When actor Tom Holland posted a snippet on his Instagram story from “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” eagle-eyed aficionados were quick to point out the unlikely appearance of a friendly neighbourhood hijabi. The latest film in the Marvel franchise was released at the beginning of July, and for the first time in its history, features a character wearing the hijab. Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. division caught up with actress Zoha Rahman, who plays the part of Peter Parker’s Muslim friend, to find out about her experience with Marvel, and what it means to represent the hijab in mainstream Hollywood.
How did you get into modeling and acting, and was it always something you wanted to pursue?
Yes, they were both something I wanted to pursue. I stepped foot into modelling via agencies and commercials first and met several people who also worked for the film industry. From there on, I was cast in a lead role for a small budget film, a Telegu movie and then ‘Spider-Man Far From Home.’ I’m a lawyer by academic qualifications and really enjoyed my student life, but my passions always resided with modelling and acting.
What was the transition like from law into acting?
It was a relatively natural transition for me because I was modelling part-time alongside law in my second year of university, before stepping into it full-time. When I worked in commercials and met different people from the creative industry, the transition became much more organic.
How were you approached for the role in Spider-Man?
It was June of last year and my agency sent my profile for this top-secret audition. I only knew the production company’s name and that’s it! When I went into the audition room, they made me sign an NDA before being given a script that had a line that said, ‘Is that Spiderman? What’s he doing in London?’ I thought to myself, ‘okay then!’ The good thing is that I only had five minutes to prepare for it so I didn’t think too much and tried not to overwhelm myself. I was only overcome with emotions after the audition was done. Three days later, I was offered the job.
Previously, the hijab was always portrayed in a stereotypical manner. How did you make it your own?
After I was offered the role, they asked if I was happy to wear the hijab for it since I don’t wear one in real life. I said I was comfortable with the hijab on. I ran to my mum’s cupboard, got hold of a dupatta, took some photos wearing it and they really liked the outcome. This was my chance to change the perspective around Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, When I met the wardrobe team for the first time during dress fittings, they really took my input on how to wear a headscarf, how to tie it and all the different styles you can wear it in. Instagram was a huge inspiration for me for different hijab styles, and I’m very grateful that the wardrobe team took all my suggestions on board. We played around with different knot styles, colours and materials. I was also very particular regarding my clothes and how they should be represented with the hijab on which was well received.
What was your experience of acting like with the hijab on?
Everyone on set is super nice and professional, but I did feel a little bit of hesitation towards me. Since i wore the hijab on set, most of the crew and other members of the cast didn’t know that I didn’t wear it in real life. The first time we had a gathering outside of work for the entire cast and crew, many people had trouble recognising me! It was such a Peter Parker/Spider-Man moment. I noticed when I didn’t have the hijab on that people would be much more comfortable in speaking to me about anything and everything. The biggest hesitation I encountered were in other parts of Europe, such as Venice and Prague. London is incredibly multicultural and people can easily go unnoticed. However, it’s not as prominent in other parts of Europe. It was never an outwardly negative feeling, but I would almost always get second looks and people weren’t as comfortable approaching me.
What was it like to work with the cast, especially Tom Holland and Zendaya?
They are the loveliest, all of them! They are so amazing and professional. I was very nervous on my first day, but they made everyone feel so comfortable. Tom is such a sweetheart – every morning he’d say hello to the cast and ask how we were doing. Zendaya is incredible – such positive energy.
How much did you know about Spiderman’s plot, especially Mysterio, before taking the role?
I was just as surprised as everyone else when I saw the film for the first time at the premiere! So much of our script was blacked out during shoots because it was full of spoilers. Fortunately, our scenes didn’t require us to know every single detail of the script. It helped that we didn’t know because we had fewer things to hide from everyone. Being a comic book fan, I knew about Mysterio’s character because I’d read about it. However, I didn’t know how they’d approach it in the film because those twists were taken out from the script. So, I went in for over three months of filming for this movie, without knowing what the story was!
How intense was the filming schedule?
It was very intense. We had two consecutive weeks of night shoots, where we woke up at 6 p.m. because we filmed throughout the night. These were the carnival scenes, towards the end of the film. In general, it was an incredibly intense schedule because we had long 12-14 hour shoot days. Especially in costumes when you can’t lay down for a bit or eat or snooze, it can be exhausting.
What are your upcoming plans, and what can your audience expect from you?
I’m currently working on a short film and another Bollywood production. The latter is a Kabir Khan film called ’83’ (based on the 1983 World Cup), that stars Deepika Padukone and Ranvir Singh. It’s a small role but very different, so I’m quite excited to see how people will react once it’s released.
November 2, 2023November 2, 2023 6min readBy Nida Hasan
It’s not every day that a film leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed with a flood of mixed emotions — from grief and hopelessness to fear and rage, all the while brimming with a sense of pride for the protagonist. This usually is a testament to the maker’s cinematic prowess; their ability to not just engage their audience but also invoke a response. In “To Kill A Tiger” however, this is a result of both the director’s unrestrained and incisive approach and the eye-opening reality that unfolds on screen. Emmy-nominated filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s documentary, “To Kill A Tiger,” is not at all gritty or violent in its depiction; there is no blood and gore that compels you to feel the pain and empathize. It’s the trauma, collective suffering, and the almost sickening reactions that surround the struggle that makes it an eerie watch.
In essence, “To Kill A Tiger” is an unfiltered look into the aftermath of a horrific sexual assault in Bero, a tribal village in Jharkhand, India. The film starts off with Ranjit, a poor rice farmer and 13-year-old victim Kiran’s father, recalling the details of her brutal rape, at a family wedding, by three men including her cousin. After Ranjit files the case, the perpetrators are arrested immediately, but the road to justice is long and dreary, and the chances of getting it, woefully small.
In India, where a woman is raped every 20 minutes and where 90% of those rape crimes go unreported, Ranjit’s unwavering support for her daughter and her right to justice is a rare sight. He is joined by a host of activists including those from Srijan Foundation to further his cause, in the hopes that his unlikely win may bring some form of systemic and societal change. But in his almost 14-month-long, arduous journey, Ranjit and his family find themselves stuck in a destructive cycle of victim-blaming and the intense pressures of upholding the community’s so-called honor. Comments like “she should have known better,” or “she must’ve been a tease for boys will be boys,” and suggestions of marrying her off with one of her rapists so as to keep the village united and let peace prevail, are a harrowing reminder of how much of rural India is still so deeply entrenched in patriarchy and powered by toxic masculinity, which is what actually led Pahuja to this case in the first place.
“After the Delhi gang rape. I decided I wanted to make a film on Indian masculinity. I spent a fair bit of time researching and raising funds for the early development phase because it’s such an abstract concept; how do you tell a story about masculinity?” Pahuja shared, while chatting with Brown Girl Magazine.
“Over the course of my research, I came across the work of a Delhi-based organization, Center for Health and Social Justice. They, essentially, are pioneers in the space around masculinity. They understood very early on that if there were any substantial, effective strides to be made to end the discrimination that exists against women, one would actually have to tackle masculinity, and give men a new way to be male. The film that I initially set out to make was following their work. They were running a program in the state of Jharkhand and Ranjit was enrolled in that program. And that’s how I came across this story. It wasn’t like I was looking for a story about a sexual assault. The incident just happened around that time.”
But shifting the focus to a deeply personal story with an uncertain future, and one that was highly sensitive to its surrounding environment (significantly volatile in nature), posed a series of challenges for both the family involved and the crew. For one, it was crucial to ensure that the fact that there’s a camera present does not, in any way, influence Ranjit’s course of action; and that both Ranjit and Kiran have room and the freedom to make decisions as they see fit.
“We always made it very clear that they shouldn’t do what they were doing for the camera, or for the videos. We told them we will support whatever decision they want to make and that they shouldn’t feel a compulsion to keep pursuing this. We wanted to ensure that they were pursuing justice, in spite of all the things that were going on. Because we were all worried for them. We didn’t want them to be in any kind of danger or to be in a position where they were unsafe,” Pahuja stressed.
As is evident in the film, there are plenty of moments when it seems Ranjit would jump the ship. Apart from the mental and financial burden of keeping up with innumerable court dates, and a system that does little to help the marginalized get justice, the threats to his family’s wellbeing were insurmountable. In one instance, we see this growing hostility veer towards Pahuja’s crew — the villagers question the filmmaker’s continued interest in the incident, warning her to stop meddling in their community’s affairs. Pahuja recalls the instance:
“It was a scary situation. We were aware that this eruption might happen; it wasn’t unexpected but when it happened, it was a shock. You know what I mean? We had been in that village for several months filming, trying to get people on our side, trying to create relationships, even with the boys’ families. And Ranjit was fine with that; he understood why we needed to do that. We made a lot of effort to not be a bull in a china shop; we were very careful. We were certainly aware of the sensitivity and of the possibility that there could be conflict, but not to the degree that [it] happened. I was shocked, I was afraid but the primary emotion that I had was also one of guilt. I felt very ashamed of myself for disrupting something very complicated.”
In the face of such adversity, with the world shunning her and with every possible witness jeopardizing her shot at justice, it is Kiran’s unblemished view of the world, her relentless faith in good winning over evil, and her fierce determination to see her attackers pay for their crime, even at such a tender age, that’s truly admirable. As a viewer, you’ll find yourself at your wit’s end watching Kiran constantly relive her trauma, repeating meticulous details of the incident to one legal official after the other, but she perseveres, also lending her father the courage and the strength to continue her fight.
Is “To Kill A Tiger” a depressing exposition of the inherently patriarchal, and significantly problematic, mindset of the Indian population that is in turn breeding rape culture? Yes. Does it leave you incredibly frustrated and disappointed over the bare minimum impact that Ranjit and Kiran’s defiance and eventual victory has over prevalent attitudes? Yes. With a plethora of rape cases in India suffering a fate worse than Kiran’s, was it a story that needed to be told? Definitely yes. Though a world where women’s voices are not silenced may still very much feel like a utopian fantasy, “To Kill A Tiger” is effectively opening a dialogue by laying bare the roots of it all. Through this profoundly resonant story, Pahuja is helping us understand why whilst taking the first step towards the ‘how’ for her work, and the scope of impact, doesn’t end with the audiences.
“Right now, we’re working with Equality Now; they’ve come on board as our impact partners. And we’re devising a kind of global strategy in terms of what are the things that the film can achieve? And the change that we’re seeking is both at the legal level and at a systems level. And of course, at a cultural level as well. For change to happen, you have to change culture, and culture comprises many different layers. So you have to have an approach that looks at all of these different layers. We have some very specific things that we know we want to do such as creating a fund for survivors. We also want to create a coalition of survivors in India. And then, of course, we want to work on masculinity. We’re really hoping that with Ranjit being the role model, the film can travel with [the] organization to have an impact on men and boys.”
“To Kill A Tiger” is currently showing in cinemas across the US.
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.
RedBison Productions, a New Jersey-based production house, announced their upcoming film “Sach Is Life” at a press event hosted at Goa Restaurant in New York City. The film draws inspiration from an extraordinary true story about a mother and her 3-year-old boy suffering from multiple dystrophy.
This project entailed over two years of extensive research and has resulted in an original story centered around a family who relocated from Kashmir to the United States to save their son fighting a daily battle with death and uncertainty.
“Sach Is Life” stars 2023 Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh(recognized for his work in “Rocket Boys,” also known for his roles in “Made in Heaven” and “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway,”) and Kirti Kulhari(known for her roles in “Four More Shots,” “URI,” “Pink,” and “Criminal Justice,”) in lead roles. “Sach Is Life” is produced by Rahul Bhat & Romila Saraf Bhat and written and directed by Harsh Mahadeshwar.
“We proudly introduce ‘Sach Is Life,’ a film based on extraordinary true events,” affirms Romila Saraf Bhat and Rahul Bhat, both producers of Red Bison Productions in Princeton, New Jersey, and Harsh Mahadeshwar, a writer and director in Houston, Texas.
“This is more than just a film, it’s a tribute to the invincible human spirit and the infinite potential that resides within each one of us. We are thrilled to collaborate with immensely talented actors Kirti Kulhari and Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh to bring this heartwarming story to life.”
“I’m extremely excited to collaborate with a crew from the U.S. and to work in an environment that’s different from how it’s done in India. I’ll do my best to make it a film that we all are going to be proud of,” said Kirti Kulhari, who will play the role of the mother. “Sach Is Life” also marks Kirti’s international debut.
Calling “Sach Is Life” an “incredibly uplifting” story, actor Jim Sarbh said he’s proud to be a part of this film.
“I am excited to be a part of this extremely heartwarming and inspirational story of resilience, dedication, and belief. Nothing moves me quite like a story of a family coming together to help one of their own achieve their dreams.”
“Sach Is Life” begins filming around April 2024, and will be shot in Kashmir, New Delhi, New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York.
About Red Bison Productions:
Red Bison Productions is based in Princeton, New Jersey, US, and demonstrates a strong and enduring dedication to the South Asian diaspora. Their mission is to bring global true-life stories to worldwide audiences.