January 16, 2018January 16, 2018 3min readBy Aysha Qamar
Disney is in hot water after issuing a statement defending the practice of tanning extras on the set of its new Guy Ritchie-directed film “Aladdin.” The film is a live-action version of Disney’s 1992 animated hit, based on a tale from The Arabian Nights. The original movie was also critiqued for the stereotypical and offensive language used in some of its music, including the use of the terms ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ to refer to the Middle East.
The movie is set to hit cinemas in March 2019 and has already caused controversy, especially after British-Indian actress Naomi Scott was cast as Princess Jasmine and a new character was added for white American actor Billy Magnussen.
Despite an ample supply of colored actors worldwide, Disney’s statement said they met great difficulty when searching for a colored cast — which more than raised the public’s eyebrows.
Actor Kaushal Odedra, who worked as an extra on the film, told The Sunday Times that he saw a queue of 20 actors waiting to have their “skin tone changed.”
“On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognized one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab,” he told the newspaper. “I asked a Saudi cast member what he made of having these extras being tanned so heavily. And he said it’s unfortunate, but this is how the industry works, and there’s no point complaining about it since it isn’t going to change.”
When addressed with the issue, Disney didn’t deny the tanning. Instead, they told BBC’s Newsbeat that “great care was taken to put together one of the largest, most diverse casts ever seen on screen.” The company stressed that “more than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian.”
“Diversity of our cast and background performers was a requirement and only in a handful of instances when it was a matter of specialty skills, safety and control (special effects rigs, stunt performers and handling of animals) were crew made up to blend in,” a Disney spokesperson added.
Despite progress, representation of colored people in the media is still lacking or stereotypical. Often when darker skin tones are cast, they are made to play stereotypical roles with heavy accents — feeding stereotypes instead of eradicating them.
“Disney [is] sending out a message that your skin color, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can’t be powered on and washed off,” Odedra said. “Also, if I’d wanted to discuss it, speaking to the almost entirely white crew seemed somewhat intimidating.”
“I wonder if the shoe was on the other foot – where brown actors were hired and had their skin lightened to play, for example, the royal family – whether this would be seen as OK,” he added.
Prominent actors and figures such as Kal Penn, known for his role as Kumar in the hit “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” showed their dismay.
“I love Disney so much,” Penn tweeted.
“But when a PR person says they decided to put 100 people in Brownface in 2018 because not enough of us are qualified, that’s bs, someone just didn’t want to spend the $ to do it right. Let’s all expect more & do better this year,” he added.
I love @Disney so much. But when a PR person says they decided to put 100 people in Brownface in 2018 because not enough of us are qualified, that’s bs, someone just didn’t want to spend the $ to do it right. Let’s all expect more & do better this year.https://t.co/MzZJp6jvPB
Bafta-nominated director Riaz Meer, a member of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union’s black members’ committee, told The Sunday Times that the practice of “browning up” is an “insult to the whole industry.”
“The talent exists and is accessible and there’s no way that Asian extras could not have been hired to meet the needs of the film,” he continued. “Failing to hire on-screen talent of the right ethnic identity to meet the clear needs of this production is just plain wrong. We expect better from all filmmakers.”
“Naatu Naatu” is one of the most memorable sequences from S.S. Rajamouli’s epic action-drama “RRR,” and has assisted the Telugu-language blockbuster in becoming one of the highest-grossing films at the worldwide box office. With music by M.M. Keeravani and lyrics by Chandrabose, “Naatu Naatu” is a celebration of regional music, dance, national identity, and male friendship.
But long before the song began collecting its accolades, its infectious tune and fast-step dance, performed vigorously by N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, became a viral sensation outside of the film. It’s now the first song in a movie from India to be nominated for an Oscar and also to have won a Golden Globe.
When asked about the song’s ripple effect across the world, Keervani remarked,
For us — the musicians and artists — social media is very powerful, because of the internet and reachability. Nowadays, globally, anything that is different by nature, anything that is innovative, a little innovative, will catch instant attention.
It all started with a TikTok dance challenge where thousands of fans mimicked the dizzying hook step, choreographed by Prem Rakshith, garnering hundreds of millions of views, and making the song a bonafide global phenomenon. Today, the official YouTube video has well over 123 million views.
While the science behind why certain songs have a higher virality is widely debated, Keeravani attributes a large part to the song’s instant connection with the masses to its unusual 6/8 time signature, taken from carnatic music — which he believes is “inherently encoded in the human body.”
For non musicians, he vocally percusses the rhythm, “thik-i-tha tha-ka-tha, thik-i-tha tha-ka-tha, thik-i-tha tha-ka-tha, thik-i-tha tha-ka-tha.”
[This beat] will give you instant energy. Like suppose, you’re going low on sugar. So there are things like instant energy boosters; like you consume some aerated drink or a cup of coffee with sugar. And instantly your energy is boosted. So six, eight will give you an instant feeling to get up, create some steps and dance. There is a swing in the beat. So you will react to that beat — involuntarily you will react.
Before Keeravani wrote the music for “Naatu Naatu,” Chandrabose was given the challenging task to pen the lyrics to this rhythm. Continuing a long-standing collaboration that began 29 years ago, Chandrabose has co-written over 400 songs with Keeravani, including this iconic title track — his only co-write on “RRR.”
Regionality played a significant role in the composition.
Ram comes from Andhra and Bheem comes from Telangana. Both dialects are different; the slang is different. So, there is a challenge to write both slangs in one song. Everybody should understand those words. That is the challenge.
Chandrabose explained how he needed to appropriately incorporate the various dialects from the regions the primary characters were from, and reflect colloquialisms from 100 years ago, when the film’s story takes place, that is also recognizable to present-day listeners.
In [the lyric] ‘Yerrajonna rottelona mirapathokku kalipinattu’ (which translates roughly to “like eating a jowar roti with a chili” in English), ‘thokku’ means pickly, like mango pickle. In Andhra, it is known as ‘pachadi’ and in Telangana, it is known as ‘thokku.’ So, everyone can relate and connect [to] that word. And since ‘thokku’ belongs to Telangana, that line is sung by Bheem.
The original Telugu version of “Naatu Naatu” was also dubbed and released across a variety regional Indian languages, including, “Naacho Naacho” in Hindi, “Naattu Koothu” in Tamil, “Halli Naatu” in Kannada, and “Karinthol” in Malayalam, and has collectively been streamed over 92 million times on Spotify.
Chandrabose remarks that he envisioned the lyrics to 90 percent of the song in half a day, but it took about 19 more months to finalize the song in its entirety. This was in great part due to the time spent on researching the dialects and finalizing each word to the overall ethos of the song. Rajamouli had given strict direction that the song should authentically be about one’s nature, their culture and countryside, and be universally respectful.
When asked about how they scaled this process across the other five language releases, Keeravani recalled that they had to prioritize lip sync.
Since it’s a dance number, there is a combination of close shots and long shots. So the long shots are spared, but in the close shots, they need to be as close to the Telugu lyric, I mean, lip wise.
He added that the writing team had to make some concessions,
There will be a certain amount of compromise in the meaning of the lyric. But that is inevitable. As long as the song is conveying its main essence, it has no problem.
Culturally, India has a rich history of celebrating songwriters, composers, and music directors in cinema. However, this recognition does not always translate to credit and compensation. For example, “Naatu Naatu” was extraordinarily successful on TikTok, but TikTok isn’t available in India, creating complex monetization adversities. It’s especially important to understand that India’s non-bollywood and independent music market has a nascent publishing infrastructure and is traditionally known to have a work-for-hire payment model where song contributors are not offered royalties.
Speaking optimistically to changing times, Chandrabose shared,
I’m getting royalty from past 12 years (from performing rights societies IPRS in India and PRS in the U.K.).
He explained that, especially with viral songs, some songwriters and composers have only limited careers in the “limelight,” but “after 10 to 15 years, they cannot get more work and they cannot get money.” He speaks to songwriting royalties as a key to retirement for the next generation of song makers.
So, at that time they will receive these IPRS royalties as their pension to meet their needs. They will get these amounts in their old age that will help them a lot.
Upon concluding our chat with Chandrabose and Keeravani, we marveled at the amount of progress that has happened for independent and non-hindi language music communities around the world. The virality of “Naatu Naatu” is a testament to the musical prowess out of South Asia, but also challenges the Western notion that Indian music is narrowly defined by belonging in the catchall ‘world music’ category, or the sounds of the sitar and tabla, or a lightbulb-twisting Bhangra club-hit wonder, or, if nothing else, then Bollywood — all in large part exclusively North Indian. Unfortunately, this distinctly important nuance still plagues Western media and major music institutions.
Recently during a Songwriters Hall of Fame conversation with Oscar-nominated songwriters, Paul Williams incorrectly introduced “Naatu Naatu,” as “the first Hindi-language song ever nominated for an Oscar,” which is spliced with not one, but two errors — not only misidentifying the language but ignoring A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho!,” a Hindi song which was nominated and won in 2009 for the same category. As South Asian artists around the world begin to traverse into global markets, we hope to see more Western entities taking the time to research, hire South Asian contributors, and execute due diligence to minimize inaccuracies and cultural erasure.
“RRR” is streaming on Netflix and Zee5. On March 3 it will be re-released in over 200 US theaters as part of ‘The RRR Fan CelebRRRation’. Check your local cinema guides for one-off theatrical screenings.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channel’s, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “go back to the dishes” or “go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions over being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the forseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as, “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses, but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith, and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.
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!