If it seems like everyone has a podcast these days, it’s probably because they do — even “The Apartment with Asif and Baluch’s” creator Ali Baluch agrees. But his podcast, launched in 2016, is different than most: “The Apartment” is recorded both aurally and visually, and features immersive conversations set (appropriately) in Baluch’s Los Angeles apartment.
Conventionally speaking, podcasts are audio-only experiences — you can find them on your phone or across the internet, engaging you in someone else’s conversation for the length of your commute — but Baluch and his co-host Asif Ali are creating their own hybrid 360-degree-style approach to the podcasting space.
Each interview on “The Apartment” has both a traditional audio piece distributed via iTunes along with a companion “behind-the-scenes” style YouTube video that shows the organic interactions between the hosts and guests.
“I was listening to podcasts in the car and I’d go on Google after to see if there was footage of [the interview],” Baluch told Brown Girl Magazine of the genesis of the multi-platform idea. “The video concept just came out of me wanting to watch a lot of interviews.”
And so the YouTube podcast was born.
In their dual identities as creators of a podcast and in their day jobs, Baluch and Ali identify as artists of color: Baluch is a producer at MTV, while Asif is an actor currently starring on the TBS comedy “Wrecked.” Similar to many brown kids in entertainment, Baluch described his path into the industry as difficult: he grew up in Virginia with Muslim parents and found himself in a career he wasn’t passionate about.
“I was working in politics for a congressman in the House of Representatives. I was looking at law schools but I just really hated it.”
Baluch quickly realized that he wanted to go to film school instead, much to the dismay of his parents.
“They were super proud before and then they were so against [film school]. They still, to this day, are like ‘Hey, maybe you should reconsider and go back to school.’”
But Baluch followed his instincts and went to film school, later moving to LA where he met Asif Ali, Hasan Minhaj, Fahim Anwar, and Aristotle Athiras of Goatface Comedy.
“Ten years ago, Muslim comedy was corny and cheesy. Everyone was doing cookie-cutter Islamic cliches,” Baluch remembered of the late 00’s. “I was drawn towards Goatface…because it was four brown guys doing comedy that was just comedy.”
Goatface Comedy took off on YouTube and was the basis of Baluch and Ali’s friendship, laying the initial groundwork for “The Apartment.”
With busy schedules, planning episodes often becomes a race against the clock.
“We’ll spend a good 15-25 hours a week preparing for an episode,” Baluch explained. “We spend a lot of time researching other podcasts and watching interviews…we see what works for everybody else and try to sprinkle that into ours.”
“The Apartment” creators not only glean best practices from radio shows and podcasts like NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin,” but they are also hyper-conscious of repeating the same questions their guests have done in previous interviews.
“We do our research because we don’t want it to be the same old, same old…it’s just not engaging.”
The end results are impressively intimate conversations spanning politics, identity, race, and many other hot-button issues.
From the beginning, “The Apartment” has been committed to featuring people and artists of color.
“[We wanted to] focus on people of color, amplify and project their voices, give them a platform, and celebrate their work because they don’t get recognized enough,” said Baluch of their initial goals.
So far, “TheApartment” has featured twenty-five guests, and none of them have been white.
“It restricts us a lot…but we’re very stubborn and we’re sticking with it.”
Radhika Menon is a writer, TV connoisseur and pizza enthusiast living in New York City. She is a proud Michigan native and alumna of the University of Michigan. She loves puns and is sometimes funny on Twitter: follow her @menonrad.
For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.
February 28, 2023March 5, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, actor Anya Banerjee made her television debut, this past Sunday, in season 10 of NBC’s “The Blacklist.” She is seen playing the character of Siya Malik, daughter of former task force member Meera Malik who met with an untimely death in season one.
An MI6 agent, Malik is hoping to learn more about her mother and the work she did with Raymond Reddington. Her character is a sharp, inventive, fearless spy with a knack for spotting what motivates others. Even though this is her first-ever television role, one can see how deeply involved Banerjee is in the character, pushing you to connect back the dots to the history her character comes with. In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Banerjee talks more about her journey into acting, what drew her to the role of Siya and what should the audience expect from the 10th and final season of the show:
People, in general, are very influenced by the content they consume. Was there a specific film, play, or television series that got you interested in acting?
As the first in my family to be raised in “the West,” just being in the world involved performing some kind of identity. Film and TV acted as a third parent in that regard. I’m the first actor in my family, but have wanted to do this since before I can remember. Watching “Bend It Like Beckham” when I was in primary school showed me there was a place for South Asian female leads in Hollywood. I’ve also always been drawn to media with some element of the fantastical. I loved Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” because it brought the theatricality of the stage to the screen in a spectacular way. I remember being tickled by the cultural fusion in the film. It reflected my own sense of being at the intersection of various cultures and the appeal of escaping into a made-up world.
Were you a part of any productions in school or in college that influenced you?
I did a lot of singing and dancing as a kid; Indian dance-dramas at Durga Puja and yearly ballet recitals. We did musicals and Shakespeare productions at secondary school and that’s also when I started working in Auckland’s professional theatre scene.
What were some of your favorite roles while pursuing the acting program at Columbia University and how did they prepare you for your television debut?
Casting director James Calleri headed the acting MFA program at Columbia when I was there and his on-camera classes really set us up for success in TV. We also had the tremendous good fortune of being Ron Van Lieu’s first cohort at Columbia. The master acting teacher directed our thesis production of “Where Do We Live?” by Christopher Shinn. I played Lily, a British party girl who has to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in the play. With the help of movement coach Sita Mani and intimacy co-ordinator Alicia Rodis, I gained the confidence to take more risks in my acting. Now I’m playing a very different Brit with a totally different background and disposition but I’m using many of the same tools I used as Lily to feel grounded as Siya.
How would you describe “The Blacklist” to people wanting to learn more about the show?
Action-packed, full of intrigue, and endlessly entertaining. There’s a reason this show has been killing it for a decade and that’s the high caliber of the cast and crew, as well as the inventive and topical writing that keeps fans coming back for more. Audience members who’ve watched from the beginning will appreciate the full circle moments that my character ushers in — I play the daughter of Meera Malik, late CIA agent from season one so my storyline is a bit of a throwback. But new viewers can use me as an access point into the world of “The Blacklist” as Siya uncovers it, bit by bit, as a newcomer herself.
How did you prepare for the role of Siya Malik and how similar are you in real life to the character you’re playing on screen?
Some of the first things I had to learn on the job were stunts and how to operate a firearm. You’ll be seeing a lot of Siya kicking butt. The gun stuff was entirely new for me but I took to it very quickly and my background as a dancer helped with the fight scenes. Something I identify with in Siya is her resilience. She’s turned the tragedy of her mother’s death into the fuel that led to her own career as an MI6 agent, overcoming obstacles and others’ underestimation of her. That’s the kind of fire inside that I really admire and hope to practice in my own life.
I love characters with complex inner worlds — ones who are deeply flawed and may even be outcast from society, but who rise above the odds to carve out space for themselves and the ones they love.
Do you feel South Asians are still pigeonholed into certain roles or has it gotten better?
I think things are a lot better than what I grew up seeing in the early 2000s. “Sound of Metal,” for example, is one of my favorite movies because Riz Ahmed’s riveting performance has little to do with him being South Asian and everything to do with his commitment to an expertly crafted role.
Is there a dream role you would want to play?
On stage, someone as volatile as Emma from Duncan Macmillian’s “People Places & Things.” On screen, someone as funny as Amina in “We Are Lady Parts” or as brave as the title character in “Kimi.”
You have worked with many talented individuals. Is there anyone still on your list you would want to work with in terms of directors, actors, actresses, and others?
Parminder Nagra, obviously! As a Kiwi, it would be a dream come true to work with Jane Campion or Taika Waititi. I’m most excited to form meaningful relationships with artists daring enough to challenge the status quo.
You describe yourself as a “Kiwi-Bengali in the Big City.” How have you felt as an Indian American, raised in New Zealand, coming into the acting world?
There’s been a lot of juggling aspects of my triangular identity. A lot of the times in this industry people want you to be just one thing, or maybe two, but three’s pushing it! The reality is that we live in a globalized world. We have to make room for cultural nuance in the media. So maybe I’ll lean into my American side today, turn up the Kiwi tomorrow, and speak Bengali with my Indian parents on the phone. All are valid, authentic expressions of myself and reflections of the real world.
It’s okay to be a chameleon — in fact it’s a gift. Adapting aspects of your personality and identity to different circumstances is part of being a multicultural artist.
What is something not many people know about you?
I can be a little introverted and have struggled with social anxiety since I was a teenager. I had a bit of an emo phase then, but have since learned to take life less seriously and it’s made me a lot happier. My loved ones nurture and embrace the goofball in me. If you get to know me, I might let you see my inner clown!
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview?
Take pride in your difference and embrace the outsider in you. It’s your superpower. There’s no one right way to be a Brown Girl so get out there and be whoever you want to be!
From a queer brown boy in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) to now a fabulous trans femme artist in her 40s, Vivek Shraya is no stranger to life and its unpredictable journey. Her love for music as a young boy transcended any naysayer, and as she got older, she was hopeful that she’ll make it in the world of music one day; her ambitions were strong and the inhibitions were defeated by her love for the arts.
Art and poetry gave me a place to express the loneliness, the isolation, the frustration, the pain that I was experiencing.
But, as Shraya ventured deeper into the industry, she found that it wasn’t an easy code to crack. She moved from Edmonton to Toronto for better opportunities to showcase her talents, but the city gave her a wakeup call:
I found it really hard to create a music career and so at around 30, I broke up with music — even though technically in my 30s I kept making music — that was the first moment in my career that it occurred to me that I wasn’t entitled to success.. Just because I was a nominally good singer, had some decent contacts, was full of ambition, and was a hard worker, that didn’t necessarily guarantee I would be successful.
Shraya knew she was a creative person and couldn’t give up her creativity in the name of the failure she faced with her music. She ventured into writing her first (self-published) book, “God Loves Hair,” and that’s when she realized that she could still explore the arts through different mediums — books and short films. She continued to write, but at the back of her mind, she hadn’t given up on music.
Once people started showing interest in my other work, I was constantly trying to figure out how to use that interest to leverage my music. So if I was doing a reading, I was singing songs; if I was putting out a book, it was like ‘how do I put out a single that’s attached to that book?’ If I was making a film, it was like ‘how do I score for the film and have a song?’
Even with all the work in place, and using it to her advantage to further her music, Shraya says that by the age of 38/39, she knew that a successful career in music was,
Never gonna happen.
And that’s when she made a play about failure — “How To Fail As A Popstar” — which has now turned into a show on CBC Gem. Shraya took her story (and lessons) on failure and turned it into an incredible and relatable story for the masses to watch in the comfort of their own homes. She came out triumphant at the end, after all.
We sit down with Shraya for an exclusive chat about “How to Fail as a Popstar” — its inception (revisited), if she ever thought the story would go from book to play to CBC Gem as a show, and how diversity and inclusion are at the core of the series. There’s also a special surprise at the end you don’t want to miss!
Have a look:
You can now watch “How to Fail as a Popstar” on CBC Gem!