Laj is a native of India and a female filmmaker, domestic violence volunteer and co-founder of Didi. She is currently focused on a fellowship opportunity in Milwaukee promoting inclusivity and diversity.
My name is Laj Pershad Waghray. I am originally from Hyderabad, India.
I have been living in Milwaukee for the past 23 years. Before that, I lived in the Bronx, New York. Moving to Milwaukee and settling down with my family was a tough choice coming from the Bronx and, before that, India, because this Midwestern city was segregated and was an alien place to me for a while.
There’s so much going on in the city of Milwaukee and many avenues for growth. I have continued my work as a domestic violence volunteer with local agencies and also co-founded Didi, which aims to end violence against women in Milwaukee’s South Asian communities. I’ve cooked Indian meals occasionally at Amaranth Cafe in Milwaukee’s Walnut Hill neighborhood, explored nature preserves in southeastern Wisconsin, been a longtime member of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center and of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and have also been a board member of the dynamic space, Lynden Sculpture Garden.
I’d like to advise students to take advantage of the time they have to explore and learn. Make an effort to talk to people about your work and your passions. Watch a lot of films.
The high points in my career journey occur during the process itself — the excitement of exploring and developing the ideas and meeting new people.
One bright spot in my career has been my association with Kartemquin Films, where I participated as a Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) fellow on my film Searching for Sparrows. I was proud to pitch Searching for Sparrows at Tribeca. It was so thrilling to complete and screen my first film in Milwaukee: Sleepovers, a 53-minute retrospective film documenting the coming of age of four suburban Milwaukee girls during three sleepovers over the course of 10 years.
During COVID, I produced a two-minute film in response to A-Doc’s call for representation of Asian stories during the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, Alone, which documents one doctor’s experience in isolation at home, had an incredible run and all online during the pandemic. I was selected for the Look Here! Project, and I directed and produced On Hands, a 75-minute non-linear narrative for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, which calls attention to an essential way of experiencing the world — using hands. On Hands was screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival to sold-out audiences. Traveling and exploring Wisconsin with Director Janet Fitch’s third film in her three-part series, Guns, Grief and Grace in America (which I co-directed), was an eye-opening experience for me.
In my current fellowship I am working on a yet untitled short film about an 80-year-old formerly incarcerated Milwaukee man, Arthur Byas. Apart from that, I am working on a feature, Searching for Sparrows, about four citizens finding solutions to the loss of birds and bird habitats caused by rapid urbanization in Hyderabad, India. I am also finishing a couple of short experimental films for Gallery 224 as part of their ARTservancy program. One of my films, On Hands (2018) is being screened at MARN on October 1.
Often, female filmmakers face considerably more hurdles with limited role models and fewer opportunities to learn and thrive. We are not seeking token representation; we want people to look at our body of work and its potential to genuinely promote inclusivity and diversity. I am hoping that this fellowship will do that.
I am excited about the unexpected and casual interactions with members of the faculty that offer the ability to share and exchange ideas.
I’d like to advise students to take advantage of the time they have to explore and learn. Watch a lot of films.
If you are working on a film, be sure to take advantage of the access you have to university equipment and see the project through to completion. Cameras, audio equipment, and the like are expensive to rent once you leave school. Another advantage of producing a film while at school is that you can learn as you go, make mistakes — with fewer consequences — and find out what really motivates you.
Also, be sure to browse the Haggerty Museum of Art, dig into the Raynor Memorial Libraries’ special collections at the university, and take advantage of the education and tools that a university provides to you.