September 25, 2020March 22, 2021 3min readBy Sarah Khan
Photo Source: Screenshot/Disney Junior
Our favorite girl, Hannah Simone, is singing on Disney Channel’s “Mira, Royal Detective!” Simone plays Pinky, a goat expert, and in this episode, Pinky helps Mira find a missing goat…and performs the adorable new song “If I Were A Goat.”
I had the pleasure of talking to Hannah Simone about the episode, the fun legacy of her hilarious series “New Girl,” and her advice for South Asians hoping to break into the film/TV industry.
Did you think your first song would be about goats?
“Well, knowing Pinky, I would be surprised if it was anything else, but no, I never would expect that my first song for Disney, it would be about goats (*laughs*). If you told me five years ago that ‘you’re gonna be featured on a Disney soundtrack and your song is going to be about goats!’ Absolutely not.”
Mira mentions a lot of Indian sweets and dishes. What’s your favorite Indian sweet?
“I’m like a gulab jamun girl. That’s my jam. I can’t make any indian sweets, that’s what I should do in quarantine. But the downside to that is I’ll probably just eat it all the time.”
What do you think the social impact has been for ‘Mira, Royal Detective?’
“What’s super impressive to me and exciting, is that social media is a wonderful connection I have now. There’s so many parents, teachers, kids that watch the show and delight in the show. So I think there’s something about a female lead that’s a regular girl who is smart, resourceful. And funny. And she goes out and gets to solve all these mysteries. The show is just resonating with people that I haven’t felt like since ‘New Girl’!”
“I’m not a Bollywood watcher. From a young age I was so intimidated, they’re so talented, how they sing, dance, and I just felt so overwhelmed and intimidated by it. I’m not worthy. And what’s cool with ‘Mira’ is that, especially, in this episode, I’m singing, and this show fully pushed me out of my comfort zone. And the animation! My character dances! There’s a whole choreography to the song! I saw it and I was like wow this is incredible. I could do a full Bollywood act out and no one will know that I don’t have the skills in this department! [thanks to animation] animation, what a gift!
You mentioned ‘New Girl,’ which is a timeless body of work. And we can see that through it being a constant trending topic on socials, can you comment on that?
“It’s been great, it feels surreal. You only realize the impact of it when you’re out walking in the street. And people feel compelled to talk to you and you’re like oh people watch that show. And people have been contacting me saying I’m watching for the first time or watching for the 10th! And I think what’s going on in quarantine is that people are finding comfort in watching people who are trapped in a loft, week after week, it’s kind of the perfect show. Any time someone discovers that show, I feel so lucky.”
“I’ve been cooking a lot. Everyone kind of got back to basics. We make ourselves busy. There’s so many things in this big beautiful world but there’s something about sitting still with yourself that lets you challenge yourself in small ways. I made my first big veggie curry.”
What advice do you have for younger South Asians wanting to be in this industry?
“I’d say the landscape is changing. There are more opportunities—which for me is really exciting. It wasn’t the case when I started a decade ago when I turned up in LA. And I feel like there are platforms now for people to tell their story, start there. It’s still not easy. It’s not an easy industry to break into. But know what stories you want to tell and use your platform, no matter how small, to share the stories you wanna tell.”
“Mira, Royal Detective” airs Fridays on Disney Junior. The episode “The Case of Pinky and the Goat,” featuring a new song from Hannah Simone, is on DisneyNOW, and will re-air on Disney Junior on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020.
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!
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!
The onscreen representation of South Asians has never been great in Hollywood. In fact, I learned not to look for it in my favorite rom-coms, superhero series, and family dramas. In my TV-watching experience, though, comedy has been a different story. I love sitcoms and have watched nearly every popular sitcom from the early and late aughts. When I turned to these comfort shows, I never felt unrepresented. Some of the most iconic sitcom characters in recent decades are South Asian: Kelly Kapoor in “The Office,” Tom Haverford from “Parks and Recreation,” Cece Parekh in “New Girl,” Tahani Al-Jamil in “The Good Place,” and in the past year, Sid from “How I Met Your Father.” For most brown viewers, like me, this felt more than satisfactory. Any representation felt like good representation, and as an audience, we weren’t in a position to critique networks, producers, or writers on how we appeared on screen. It was, and still is, a celebration to appear at all.
The portrayal of South Asians in sitcoms is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opened doors for South Asians that were unavailable through other creative endeavors. Comedy as a genre is weird, and smart, but relatable. It has given our community a far-reaching platform to unite and connect with people of all cultures. As a minority group, exposure — especially in an industry held together by connections and clout — is integral for our collective success. South Asians have seen more success with comedy than any other genre because making people laugh is the most palatable way to present our similarities and differences. We can tailor our political statements, social frustrations, and marginalized experiences into fun, raunchy, non-threatening, and insightful content. Comedy is versatile enough to capture our most unique and marketable traits, and sitcoms, situational comedy, is an extension of this in the form of 24-minute episodes.
While a handful of sitcoms employed South Asian talent, our inclusion has rarely been well-intentioned. As of its last season in 2019, “The Big Bang Theory” has won 10 Emmys and made history as the longest-running, live-action sitcom. It is unclear whether these accomplishments occurred despite the poor representation of South Asians or for those very reasons. Raj Koothrappali, played by Kunal Nayyar, is the only person of color among the show’s eight cast members. Raj’s character was built around various stereotypes, extending beyond the standard nerd archetype. Raj was coded as the most socially inept, emasculated, and undesirable character in a group of awkward, geeky men. He is often put down, humiliated, and misunderstood. This type of representation, especially in a sitcom that ended just four years ago, is regressive and tiring. Characters like Raj really aren’t representations at all. He isn’t meant to be. Raj was characterized for the enjoyment of non-South Asian viewers. His “fresh-off-the-boat” attempts at assimilation are the jokes. His cultural traditions coupled with his Western ambitions are supposed to make Western audiences laugh. When Raj is the butt of a joke, the “ultimate loser” in a group of three other losers, nobody is laughing with him. They are laughing at him.
“Aliens in America,” another 2007s sitcom, lasted just one season on The CW for good reason. This sitcom featured a white American family in Wisconsin that decided to host an international student to help their son make friends in his high school. The family is dismayed when Raja, the exchange student, isn’t from a European country but from Pakistan. Here begins 18 episodes of overt racism, xenophobia, and religious and cultural intolerance posed for laughs. It’s a frustrating watch, and unfortunately, its gross premise can be explained by the lack of South Asian writers and directors credited. Representation on screen is only tasteful and compelling when there are South Asians behind the scenes sharing input, expertise, and experiences. Mindy Kaling’s work is evidence of what it can look like when South Asians have the resources and support to shape their own narratives. While her South Asian characters may fall under a similar archetype, their stories are expansive and authentic.
Sitcoms have both enforced and subverted South Asian stereotypes. Much of the work South Asian creatives have done to separate our identities from racist characterizations was simultaneously perpetuated by the entertainment industry. On the same screen as Raj and Raja, we watched Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford and Jameela Jamil as Tahani Al-Jamil. These two characters diverged from the former in that their culture and “brownness” were seldom mentioned. They seemed to exist almost separately from their ethnicity and carried visible confidence and self-assurance, pulling laughs with their eccentrics and quirkiness.
Hannah Simone’s Cece Parekh and Sid, played by Suraj Sharma in the “How I Met Your Mother” spin-off, “How I Met Your Father,” are both refreshingly original. Sid is a South Asian bartender from New York, and his ethnicity is neither ignored nor a point of mockery. Cece is a high school dropout turned professional model, continually recognized throughout the show for her confidence, savviness, and beauty. Their personalities not only subvert the nerdy, meek, and undesirable traits typically associated with brown characters but also inspire much of the witty and sharp dialogue among their respective ensemble casts. A government official from a modest Midwest town, a model in Los Angeles, a British philanthropist, and a New York bartender will never fully capture our individual experiences. Yet, their stories represent small yet significant aspects of our lives. These characters, born between 2007 and 2021, are indicative of the evolution of South Asian characters from prior caricatures. Our inherent identities, communities, and fundamental beliefs are not and should no longer be the joke.
Comedy, specifically sitcoms, has been a gateway for South Asians to enter the entertainment industry. While representation has been lacking in other genres of television, sitcoms continue to be home to notable South Asian talent. Brown characters in the past were depicted with varying degrees of accuracy and integrity, but our prolonged presence on network television has slowly led to main billing on genres outside of a comedic scope. Netflix productions and Marvel films are among the big-budget projects entertaining the idea that South Asians can be superheroes, love interests, and so much more. While Hollywood’s motivations to feature South Asian characters may have initially derived from a place of ridicule, South Asian creatives made comic relief characters their own. Sitcoms have matured into a genre where we can take ownership of our stories, evoking the raw, hilarious, and painful moments that make us the fully-fleshed people we are on and off the screen.