or gently worn shoes. They can be for any season, style, age, and gender. But please do not mail us your shoes, first send us photos of the shoes to You will be contacted via email if your shoes are selected.

Please note that submissions are not guaranteed in the exhibition. There is no compensation for the donation and shoes will not be returned if they are chosen.


A Taste of India at Trader Joe’s

Indian frozen food dinners at Trader Joe’s. Photo by Emily Vallerga

By Emily Vallerga, Spring 2013 Intern

In preparation for the exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, I was asked to catalogue all the Indian foods sold at Trader Joe’s. The presence of Indian food offerings at Trader Joe’s represents one way in which Indian food has taken root in American cuisine as a mainstream staple.

Here are some reflections on the experience:

A sign from a Trader Joe’s store.

For those who are not familiar with Trader Joe’s, it is a grocery store that prides itself on being the trendy, food conscious, neighborhood store. Originating in 1967, in Pasadena, California, Trader Joe’s now boasts 395 stores in 30 states. The products range from organic cage-free eggs, frozen stir-fry vegetables, eggplant palak paneer, and more.

In fact, I was surprised to learn that Trader Joe’s sells around 30 different Indian food products from simmer sauces to frozen dinners. I found boxes of “Indian Fare: Jaipur Vegetables” (which are ready in only five minutes), bags of presumably freshly made tandoori naan, and jars of mango ginger chutney. The products range from simply placing the item in a pot and boiling it, to a product that will enhance any home cooked dish.

From left: mango ginger chutney, Indian Fare – jaipur vegetables, and tandoori naan. Photos by Emily Vallerga

But what makes the Indian food at Trader Joe’s stand out, besides its affordable price, is that it sits on the shelf next to the Indonesian curry, Chinese stir fry, and Spanish sauces. While cataloging, I had to scour each aisle just to find all the little pockets of Indian food throughout the store. I found it particularly intriguing that there was no “Indian Food” or “Hispanic Food” designated areas, but rather all of the ethnic food was intermingled with other foods.

It seems to me that Trader Joe’s believes strongly in bringing tasty, healthy, and flavorful food options from around the world to its customers. In fact, the design of the store suggests a mingling of cultures and food that is non-discriminatory. It creates an environment that is welcoming to all adventurous food lovers.  What do you think?  Is this a sign that Indian food is now American food?

Emily Vallerga, a recent graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, is an intern with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Indian American Heritage Project.