I was raised by the sea. The Persian Gulf’s shores gently swept over the sandy beach in front of my house every morning. I was born in Ras Tanura, a small beach town in Saudi Arabia and grew up with an incredibly diverse and international group of friends. We could trust each other, knowing that we were all third culture kids, implants in the sandy desert and hot sun. Although we were from countries all over the world, we made a new home there with each other. My Indian Muslim family warmly adapted to Saudi customs during our many years there. We welcomed traditions from both cultures and the fusion of Indian and Saudi cultures became so familiar and normal, even while I knew that I was growing up in a unique environment.
Henna, or mehndi, came into my life through Eid. One year when I was 14 years old, I walked into a red-carpeted tent full of ladies speaking in Arabic and decorating each other’s hands with aromatic cones of henna. The beauty and detail behind the swirls, curves and patterns drew me in and entranced me. In a way, henna is one of the reasons I’m highly attentive to detail in my business today. I incorporate digital henna in each of my artworks and apparel collections and bring the fusion of South Asia, Middle East and Western cultures together to represent bi-cultural identity on our sleeves.
Here are three things I’ve learned over the years as a multicultural artist, immigrant and businesswoman:
Forge your own path
When I first started my business, I was scared to put myself out there. Rejection isn’t comfortable and we don’t like diving into things that may not work, especially as immigrants. I hand-designed white baseball caps with my now signature henna style but had never seen anyone do the same thing. I had to push myself to forge my own path and believe in myself. I started by creating a presence on social media and invited my friends and acquaintances to support me, and even then, I remember nervously waiting for them to accept my request. Over the years, I’ve realized that if I hadn’t just started, I wouldn’t be in the place I am now. Don’t be afraid to put your vision out there, it’ll grow over time.
It can be easy to get stuck into your own bubble, creating things that fit in your comfort zone. Even that is a great start, but experimenting with different mediums and art techniques can broaden your horizon incredibly. Personally, I’ve worked with a variety of mediums that I never thought I would – the list includes hand-designed caps, pencil on paper, sharpie doodles, digital art, shoe customization with paint, hand-drawing on cotton patches, painting on clothes and of course, drawing on hands with henna. The list is endless once you push yourself.
Attention to detail and hard work will keep you grounded and focused
As an immigrant, hard work has become a part of my DNA. One of my favorite quotes is “A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work,” said Colin Powell. Stay grounded and focused by putting in the work and time. I learned about the importance of attention to detail and hard work through my parents, who taught me these skills through their careers of medicine, teaching and entrepreneurship. Once you hone in on your overall mission, this will help you keep going despite the numerous struggles and challenges.
My experiences growing up as a third culture kid definitely shaped my character, work ethic and view on the world and its citizens. I would encourage anyone who’s in my boat to create their own path and stay focused on the end goal. It’s not going to be the easiest or hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it may be the most fulfilling.
February 28, 2023March 5, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, actor Anya Banerjee made her television debut, this past Sunday, in season 10 of NBC’s “The Blacklist.” She is seen playing the character of Siya Malik, daughter of former task force member Meera Malik who met with an untimely death in season one.
An MI6 agent, Malik is hoping to learn more about her mother and the work she did with Raymond Reddington. Her character is a sharp, inventive, fearless spy with a knack for spotting what motivates others. Even though this is her first-ever television role, one can see how deeply involved Banerjee is in the character, pushing you to connect back the dots to the history her character comes with. In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Banerjee talks more about her journey into acting, what drew her to the role of Siya and what should the audience expect from the 10th and final season of the show:
People, in general, are very influenced by the content they consume. Was there a specific film, play, or television series that got you interested in acting?
As the first in my family to be raised in “the West,” just being in the world involved performing some kind of identity. Film and TV acted as a third parent in that regard. I’m the first actor in my family, but have wanted to do this since before I can remember. Watching “Bend It Like Beckham” when I was in primary school showed me there was a place for South Asian female leads in Hollywood. I’ve also always been drawn to media with some element of the fantastical. I loved Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” because it brought the theatricality of the stage to the screen in a spectacular way. I remember being tickled by the cultural fusion in the film. It reflected my own sense of being at the intersection of various cultures and the appeal of escaping into a made-up world.
Were you a part of any productions in school or in college that influenced you?
I did a lot of singing and dancing as a kid; Indian dance-dramas at Durga Puja and yearly ballet recitals. We did musicals and Shakespeare productions at secondary school and that’s also when I started working in Auckland’s professional theatre scene.
What were some of your favorite roles while pursuing the acting program at Columbia University and how did they prepare you for your television debut?
Casting director James Calleri headed the acting MFA program at Columbia when I was there and his on-camera classes really set us up for success in TV. We also had the tremendous good fortune of being Ron Van Lieu’s first cohort at Columbia. The master acting teacher directed our thesis production of “Where Do We Live?” by Christopher Shinn. I played Lily, a British party girl who has to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in the play. With the help of movement coach Sita Mani and intimacy co-ordinator Alicia Rodis, I gained the confidence to take more risks in my acting. Now I’m playing a very different Brit with a totally different background and disposition but I’m using many of the same tools I used as Lily to feel grounded as Siya.
How would you describe “The Blacklist” to people wanting to learn more about the show?
Action-packed, full of intrigue, and endlessly entertaining. There’s a reason this show has been killing it for a decade and that’s the high caliber of the cast and crew, as well as the inventive and topical writing that keeps fans coming back for more. Audience members who’ve watched from the beginning will appreciate the full circle moments that my character ushers in — I play the daughter of Meera Malik, late CIA agent from season one so my storyline is a bit of a throwback. But new viewers can use me as an access point into the world of “The Blacklist” as Siya uncovers it, bit by bit, as a newcomer herself.
How did you prepare for the role of Siya Malik and how similar are you in real life to the character you’re playing on screen?
Some of the first things I had to learn on the job were stunts and how to operate a firearm. You’ll be seeing a lot of Siya kicking butt. The gun stuff was entirely new for me but I took to it very quickly and my background as a dancer helped with the fight scenes. Something I identify with in Siya is her resilience. She’s turned the tragedy of her mother’s death into the fuel that led to her own career as an MI6 agent, overcoming obstacles and others’ underestimation of her. That’s the kind of fire inside that I really admire and hope to practice in my own life.
I love characters with complex inner worlds — ones who are deeply flawed and may even be outcast from society, but who rise above the odds to carve out space for themselves and the ones they love.
Do you feel South Asians are still pigeonholed into certain roles or has it gotten better?
I think things are a lot better than what I grew up seeing in the early 2000s. “Sound of Metal,” for example, is one of my favorite movies because Riz Ahmed’s riveting performance has little to do with him being South Asian and everything to do with his commitment to an expertly crafted role.
Is there a dream role you would want to play?
On stage, someone as volatile as Emma from Duncan Macmillian’s “People Places & Things.” On screen, someone as funny as Amina in “We Are Lady Parts” or as brave as the title character in “Kimi.”
You have worked with many talented individuals. Is there anyone still on your list you would want to work with in terms of directors, actors, actresses, and others?
Parminder Nagra, obviously! As a Kiwi, it would be a dream come true to work with Jane Campion or Taika Waititi. I’m most excited to form meaningful relationships with artists daring enough to challenge the status quo.
You describe yourself as a “Kiwi-Bengali in the Big City.” How have you felt as an Indian American, raised in New Zealand, coming into the acting world?
There’s been a lot of juggling aspects of my triangular identity. A lot of the times in this industry people want you to be just one thing, or maybe two, but three’s pushing it! The reality is that we live in a globalized world. We have to make room for cultural nuance in the media. So maybe I’ll lean into my American side today, turn up the Kiwi tomorrow, and speak Bengali with my Indian parents on the phone. All are valid, authentic expressions of myself and reflections of the real world.
It’s okay to be a chameleon — in fact it’s a gift. Adapting aspects of your personality and identity to different circumstances is part of being a multicultural artist.
What is something not many people know about you?
I can be a little introverted and have struggled with social anxiety since I was a teenager. I had a bit of an emo phase then, but have since learned to take life less seriously and it’s made me a lot happier. My loved ones nurture and embrace the goofball in me. If you get to know me, I might let you see my inner clown!
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview?
Take pride in your difference and embrace the outsider in you. It’s your superpower. There’s no one right way to be a Brown Girl so get out there and be whoever you want to be!
From a queer brown boy in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) to now a fabulous trans femme artist in her 40s, Vivek Shraya is no stranger to life and its unpredictable journey. Her love for music as a young boy transcended any naysayer, and as she got older, she was hopeful that she’ll make it in the world of music one day; her ambitions were strong and the inhibitions were defeated by her love for the arts.
Art and poetry gave me a place to express the loneliness, the isolation, the frustration, the pain that I was experiencing.
But, as Shraya ventured deeper into the industry, she found that it wasn’t an easy code to crack. She moved from Edmonton to Toronto for better opportunities to showcase her talents, but the city gave her a wakeup call:
I found it really hard to create a music career and so at around 30, I broke up with music — even though technically in my 30s I kept making music — that was the first moment in my career that it occurred to me that I wasn’t entitled to success.. Just because I was a nominally good singer, had some decent contacts, was full of ambition, and was a hard worker, that didn’t necessarily guarantee I would be successful.
Shraya knew she was a creative person and couldn’t give up her creativity in the name of the failure she faced with her music. She ventured into writing her first (self-published) book, “God Loves Hair,” and that’s when she realized that she could still explore the arts through different mediums — books and short films. She continued to write, but at the back of her mind, she hadn’t given up on music.
Once people started showing interest in my other work, I was constantly trying to figure out how to use that interest to leverage my music. So if I was doing a reading, I was singing songs; if I was putting out a book, it was like ‘how do I put out a single that’s attached to that book?’ If I was making a film, it was like ‘how do I score for the film and have a song?’
Even with all the work in place, and using it to her advantage to further her music, Shraya says that by the age of 38/39, she knew that a successful career in music was,
Never gonna happen.
And that’s when she made a play about failure — “How To Fail As A Popstar” — which has now turned into a show on CBC Gem. Shraya took her story (and lessons) on failure and turned it into an incredible and relatable story for the masses to watch in the comfort of their own homes. She came out triumphant at the end, after all.
We sit down with Shraya for an exclusive chat about “How to Fail as a Popstar” — its inception (revisited), if she ever thought the story would go from book to play to CBC Gem as a show, and how diversity and inclusion are at the core of the series. There’s also a special surprise at the end you don’t want to miss!
Have a look:
You can now watch “How to Fail as a Popstar” on CBC Gem!
March 20, 2023March 29, 2023 3min readBy Rasha Goel
Award-winning commercial real estate and land consultant in Arizona, Anita Verma-Lallian, is venturing into the world of entertainment with her newfound production house, Camelback Productions, making her the first South Asian female in the state to do so. Verma-Lallian is a woman used to paving her own way, and now she’s committed to doing it for future generations.
Through her production company, she aims to contribute towards greater South Asian representation in mainstream media with a focus on storytelling that’s relevant to the community. In a conversation with Brown Girl Magazine, the real estate maven spoke about what inspired her to shift from investing in land to investing in creative dreams.
Tell us more about Camelback Productions and what your hopes are for the company?
The intention is to help communities that are not being represented in the media. As you know, there are a lot more streamers looking for content so that presents an interesting opportunity for people to tell stories that are otherwise not being told.
For us it’s important to tell these stories that aren’t being told, and tell them in the way that we want them to be told. With South Asians, for instance, the roles typically given are stereotypical. There are only four or five roles we are playing repeatedly. I want to show the South Asian community and culture in a different way.
You come from a business and investor background. I am curious to know what catapulted your interest towards establishing a production company?
Good question. There were a few things that inspired my interest. I was looking to diversify the different opportunities we offered our investors. We’ve done a lot of real estate, so we were overall looking for different investment opportunities. And then, at the time when I started exploring this, the real estate market was in this wait-and-see for many people.
Everyone was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens next. There was a slowdown at the end of 2022 which is when I started looking into this more. Film seemed like it was kind of recession-proof and not really tied to what’s happening in the economy, which I thought was refreshing and exciting.
Also, overall, I observed what was happening in the industry with there being a push to see more South Asians in the media. The timing felt right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Good stories and good quality scripts. We are looking at all types of content — movies, docu-series, comedy shows, and reality shows. We’re open to anything that has a good message.
On a personal level, what hits home for you with this production company?
Growing up I always loved film and TV. We watched a lot of Bollywood movies because that’s what we related to and I always loved that. But I did feel there wasn’t a lot of representation of people that looked like me. Being able to change that — especially after having kids, and a daughter who wants to go into film — is important for. It’s a contribution for future generations. It’s important to me that as they grow up, they see people that look just like them.
Is there a significance to the name Camelback?
Yes! Camelback Mountain is a very iconic mountain in Phoenix.It’s one of the most famous hikes we have here and a relatively challenging one.
The significance is being able to overcome challenges and barriers. I have a nice view of Camelback Mountain and it’s something I look at every day, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed. It has a very calming and grounding presence.
To me the mountains signify being grounded and not being able to be moved by external factors. That’s what I want this production company to be!
What would you advise people interested in entering the entertainment industry?
The best advice I would give someone is to align yourself with people that you know are experts in the industry; that have a good track record. Learn from as many people as you can.I learn as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and I study different things to understand what was and wasn’t successful.