There is a fine line for immigrant families attempting to pass on cultural traditions while assimilating their children into greater society. Across immigrant households, many children struggle to connect to family roots while assimilating to the lifestyle of Western culture. Mother-of-two, Kirtie Persaud, understands this dynamic process. Fresh off the success of her debut children’s book, Persaud expands upon exposing her children to media representations of their heritage, the need for diverse literature and the balance of parenthood.
Growing up in a Hindu Guyanese household, Persaud represents first-generation Americans who often retain values and beliefs associated with their familial culture.
Tell us about your upbringing and its influence on your work.
“My parents were both teachers and always encouraged us to make education a priority. I followed in their footsteps and pursued a career in teaching, obtaining my master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. As I was completing my undergraduate degree, I fell in love with children’s literature and made it my goal to one day publish my own children’s book.”
As an elementary educator, Persaud understands the importance of exposing children to media showcasing different cultures. Children of diverse backgrounds at times lack representation or relatable figures within the mainstream community, which can influence their self-esteem and feelings of acceptance.
Persaud recognized the confusion and frustration first-generation children may go through, particularly if they are from a non-Western culture but live in a Westernized country.
She and her husband were adamant that providing their children, “a strong connection and understanding of both their Indo Caribbean and American culture will not only help them have a deep appreciation of where they come from but also contribute to them developing a mindset which promotes their growth, independence, bravery and education.”
When she became a parent, Persaud yearned to create a book that reflected South Asian voices her daughters could identify with and embrace. Simultaneously, she aspired to use writing as a therapeutic outlet for her own journey of healing.
It was decided that she would, “write a book about the love and admiration a child has for their Mama,” after her 18-month-old daughter comforted her during a moment of self-doubt and sadness.
What made you write your children’s book, and how did you decide to use its title?
“The concept came to me as I was going through postpartum depression and struggling to find ways to love and accept my new image. I realized I needed to view myself the way my child sees me… Pretty. Strong. Nurturing Caring.
During that time, I was also grieving the loss of my grandmother. It was from her that I came up with the concept of making this cultural book and comparing Mamas to Devis, or Hindu goddesses. Through writing the book, and finding the right words for each Devi, I thought also about my own Mama a lot. She was the inspiration behind the words and title of the book.
I chose, ‘My Mama is a Devi’ for the title because I felt that it was a bold and beautiful statement that sends a very impactful message. I wanted to choose a thought-provoking title that would draw in readers and give them something to think about.”
Persaud’s struggles with postpartum depression and grief, alongside the sacrifices and influences from female figures in her life, are deeply emotional topics that resonate with audiences irrespective of their history.
While writing a book that illustrated and connected her daughters to their Hindu culture was paramount, she ultimately hopes, ‘the Mamas and children reading this book appreciate the unique connection and love they share with each other, no matter what their cultural background is.’ The message of this book relates to Mamas and children everywhere, regardless of their ethnicity.”
The coronavirus pandemic heightened Persaud’s worries as bottlenecks slammed supply chains and labor costs skyrocketed. Nonetheless, she was determined to create a piece that would allow her daughters to, “be proud of their culture and embrace every aspect of it without feeling like they don’t fit in.”
Did you have any fears about writing your children’s book, and how did you overcome them?
“’My Mama is a Devi’ is very personal to me. I put my entire heart into writing and creating this book. I was terrified of it being rejected and criticized. My husband gently reminded me that anything anyone does will get both positive and negative criticism. But the amount of positivity will always overcome any amount of negativity. With his advice and support, as well as keeping my daughters in mind, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and go for it in the hopes that my daughters too will always let go of their fears and pursue whatever it is they desire to do.”
Are you self-published or did you go through a publishing company? Explain the process and any lessons you learned?
“I self-published ‘My Mama is a Devi.’ Originally I had hoped to go through a publisher, but because of COVID, most publishing companies were not accepting new manuscripts due to the cost of materials going up. My husband encouraged me to self-publish instead of waiting. I had to seek out my own illustrator. I knew I couldn’t just pick an illustrator because whomever I chose would have to recreate eight Hindu Devis. After weeks of searching, I came across QBN Studios. When I saw the first sketch of Durga Devi, I was so emotional with how well she was recreated. Both Quynh and Chris of QBN Studios were kind, very thorough and easy to work with. ‘My Mama is a Devi’ wouldn’t have been what it is without their talent.”
Faith, perseverance and identity are central to Persaud’s writing journey. These principles were ingrained in her since childhood, and she credits her success to the foundation her parents laid for her growing up.
How did your parents balance raising their kids with their heritage while having them live the American experience? What have you learned?
“My parents raised us to be proud of our culture and heritage. We attended Mandir regularly on Sundays and observed Hindu holidays and celebrations. However, we also enjoyed celebrating American holidays too. They wanted us to have a good balance between knowing who we are, while enjoying the society we grew up in.
Personally, I loved the way I grew up. My parents were always loving and extremely encouraging with anything my siblings and I wanted to do. Based on my upbringing, I would continue to do what my parents did with my siblings and I. My daughters will be raised with the mindset that they can pursue anything they want to, without worrying about the Indian community’s opinion. I want them to follow their dreams without hesitation, believe that they can accomplish anything their heart desires, and know that they will always have their parents rooting for them as their biggest cheerleaders.”
It is imperative for Persaud that more Indo Caribbeans enter the literary world. She believes it is critical that future generations grow up as individuals who “recognize the aspects of cultures that make them special and unique.”
What advice do you have for other aspiring Indo-Caribbean authors?
“Go for it! Whatever it is you have your heart set on, do it. I dragged my feet on this book for an entire decade over the fear of putting myself out there and being criticized. I have received an overwhelming amount of love and support since publishing ‘My Mama is a Devi’ and now I wish I did it sooner. Our world needs more books published by minorities. Our stories, our voices, our culture… It needs to be heard.”
What are you working on next? What are your future goals?
“I’m working on another South Asian Children’s Book called, ‘I am a Devi.’ This is a positive self-affirmation book for girls of all ages. My goal is to help young girls build their self-esteem, recognize their worth and potential and be so confident that they won’t ever need to seek validation from anyone but themselves. My daughters Sonia and Raina are the inspiration behind my next book. I also hope to publish more South-Asian children’s books in the near future.”
Audiences can find understanding and appreciation of Persaud’s experience from first-generation American to working mother balancing her identity, career and family. The morals exemplified in her book are a tribute to female empowerment and motherhood. Persaud wants to be part of a generation that is more inclusive of diverse storytelling and encourages others to create pieces that celebrate and bring awareness to the multicultural makeup of modern society.
Indian-American commercial real estate and land consultant Anita Verma-Lallian launched Camelback Productions at an event held in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Jan. 7. Billed as the state’s first women-and South Asian-owned film production and entertainment company, it will focus on South Asian representation and storytelling, according to a press statement issued by Verma-Lallian. The announcement follows “Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s $125 million film tax credit for film and TV production that was introduced in July 2022, “ the statement added.
The Jan. 7 private launch party and meet and greet introduced investors and supporters to what’s ahead for Camelback Productions.
Noting the “major push to see minority groups represented in the media over the past few years,” Verma-Lallian said she wants to see more South Asians represented. “I want my children to see themselves when they watch TV. I want my daughter’s dream to become an actress to become a reality. Skin color shouldn’t be a barrier to that.”
The event opened with remarks from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has served as the city’s 62nd mayor since 2019. She welcomes the company to “the greater Phoenix community.” She expressed confidence that “the team will attract some of the country’s top talent to the Valley.”
Guests at the event included actor and comedian Lilly Singh, actor Nik Dodani, Aparna of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking,” Bali Chainani and Anisha Ramakrishna of Bravo’s “Family Karma” fame, and Paramount+ executive P. Sean Gupta, to name a few.
The company is Verma-Lallian’s first venture into the film industry. She is known for providing full concierge services for land seekers and developers of all types of sites and assists investors in discovering viable properties in the Phoenix area through her company, Arizona Land Consulting, the statement added.
Named in honor of the iconic Camelback Mountain in the Valley, Verma-Lallian says she wants her production company to have the same indestructible foundation. Camelback Productions plans to begin its first project later this summer.
Haider wades his way through Karachi’s expansive beach, climbing and tumbling over rocks, in Mumtaz’s memory. The vast landscape is perfectly encapsulated in the 4:3 aspect ratio — an unconventional yet welcoming choice. He vanishes into the sea, leaving his storyline open-ended. The screen fades to black. The film comes to a close. The gentle humming and lapping of the waves disappear. However, I stay put. Stumped, and unable to comprehend the masterpiece that Saim Sadiq, director of “Joyland”, has blessed Pakistanis with.
“It’s so important to narrate these stories in today’s world, where we’re often divided and seldom united,” says producer Apoorva Charan during an exclusive chat with Brown Girl Magazine.
It’s her feature film debut as a producer, and she’s justifiably beaming with pride.
Joyland is such a win for South Asia, but particularly, Pakistani storytelling. Every person I met, I felt like there was some characteristic or quirk about them that mirrored our characters in the film.
Set in the depths of androon Lahore, “Joyland” primarily revolves around Haider (Ali Junejo) — a meek, unemployed house husband in a borderline, passionless marriage. He’s happily helping Saleem bhai (Sohail Sameer) and Nucci bhabi (Sarwat Gilani) raise three kids, while the fourth one breaks Nucci’s water in the opening scene. Another girl is born, despite the ultrasound’s previous declaration of a baby boy.
“If I were to receive an award based on my character in “Joyland”, it’d definitely be for “best at single-handedly increasing the population of Pakistan,” says Gillani, as we howl with laughter during our spoiler-riddled chat with the cast of the film. “I think that, combined with the ‘coolest bhabi’ — those two will have my name on them.”
But Nucci’s wasn’t just a bhabi who pumped out a new baby every year. Sarwat’s character was given some level of agency — a woman who reminisced about a career in interior design before marriage and kids while smoking a cigarette in secrecy.
I think my philanthropic work plays a part in how I started saying no to bechari roles. How can I be a role model to these women I’m trying to help, while playing the same characters? The change came about with “Churails” and I vehemently stuck to it. My characters need to have a voice; a backbone.
On the other hand, Haider’s wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), works as a beautician at the local salon, busy dolling up brides in Lahore’s unpredictable load-shedding.
Both Haider and Mumtaz seem to have a relatively stable marriage based equally on societal expectations and gender-flipped roles. While Haider stays home, helps in the kitchen, and attempts at searching for a traditional job, Mumtaz carves autonomy and independence for herself. This is in spite of an oppressive family life characterised and dictated by Haider’s overly conservative, traditionalist father and patriarch, Rana (Salmaan Peerzada), who wishes for the couple to procreate a cricket team of just boys.
But Rana, known as Abba Jee, is also layered with his own 50 shades of grey, struggling with loneliness and a lack of intimacy, mirrored in his relationship with next-door neighbour Fayyaz (Sania Saeed). His emotional desires are symbolised by his physical impediments — the former handicapped with “what will people say”, and the latter with a wheelchair. The rules that he has for his children are the same that his children have for him, bound by tradition, norms, and society. They are not allowed to stray from what is considered “normal”.
The film’s women are strong which is pretty much a reflection of the women in Sadiq’s life. While Abba Jee shuns the love and companionship that Fayyaz offers, she stands her ground until firmly asked to leave. The complexity of each person’s emotions versus expectations is what makes “Joyland” relatable on a human level.
Alternatively, Mumtaz’s relationship with Haider is based on convenience and habit, where two people share the same bed but sleep facing away (partially because one of Saleem and Nucci’s young daughters crashes with them every night, illustrating the confined space both Haider and Mumtaz are allowed to be themselves in). The dynamics of their marriage drastically evolve once Haider’s eye catches Biba (Alina Khan), covered in blood as she walks numbingly into the hospital where Nucci gave birth. The introductory scene mirrored the brutal reality of violence inflicted upon Pakistan’s trans community; one of “Joyland’s” most haunting moments.
Mumtaz is asked to quit her job once Haider lands a gig as a “theatre manager” — a cover-up for his job as a background dancer at the nightclub Biba coincidentally performs at. The film portrays the traditional Pakistani marital social dynamic; men must work, and women must housekeep. Even when some level of independence is allowed to a married woman, she must forego her right to a career later in life. Understandably, it leaves Mumtaz devastated.
“It’s so strange how that’s just an acceptable act in our society,” Farooq chimes in, voicing Mumtaz’s thoughts. “Even if a woman is good at a 100 things, ultimately, she’s expected to quit her job to be a homemaker because that’s ‘her job’.”
With time, Haider falls into a routine and rhythm of working at the theatre and spending more time with Biba, allowing him an insight into the widespread transphobia she’s regularly faced with. Biba confides her innermost desire to be what she termed as “a complete woman” in order to land the same dancing opportunities as her counterparts.
Haider’s daring closeness to Biba leaves Mumtaz — who at this point is reliant on him as a best friend more than the physical intimacy he fitfully provides her — alone, isolated, and depressed. For Haider, it is liberating to leave problems at home and escape into a secret world centred around his deepest desires. He doesn’t want to be a bad person. He doesn’t wish to hurt or leave his wife. But his happiness now seemingly lies in dancing and exchanging stolen kisses with Biba. Farooq agrees:
I think Mumtaz and Haider were best friends at this point. They had an unspoken love for each other, which stemmed from the sanctity of their relationship. They might not be in love but they did love each other. In the eyes of our society and otherwise, they were married, but they’d drifted so far apart. There was love but it wasn’t possible to return from how distant they were.
This point of no return brings Haider to a crossroads — one where he is torn between his loyalty to Mumtaz and his love for Biba. Ultimately and ironically, in a particularly passionate moment, it is his curiosity pertaining to Biba’s sexuality that drives her to throw him out of her life. Defeated and guilt-ridden, he comes face-to-face with a pregnant and non-confrontational Mumtaz, who, by now, is aware of what Haider has been up to but doesn’t have the mental capacity to verbally digest his infidelity alongside a child she doesn’t want.
Her apprehensions about bearing and raising children are indicated throughout the early days of her pregnancy. The clutching of her stomach, the tightening of the rollercoaster belt during a visit to Joyland park, and her unease during the ultrasound are just a few examples of Mumtaz’s angst.
Abba Jee’s 70th birthday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mumtaz, surrounded by family and friends and feeling emptier than ever, takes her own life. A tragic full circle where one life ends as the other begins. Her suicide is harbingered by Rana’s birthday speech as he recalls a palmist once saying his bloodline would end with Haider.
“Joyland” is replete with polarity. There is a seamless hand-in-hand flow of happiness and devastation, longing and antipathy, birth and death. Pakistani society’s struggles with misogynistic gender roles are depicted in the most gentle, sensitive, and nuanced ways. The struggle is also ironic, considering Pakistan has one of the most progressive transgender legislations in the world. Trans people have the right to self-identify their gender in Pakistan – a right still denied to the trans community in many progressive countries, such as the UK.
A deeply reflective film with memorable and emotional characters doing justice to their performances. It’s currently running in cinemas here in the UK, and we highly recommend watching this poignant piece of art.
Weddings, huh? Talk about a stress fest. And for the bride, it’s like a 24/7 walk on eggshells. However, add in a paranoid and overprotective sister, and you’ve got a recipe for a completely different degree of drama. In “Polite Society,” Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) and her gang of clumsy pals take the phrase “till death do us part” to a whole new level as they plot to “steal” the bride — aka Ria’s own sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), during her shaadi reception. But with a wedding hall packed with guests, a mother-in-law from hell, and a groom with more shades of fraud than a rainbow, this heist is anything but smooth sailing.
It goes without saying but “Polite Society” comes with a cast of wacky characters, gut-busting one-liners, and an action-packed heist sequence, making it a must-watch for anyone who loves a good comedy. I mean who hasn’t dealt with some serious wedding drama, am I right?
Lead actress Kansara agrees wholeheartedly. “I definitely have!” she chuckles, as I catch up with her at Soho Hotel in London. Despite the rubbish weather outside, Kansara is a ray of sunshine with her infectious enthusiasm.
The minute I read the script, I thought to myself…wow, playing Ria is going to be one wild ride!
And wild is definitely the right word to describe her character. Ria is a British-Pakistani martial artist-in-training from London, determined to become a professional stuntwoman. Her sister, Lena, who dropped out of uni, often ends up being the guinea pig for filming Ria’s stunts for YouTube, including one lovingly dubbed “the fury.” She reveals
I’d never done martial arts before this film. The stunt training started from the day I got the role, and it was three to four times a week all the way until we finished filming. It was a seven-week period in total, and boy, was it physically demanding. Oh my God, I think I can add a whole new skills section to my CV! But on a serious note, it was so much fun and we had an amazing stunt team. They, including my stunt double, taught me so much. It was important to me to do my own stunts as much as possible, but also strike a healthy balance.
For South Asian women, who are often expected to be quiet and agreeable, all that punching and kicking on set must have been cathartic, right?
Honestly, it was like anger management at work! I got to kick and throw things around — it was the perfect balance.
What sets Kansara apart from other actors starting out in the industry is her ability to draw from her own life experiences to bring authenticity to her characters on screen. Her career began with a degree from UCL and a communications job at a pharmaceutical company. But today, her versatile range and unwavering commitment to her craft have propelled her to the forefront of British comedy, portraying defiant South Asian women we’d love to see in real life.
From my own experience as a South Asian woman, I’ve always been told to do what’s ‘proper’ and think twice before speaking up. Playing a character like Ria and putting myself in her shoes, I felt like I was doing and saying things that I wish I had done at her age. It was almost like living through her and speaking my mind about things I never did.
Without a doubt, every South Asian woman on this planet wishes she cared more about herself and less about what other people think.
Ria totally inspired me. If only I had her mindset when I was younger, my career path would have taken off way sooner instead of worrying about other people’s opinions.
The chemistry between the cast members on and off-screen is so apparent, especially the sisterhood between Ria and Lena. The wild adventures of a bride, and her paranoid maid of honour navigating through family drama, are bound to create some unforgettable moments on set.
We both confess our love and admiration for Nimra Bucha’s portrayal of Raheela, Lena’s evil mother-in-law and share a teenage fangirling moment:
I’m obsessed with that woman. There’s something terrifying yet ultra sexy about her character in “Polite Society” that’s mesmerising. I absolutely loved the dance sequence. As South Asians, we’ve all grown up watching Bollywood films and idolising Madhuri Dixit’s iconic dance moves. “Polite Society” gave me my Bollywood heroine moment, and it was a dream come true with the costumes and jewellery.
It’s definitely a unique experience for Kansara, considering her former career was worlds apart from entertainment. So, what advice does she have for aspiring actors who may secretly wish to pursue the same path, but are unsure of the next steps? Kansara advises, drawing from her character’s heist-planning skills.
I believe starting small and honing your craft is an underrated superpower. If you’re passionate about acting, make short-form videos, and build your portfolio. You never know who might be watching.
So, grab your popcorn and your sense of humour, and get ready for “Polite Society” — the film that proves that sometimes, the most polite thing to do is kick some butt and save the day. It released in cinemas on April 28th, and I highly recommend it.