Beth Watkins (35) works in education and exhibits at the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has a BA in European History and Master’s degrees in Museum Studies and Library/Information Science. Her blog, Beth Loves Bollywood, has been featured in several national Indian newspapers and the film-focused magazine Filmfare, and she has been a guest on BBC Asian Network’s popular show “Love Bollywood.” Her film and event reviews have appeared in the Indian weekly news magazine Tehelka and website Desicritics, as well as the film distribution site Jaman.com. Other interests include reading fiction, knitting, architecture, and history. She blogs at Beth Loves Bollywood(http://bethlovesbollywood.blogspot.com/)
Q: Welcome to Speakbindas. Tell us since when blogging has been a part of your life? Was there any motive or inspiration as a backbone of it?
- A: I think my first blog began in 2004. I quickly added another one to try to document all the knitting and craft projects I worked on, but the steam on that one ran out fast. By early 2005 I had gotten completely hooked on Bollywood and began posting to my “regular” blog about the films I watched, and later that year I created Beth Loves Bollywood and moved my Indian film posts over.
Q: What is your blog all about? Which topics you cover there? Is that you alone running/maintaining the blog, or have a team?
- A: My blog is about popular Hindi cinema, and I write primarily about films (rather than the music, celebrity gossip, etc.). I’m also very interested in what films say about India and Indian culture. I do it alone, though I do seek out and love collaborative projects like taking part in joint reviews or thematic posts.
Q.: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
- A: It’s so important! I suppose there are people out there who are interested primarily in just sending their message out into the universe, but I write – and read – in order to understand people and culture better, so it’s vital to me to hear others’ opinions and to engage them in conversation whenever I can. I try to respond to everything. Participating in the comments on blogs (not just mine but also the ones I read regularly) has also turned out to be a wonderful way to get to know people, and I’ve made some great friends through these exchanges.
Q: What are the present statistics for your blog, i.e. number of daily visitors, visitors geographical status etc.?
- A: I average around 175 visitors a day. Almost 40% of these come from the US, 23% from India, 6% each from the UK and Canada, then less than 3% each from Germany, France, UAE, Singapore, etc.
Q: Is blogging for you just a passion or a medium for earning too? Does it help you to earn enough cash to quit a 9 to 5 day job?
- A: It’s a passion. I started writing publicly about films because I couldn’t keep all my thoughts to myself! They had to come out! That’s still true, but now I have the additional motivation of all the people I’ve connected with and the social and intellectual community that I’ve become a part of. My blog did lead me to a small short-term gig moderating and writing for a movie distribution site during its startup phase.
Q: Who are your favorite bloggers, whom you read frequently?
- A: Many of them have been named here already: Amrita Rajan of IndieQuill, Greta of Memsaab Story, Bollyviewer of Old is Gold, Filmiholic, Filmi Geek, Post-Punk Cinema Club, Totally Filmi…. Before I sat down to think about this question, I would have told you that I also read lots of non-film blogs, but apparently I don’t because I can’t think of a single one I check regularly. I do follow the twitter feeds for some great sites like Ultra Brown and click through to the posts that grab me most (usually film-related).
Q: From the secret bucket of your blogging experiences, what tips you would like to share with the fellow bloggers?
- A: Write what you feel. Write what you think. Write what you can’t stop thinking about. Maybe most of all, think about what you’re writing! There are so many brain-dead sites out there; maybe film culture and its attendant fan culture somehow lead to empty squealing or thoughtless raving about movies. Those posts don’t interest me at all. I think it tends to show through if you don’t genuinely care about both what you’re saying and how people respond to it. And goodness me, don’t start writing about what everyone else is writing about, or copy their formats or ideas, if you do not actually have something to say on the topic at hand.
Q: Do you believe that blogging completes you? If yes, tell us how?
- A: Almost – in that the friends and ideas and questions that are generated through the blogs that I participate in (as reader and writer) are a huge part of my joys and energies these days.
Q: What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?
- A: Gloomiest first. It’s much longer than a moment, but it immediately leapt to mind as I read the word “gloomiest.” After my first graduate degree, I couldn’t get a job in my field (museums) and had to be a temp secretary in the Chicago suburbs. Never ever move to the Chicago suburbs as a 24-year-old! I had two wonderful friends in the area (one as a roommate) who saved me from total misery, but I was so unhappy living in the endless miles of McMansions and shopping plazas and having to drive everywhere.
- As for happiest…I’m lucky to have more than I can count. Being amazed to see the Northern Lights as I drove from Toronto to Montreal, watching penguins swimming off the southern coast of Australia, trying to dance bhangra in Punjab, discovering the deafening roar of Niagra Falls, finally meeting up with long-standing internet friends in person in Britain and Austria, helping kids in my museum “get it” about an idea from history or another culture and then being a part of their excitement, spending four solid days with my best friend and her husband before and after their wedding and being a part of that important and joyful time in their lives. There’s a clear theme here: participating in another culture/location or sharing something with meaningful people.
Q: Say, you are sponsored to travel to 3 world destinations, where you need not to worry about costs for food, hotel or anything. Which destinations would you pick up, and why? Would you like to take someone along with you? If yes, whom?
- A: I’d love to have a global Bollywood blogger/reader meetup in Mumbai! I hope not to need the magic travel fairy to make that happen, either. I’d probably spend as long in London as I possibly could because it’s the most fascinating and wonderful place I’ve ever been. It holds treasures galore for all of my interests and passions: museums, history, literature, old buildings, people-watching….
Q: Are you into watching movies? If yes, which fills your list of favorite ones?
- A: Absolutely. English-language favorites include Grosse Pointe Blank, Heathers, Pillow Talk, Strictly Ballroom, The Dish, and Emma Thompson and Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. Hindi favorites: Bunty aur Babli, Bluffmaster, Chak De India, Chupke Chupke, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Sharmilee, Pyaar Kiye Jaa, Dharmputra, and Parvarish.
Q: How has blogging helped you other than money?
- A: It’s been a shockingly effective complement to my in-person social life. I live in a small-ish city and it is common for people to move from here for work to bigger places like Chicago, and this has been the arc in my group of friends over the last few years. What I have “lost” in in-person friends has been multiplied many, many times by the Bollywood blogging community.
Q: What would be the one thing you’d change about yourself?
- A: I don’t always think things through as carefully and thoroughly as I should before I speak (or write!). It’s not that I don’t try, but sometimes I’m so eager to say something that I do not consider all its potential implications, both for me and the recipients. I need to think more!
Q: What is your deepest fear?
- A: That conservative forces will rise throughout the world and deny us our basic human desire to learn about and care for each other. Even if that doesn’t happen, I worry that as the world gets both bigger and smaller at the same time, some of us will get overwhelmed and want to crawl in hole; for others, the struggle for daily existence will continue to remain so hard that there is no energy left for engaging with people or ideas beyond the most basic. The digital divide worries me, and those of us with access have a moral obligation to join the struggle to defeat it.
Q: If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
- A: I thought about this for awhile, and I never know what I’d want to say to the big names, to people whose work I admire and has had such a positive effect on my life – like Thomas Jefferson or Jane Austen. But I know exactly what I’d want to talk about with my grandmother who died when I was 8 years old. People who know us both said I’m a lot like her, but I was too little to know much about her before she died. I so desperately wish that weren’t so, because I get the sense we’d be great friends.
Q: Which is your favorite television show? Favorite songs?
- A: These days, it’s 30 Rock. That’s the only one I’d really miss if it went off the air. There are a bunch of things I enjoy having on in the background while I knit or tidy the living room, like Bones and Better Off Ted. I’ll also watch most anything on PBS, and I have a grand time getting together with friends to watch the big literary adaptations like Little Dorrit. As for music, I always return to the Beatles and Elvis Costello, but I’ll listen to almost anything once, including movie soundtracks. I’ve been singing since I was about 10, and I love vocal music from around the world and throughout history.
Q: How much money do you have in your purse/wallet right now (including change)?
- A: Fifty-some dollars, probably. Plus cards. I know I have at least a dollar in change, which was not the case last week when I needed change for the parking meter.
Q: What is your favorite food? Any particular dislikes?
- A: I HATE CILANTRO. UGH. I call it “the evil weed.” Cilantro (and coriander, too), anything that swims, and eggs. My favorite food is probably a good piece of chocolate cake – with coffee, of course.
Q: What’s your take on the technological advancement these days? Does it make people’s life simple or complicated?
- A: Probably complicated, in that it has given us so many more options for communicating, recording, and organizing information. But I definitely think it’s made our lives better.
Q: What do you think of “blogging is the next BIG thing”?
- A: Surely it’s not the next big thing anymore! Maybe in 2001? The blogs I like are really magazines more than diaries, so as a concept I don’t think the blogs that matter to me are novel. They’re just so vastly easier to access and participate in than print ever could have been.
Q: Any special message you would like to share with your blog readers as well with everyone else?
- A: I’m amazed at their generosity of ideas and friendship! My life would be decidedly poorer without them, and I’m so grateful to be a part of such a smart and friendly community.