Graphic novels, film and television production guided by my moral compass

Samhita Arni '06

Samhita Arni '06, Writer

Double Major: Film Studies and Religion

Employer: Tolo TV

I am a writer today, but pursuing film studies in college has been undoubtedly of great use in my writing career.

In 2011, a graphic novel that I wrote the text for, Sita’s Ramayana, was published and became a New York Times Bestseller. It was without doubt that studying film was of great value when working on the text for this novel - for the film studies program at Mount Holyoke encouraged me to develop my visual literacy skills - and to think deeply about how to tell a story visually, the interplay between image and text, dialogue and visual. How an image can reveal more than text, and how a soundtrack or piece of dialogue can accent, contextualize and draw attention to what the image reveals.

A year after that, I found myself in Afghanistan, working at the largest TV network, Tolo TV, on a new drama series as head-scriptwriter. It goes without saying that one can’t be a scriptwriter without knowing how cinematic or visual language works. There is of course so much, far too much to write here of how that knowledge helped - shots, montage etc, how lighting creates an atmosphere, just to give you a brief example.

But I think, in terms of this experience, I am extremely grateful for the values of my education - and this goes beyond the film studies program. Mount Holyoke instills in its students a sense of ethics and integrity, a considerate and constructive questioning of the world, and the confidence to value one’s own moral judgements - and that is of utmost importance when you live and work in Afghanistan, a place where, one’s assumptions about the world are constantly challenged, and it is necessary to think through issues of ethics every day for two reasons: (1) in the course of working at a production office in a conflict zone, dealing with countless, hazardous situations, and (2) figuring out how to make the show that one produces constructively engender necessary cultural change, by sensitive engagement with socially relevant and important issues (e.g. gender issues, inter-ethnic conflict, violence).

Beyond acquiring knowledge and skills, I have come to believe that it is of utmost importance that one’s education helps one develop one’s own moral compass - not merely instilling the ‘right’ values but encouraging you to think for yourself through these values and value systems - and I am incredibly grateful to Mount Holyoke for this.