My Mohinders: Reshma Gajjar

My Mohinders: Reshma Gajjar

We spent a morning in Los Angeles with Reshma Gajjar: dancer, actress, model, performance artist and filmmaker. You might recognize her from the Academy award-winning film, La-La Land — she stole the show in the opening traffic scene and became widely known as the “ingénue in the yellow dress" from New York Times.

She boasts an impressive résumé — her talent has taken her around the globe with superstars like Madonna, Selena Gomez and Ricky Martin, to name a few. And she has shared the stage with Katy Perry, Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber and is spotted in other films such as American Beauty, 500 Days of Summer, The Muppets Movie, The New Girl; and TV shows Parks & Recreation, and Dancing with the Stars

Reshma has also spent a significant amount of time in India with Indicorps — a non-profit organization that gives Indians from across the globe an opportunity to reconnect with India while nurturing a new generation of socially-conscious global citizens. Her service work included choreographing a musical for marginalized youth in Mumbai which has ignited a pivotal shift in her identity as an artist and first-generation American woman of South Asian descent. 

Reshma first reached out to Mohinders because the woven shoes she purchased from a shoe-peddler in Bandra had seen better days. Having worn them into the ground, she had plans on visiting that Mochi (shoe repair specialists found in towns across India) to make the necessary repairs, but due to pandemic travel restrictions, her trip was put on pause. She discovered Mohinders shortly thereafter and got in touch to tell us of this serendipitous discovery — and the rest is history!  

Reshma’s fashion is an expression of herself: joyful, exuberant and playful; she has a real knack for putting together a memorable-yet-sensible look.
Reshma pairs her Woven Sandals with this cerulean palette — perfect for moments of movement in her lofty East LA studio that she shares with her husband and creative partner, Miles Crawford. 

When did you discover your love for movement, dance, and performance? 

I was three when I started dancing (ballet, tap and jazz) and performing… it was a pretty immediate love that just keeps growing. 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced as a woman of color in the arts? 

Low Representation. Lack of Opportunity. Identity. Even though I had been dancing my whole adolescence, I never saw anyone that looked like me in the performing arts, therefore I didn’t believe it to be a professional option for me.  I went to college to pursue a degree in Biology, ironically it was there that my potential as a dancer was uncovered. It took me a long time to work as a dancer (and then actor) because I am a “minority.” 

We are typecast. Our stories aren’t being told. We are not the center of, or leading story. 

To complicate things further, often I don’t work because of my ethnicity, and other times I do solely because of it. I love and embrace my heritage. It is however frustrating, to be constantly defined by it and or its stereotypes. It’s confusing to have your value be so wrapped up in something you have no control over. Working often has nothing to do with your training, talents or artistic expression.

Thankfully things are changing, however slowly. And, I plan on sticking around to see the other side.

I’ve had many full circle moments, with younger generations expressing their excitement in seeing me on television and film in non-stereotypical roles: someone that looks like them in these fields because it makes it more possible for them to believe it into reality. 

You’ve shared the stage with some incredible talent - what is the most memorable performance to date? 

Touring with Madonna was an epic rush every night. Opening the movie La La Land was an iconic honor. 

Most challenging type of dance-choreography?

Free-styling has always been a challenge for me because I come from a structured training background. Learning choreography is my comfort zone. Getting out of my head to just move freely has been a journey, and one that I continue to nurture. 

Is there a movie, song, or moment from your childhood that moved you to start dancing? 

Watching Micheal Jackson and the movie Newsies. 

One sentence to describe what it was like to tour with Madonna. 

 Everything you think it would be, and more. 

You’ve experienced the U.S. as a first-generation American. What are a few words or phrases that come to mind when you reflect on that part of your identity?

American Born Confused Desi. Not Indian enough, not American enough. Too ethnic. Where are you from? English is not my first language, it’s dance. Desire to blend in, fit in. Blond hair and blue eyes are beautiful. Whitewashed. Different. Model Minority Myth. Hold onto your culture.  Respect where I came from, but also celebrate where I am going. Best of both worlds. 

Tell us about the inspiration behind Inheritance Bombay to LA. How did the project begin? Has it surprised you in any ways as it has evolved?

Inheritance Bombay to La originated as a platform to share the things I inherited growing up with immigrant parents: wisdom teachings, recipes, resourceful lifestyle tips that are good for the planet and your wallet… and of course clothing. Committed to slow fashion, I enjoy second-hand style and vintage.  I’m a collector of clothes and have a lot of great pieces that I never wear but keep for their sentimental value. The shop was born out of an exercise in letting go, detaching, and giving coveted items new life. I noticed that it was easier to pass things on or sell them, if the memory connected to them was also shared.  I started selling my clothes with fun stories written on the tags. When COVID hit, everything closed and I became unemployed, I had the idea to open a make-shift shop in our converted garage/studio. I had a desire to be of service, connect and offer a safe, special shopping experience for people, one on one. For me the fun of shopping is the tangible, magical adventure of discovery and I knew I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. When visitors come, we sit outside, have tea, talk about life and they get the whole shop to themselves for an afternoon. It’s ultimate retail therapy for them and me.

Favorite Mohinders style? the first place you’d take them—near or far—when travel opens back up?

The Woven Flat shoe. I had a matching pair I had bought from a cute old man on the street in Bombay back when I lived in India for a period of time. I wore those shoes deep into the ground. I’ve been wanting another pair, but travel to India is not an option at the moment. I was on the search to find something similar which is how I discovered Mohinders. Thank you for bringing India to me! The first place I’ll be taking them is to and from the dance studio, which I miss terribly.  

Any upcoming projects you are particularly excited about? 

In addition to dance I also perform as an actor. A film I shot pre-lockdown, Moon Manor, is debuting at film festivals this year and will soon be available for viewing! During quarantine I acted in short film, JANE, in which I play a hired assassin. It was an exciting role for me, I look forward to sharing it with the world. Also, Miles and I completed our feature-film screenplay, In Our Wake, which is moving toward pre-production!

What moves you, both literally and figuratively? 

Humility, Forgiveness, Generosity, Grace, Selflessness, Wisdom, The Eldery, Love, Service, Sacrifice, Space Heaters, Oversized Clothes, Socks, Story, Emotion, Intention, Bare Feet, Chocolate, Cheese, Laughter, Commitment, Other People, Music, Words, Scents, Accents, Collaboration, Pencils, Beauty, Romance, Photo Shoots, Style, Grand Gestures, The Divine, Warm Beverages.