As an immigrant to the United States, I have learned to love this country. Yet, it’s important to me to remain connected to my homeland. Being involved in the Indian community in the Los Angeles area is one way to do that. When I was given the opportunity to participate as a member of the board of directors of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), I happily took it, because my participation not only gives me a connection, it allows me to give back to my community, too.
My wife and I are from India, where we were both chartered accountants (CA), which is the Indian equivalent of being a CPA here in the United States. To be a CA, one has to have a background in accounting and work for a chartered accounting firm for three years and pass a very difficult chartered accountancy test. (The success rate for first-time CA test takers is approximately 5%.)
Approximately 18 years ago, my wife and I decided to pursue our careers in the United States. Although Indian GAAP is different than U.S. GAAP, a majority of the accounting principles are the same in both countries. But to clear the CPA exam, we had to learn U.S. tax laws. It was our good fortune to pass the exam in our first year as residents in the United States. After working in New York for a few years, we made the move to California. Subsequently, I joined Gumbiner Savett, where I am a partner. (My wife, Roopa, runs her own small CPA firm.)
Gumbiner Savett is a large, local Southern California CPA firm whose clients are entrepreneurs, owner-operated and publicly held companies, including many in the entertainment industry. I am passionate about helping my clients. Besides taking care of their compliance needs of preparing financial statements and tax returns, I focus on value addition and whole-brain thinking, which my clients love and appreciate. I work with clients in a variety of industries, including the entertainment industry.
I began going to IFFLA a few years ago, just to watch the movies. Two years ago, I was asked to join the board, which was in need of a CPA with entertainment-industry experience who could help advise the festival on financial issues, including fundraising. IFFLA is a nonprofit organization and was launched nine years ago as a portal between Hollywood and Bollywood, the second-largest entertainment industry in the world. The festival celebrates the best of Indian cinema in various categories, such as feature films, documentaries and shorts. The movies often depict social and political issues as story lines, such as Peepli Live, a movie at this year’s festival about the struggles of Indian farmers taking extreme measures because self-serving politicians are unwilling to address their plight. IFFLA is the largest Indian film festival in North America and this year attracted more than 8,000 movie viewers. Many of the films, all shown at the ArcLight Hollywood theater, were sold out. It is worthy to note that the festival now attracts a more mainstream audience, not just Asian.
As the reputation of the festival has increased, so have the number of film entries. It’s a huge task for the executive director, Christina Marouda, her staff and volunteers to screen the films and decide which ones make it to the actual festival. The end of one festival marks the beginning preparations of the next.
Money raised by the board and the organization is not just for the weeklong festival. It is also used to run the one-on-one program that puts participating filmmakers in front of professionals from major and independent production houses and distribution companies; educational seminars; and for an awards ceremony to recognize the achievements of executives who have contributed to the entertainment industry in India.
My involvement as a board member allows me to assist the festival using my professional knowledge. I am able to advise the festival on a variety of accounting and tax issues, and I also prepare the tax returns for the festival. My firm has been very supportive of my involvement, even this past year when the festival took place during the last week of the tax busy season.
I truly enjoy the entertainment industry, and I really love watching the films at the festival. They help me remain connected to my homeland, something near and dear to my heart. Being on the IFFLA board, I have found a way to give back to my community in a way that I enjoy and cherish. It’s a good feeling.
Photo by Gene Lewis
—As told to Linda Segall, email@example.com,
a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.
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