‘India’s Daughter’: The Film’s Lack of Voices, it’s Systematic Issues and the Global Problem

by Wendy Aujla &

by Lakhpreet Kaur

We dedicate this article to Jyoti Singh Pandey whose voice is missing in the controversial documentary “India’s Daughter” and to all her friends and family who hold her close, especially her parents, who courageously shared their personal pain and experience that came into being in 2012.

“Our daughter’s name is Jyoti Singh. In death she has lit a torch…she posed a question. What is the meaning of ‘a woman?’ I wish that whatever darkness there is in the world should be dispelled by this light.”

-Badri Singh (Jyoti’s father)


This article contains solely our (the authors) views. We do not consider ourselves film critic experts. We do not represent any group or entity when writing this piece. We hope this article will help guide a critical discussion for viewers of the 2015 film “India’s Daughter.”


“India’s Daughter” is a documentary by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin on the 2012 violent gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey. It has received mixed reactions from applause to banning.

The film received positive reviews from Sonia Faleiro in The Guardian  and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent. Falerio called the film “essential viewing” and Alibhai-Brown says the film brings attention to “the global war against women.” On the contrary, activist Kavita Krishnan criticized the film stating it reinforces Indian patriarchal attitudes towards women. The Indian government also weighed in and banned the film saying it would “incite violence against women,” and it was “an international conspiracy to defame India.” Other Indian authorities claimed that airing the documentary might make it difficult to maintain public law and order.

We believe that screening this film in a vacuum, without providing appropriate background, pointing out some of the film’s shortcomings, and thinking critical about it, could do more harm than good.  It is timely and important, to have a guided discussion; something the film fails to do with its abrupt ending. Banning the film or continuing to show it without a critical discussion does little to educate and challenge the way some people think about rape and gender based violence.  Additionally, for viewers who are being introduced to issues of gender-based violence, this film can leave them with more questions than answers and without any tools to navigate the complex situation.

[Read Related: ‘India’s Daughter’: The Documentary, its Controversy and India’s Shameful Ban]

This is not to say “India’s Daughter” is a failure. In fact, it has many strengths. Primarily, it has caught people’s attention and has ignited a global discussion on human rights and gender-based violence. “India’s Daughter” highlighted the Pandey family’s celebration of the birth of a daughter (which, is rare in Indian society) and their drive to support and educate her in the face of patriarchy. Jyoti’s mother, Asha, explains how her daughter’s birth was “celebrated like she was a boy.” Many viewers could point to this family as a great role model in the fight for gender equality as many female fetuses continue to be aborted in India. The strong societal preference for a son over a daughter still continues to plague India. The film subtly challenges this gender discrimination ideology and also wonderfully touches on male feminism or “progressive” men, particularly through Badri Singh’s (Jyoti’s father) and her male friend’s narrative accounts.

Furthermore, we admired the inclusion of the footage of the nationwide protest against rape that occurred immediately after the 2012 Delhi rape case in India. This response was a milestone in the anti-rape movement where protesters called for justice, gender solidarity, and better treatment girls and women through education and advocacy. These protests created an equal space, where both men and women participated and voiced their concerns.  Other victims of rape also came forward and demanded justice, protection, and gender equality. The silence and social stigma around speaking about rape was slowly starting to erode during this period of 2012, as well as after the release of the film in 2015.

Yet, in our opinion, “India’s Daughter” still falls short of being a pillar in the “anti-rape” dialogue and does not fully support the human rights movement.

Soap Box for the Rapist

One of the most glaring shortcomings of the film was the imbalance of voices between Jyoti’s parents and Mukesh Singh, one of the convicted rapists and the driver of the bus (where the gang-rape occurred).  The media can be a force for justice, yet we felt this film gave the rapist a speaking platform. The film did give airtime to Jyoti’s family, but it was brief in comparison to the time Mukesh received.

For instance, the film opens with an interview with Jyoti’s parents who explain how proud they were of their daughter’s educational and career success as a medical student. The film briefly personalized Jyoti as a feminist, hard working humanitarian but provided no photo of Jyoti, no interview with her friends or the friend who was with her the night the rape took place. Her life was not fully honored, in the film, she was not remembered beyond her career aspiration. For instance, we know very little about her character like, “Who was she? What did she like doing?” But, on the contrary, the film spent a lot of time on Mukesh, his life and mindset.

The heavy focus on Mukesh’s way of thinking and his beliefs would have been fine if the film explained his behavior forms a theoretical, anthropological or academic standpoint and addressed questions such as, “Why does the rapist think this way?” The film thoroughly explained that he does think in a certain way, but did not explain why.

“India’s Daughter” attempts to expose the misogynistic mentality of India, but fails to provide an explanation for why such exposure is needed beyond India, at a global level. For instance, might the perpetrators’ or rapists’ perspective in sexual violence tells us more about how we might prevent rape by understanding how gang rapists desire for a woman’s body even in the presence of another male?

Lack of Voices

The emphasis on Mukesh’s account silences the voices of others who could have provided a more thorough, less biased account of what happened that night.

For example, the film only includes the voices of a few men (e.g. Jyoti’s father and her close friend, the rapist, and the defendants (lawyer), and fails to engage with men who do not rape and men who do not just think like defendant’s lawyer or rapists like Mukesh. We were left wondering, “Do all Indian men think rape is okay? Where are the men who condemn gender-based violence and speak out against rape in India?”

The voice of Jyoti’s male friend (the who one accompanied her to the movies) is also left out. He is never interviewed or mentioned and we do not know where he is on his healing journey as a survivor of such trauma? What is his relationship with Jyoti’s parents in the midst of the unpredictability surrounding the outcome of the sentencing of the rapists accused for murdering their innocent daughter? He was a victim of violence too and yet, his voice was denied.

A further consequence of focusing more on Mukesh is that the “it was her fault she was raped” narrative is perpetuated and unfortunately, the film did not include the voices of strong feminist advocates who could have removed the blame of rape from Joyti and explain why her actions were not reckless. Instead, the film reinforces a sexist idea of how women should and should not act through dominant patriarchy. The consequences of being treated horrifically when not acting in “appropriate ways” in India are described.

For instance, one of the defendant’s lawyer M.L. Sharma said, “In our society we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person.”

He goes on to expresses his belief that rape is triggered by women and thus, women are deserving of it. This type of a response to the cruel and vicious attack of Jyoti’s female body further oppresses young girls and women who are denied a voice or space to have conversations around rape.

It is further solidified by the defendants lawyer’s remarks:

“Our culture is the best. In our culture there is no place for a woman.” Which leads to the question, “Is this why the film fails to provide the female perspective because there is no place for her view?”

Perhaps that is why other women’s voices were absent too. For instance, the film does not allow women to use their own agency and resources (inner strength) to speak out against rape. It recognizes rape as a sub-culture that some men live-in (e.g. the living situations of the rapists as portrayed in the film).

Other perspectives that could have added to provide a more complex and robust exploration of the rape case but were absent include: the prosecution, society’s opinion on women’s independence, and the doctors in Singapore who tried to save Jyoti’s life before she died. Including the expertise of psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists would have helped viewers understand the roots of India’s misogyny. Instead, the film briefly alludes to gender based violence in India with a few statistics. This is problematic because again, the filmmaker does not include academics or activists from India who are directly engaged with grassroots work.

Systemic Issues

In addition to absent individual perspectives and voices, the film also left out explorations of systemic issues around rape.  If the film was to give context to the rape case and illustrate the systemic issues, we would not be left wondering: “How is rape reported in India?” “Why might rape go unreported?” “What are the cultural realities and gender relations in India that are important for us to understand this case?”  “What is the difference between boarding a private versus a public bus?” “Were Jyoti’s actions unusual?” The filmmaker assumed the audience understood the nuances of Indian culture and the place of women in that society.

Instead of exploring the complexities and nuances that lead people to rape, the film suggested a mono-cause for rape; a poor man’s mentality. However, rape does not occur in a vacuum and perpetrators do not on their own come to believe that it is appropriate to rape. Rather, institutional forces, cultural norms, and political structures influence and shape society and the individuals within it. Legal systems, impunity, corrupt policing system and judicial system, sexist penal code, family life, drugs, alcohol, and cultural beliefs (such as castism, classism, racism, gender discrimination, dowries and female feticide and infanticide) all intersect to play a part in creating a rapist. It is not simply the result of “a poor man’s mentality.”

Rape is a weapon that is used to enforce boundaries and define what the perpetrator believes to be “appropriate” behavior; thus, it happens in different contexts for different reasons. Yet, the film failed to address “Why and how this rape happened?” “In what way is rape used in India?” “How do certain ideologies of caste, class, religion and gender play a role?” “Why do rapes go underreported?” or “How does a society develop to allow this to happen?”

Purpose of the Film

Many of our questions and instantiates come from the film’s lack of a clear direction. Very little information is given about the producer and her goals in creating “India’s Daughter.” From watching the film, we do not know who the filmmaker is: Udwin’s background, her objectives, and her relationship to India are also unknown. Not knowing this information, we wonder if as a foreigner in India, Udwin may have brought with her biases and binaries such as the East/West divide. Could she have brought with her the neo-colonial view of “saving” Indian women? Ultimately, we wonder what her underlying motives and intentions were in covering this topic and particularly this recent case.

We continue to interrogate and question why this documentary film has been produced in such a way and whether the purpose is to educate and create awareness, and if so, for whom? Without a clear thesis, we are left to infer that India’s Daughter aims is to create some sort of a movement to save the future of girls and women in Indian society, who might walk alone at night or watch a movie (like India’s Daughter) with a male counterpart.

This is a global problem

India’s Daughter focuses on a single extreme case and as such does not place the problem of rape in the broader global context of the fight for equal rights for women. Jyoti’s case is not an isolated case, and rape occurs outside of India too; women, to some degree, remain second-class people everywhere, and to our knowledge, no country has achieved 100% gender equality.  When the issue of rape in India is disconnected from the global rape pandemic, the “othering” discourse (us vs. them) comes into play and people may overlook injustices at home.

If the purpose of “India’s Daughter” was to help prevent the attacks on women’s bodies around the world and address gender inequalities and the discrimination girls and women, it could have referenced the international UN campaign HeForShe. The HeForShe campaign highlights how women around the globe are demanding for gender equality and safety, but more importantly equal rights to that of men.

Strategically the campaign focuses on involving men to support women in their struggles because this is not only a woman’s issue. The HeForShe campaign for gender equality (launched by the famous Emma Waton’s speech at the United Nations on September 20, 2014) could have been one way to question further the struggles faced by women all around the world, not just in India and not just rape. India became the most extreme example of gender-based violence through Jyoti, but the attitudes seen in the film permeate the globe beyond India.

Such a call to action, with suggested solutions to gendered violence or sexism would have helped the viewer feel empowered, instead of hopeless. Hopelessness is a feeling that many may experience at the end of the film considering the overall takeaway message was overly simple: “Rapist are not nice and this situation is sad,” or “rape is the fault of the woman.” The film does not seem to give safety for girls and women around the globe. Instead it positioned girls and women at more risk, by expressing the perpetrators/defendants perspective to be “OK or tolerable or acceptable to some level.”

The film does so little to honor Jyoti’s life, it did not help bring justice to her family, and we feel it does not create a space to highlight the voices of victims who share a similar story of rape. Thus, we hope viewers consider the questions below while viewing the film “India’s Daughter.”

Discussion Guide for the Film “India’s Daughter”
  1. Should we be concerned as “outsiders” (e.g. South Asian diaspora) with saving India’s daughter?
  1. Whose voices are represented and not represented in the film beyond the ones we touched on?
  1. How could a counter narrative to the film be used to engage with young boys and men?
  1. How can the West stand in solidarity with those in the East without creating a binary, for example, rape happens over there and this mindset is not shared on the side of the West?
  1. What are your thoughts around how the defendant’s lawyer describes the good Indian daughter and specifically how she should act obedient, not dress a certain way or go out late at night? What about the good Indian son’s expectations that would allow us to focus on the larger rape culture which no one wishes to talk about (e.g. seen as a taboo subject)?

Further Reading

Gopa, A. (2015, March 8). International Women’s Day: How we discuss rape in India and around the world. The Real News.

Kaur, M. (2014, January 6). Protest for a pause. Tribune India: Spectrum. 

Kaur. M. (2014, September 14). Hollow vengeance: Why four hangings won’t change India’s horrific culture of rape and torture. Foreign Policy. 

Merelli, A. (2015, March 5). No, Jyoti Singh is not India’s daughter. Quartz.

Lakhpreet KaurLakhpreet Kaur is editor-in-chief for Kaur Life, a nonprofit online magazine geared to empowering Sikh women. She is also on the executive board of SAFAR: The Sikh Feminist Research Institute.




Wendy Aujla is an applied sociologist pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her current research focuses on conceptualizing so-called “honor” crimes. Wendy regularly writes on domestic violence and initiatives occurring across the globe. She can be found on Twitter at @waujla and can also be reached at waujla@ualberta.ca



By Brown Girl Magazine

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In Conversation with Neha Samdaria Founder and CEO of Aam: A New Type of Fashion Label


Neha Samdaria is the founder and CEO of Aam, a new type of fashion label. Aam’s mission is to change the way womxn with the hourglass and pear-shaped body types shop for clothing. The word Aam means ordinary in Hindi. The community consists predominantly of womxn of colour with naturally curvier hips. Aam has a low return rate of 3%. The team at Aam has built sizing charts and tested them over a 10-month period. The clothing was made with sustainable materials in ethical factories. If you are struggling to find clothes that fit appropriately check out Aam today. Continue reading to learn more about Neha Samadria’s company Aam!

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What were your personal struggles with shopping for clothing that fit and how did these experiences inspire you to start a company?

I have what you would call a “pear shaped” body, meaning my hips and thighs are wider than my upper half. I’m 1-2 sizes bigger on the bottom than on the top and for years, I’ve struggled to find clothes – especially pants – that fit me correctly. Too tight on the hips? Size up. Too loose on the waist? Wear a belt. My entire life, I felt alone in my struggle. Eventually, the pant shopping experience became so unpleasant that I started avoiding them entirely – choosing to opt for dresses, skirts and stretchy leggings instead.

When I arrived at Stanford Business School in 2016, I learned that I was far from alone in my experience. 1 in 4 American women – predominantly women of color – shared my struggles. And when I dug deeper to understand why, I uncovered the bias-riddled foundation of size charts in the United States. When I learned that the fit issue was systemic and rooted in bad data, I felt inspired to do something.

You’ve had a range of experiences working in consulting, marketing, as well as completing an MBA program. How have these range of experiences helped you start a company?

On a practical level, acquiring a range of skills helps with the various hats you have to wear as a CEO. On a daily basis, I am a strategist, marketer, fulfiller, accountant and designer. But the biggest thing I feel I’ve gained is an approach to tackling new problems. One of the toughest things about being a solo Founder is that the buck stops with you. You have to have faith that even if a problem is brand new and well outside your area of expertise, you’ll be able to forge a path forward. My life before Aam gave me a lot of practice in that.

Have you faced adversity as a newcomer in this space?

The biggest adversity we’ve faced is in marketing and sales. As a bootstrapped e-commerce business with no outside investment, it’s been tough to compete with large retailers with big marketing budgets. How do you get noticed as a small brand? Through trial and error we’ve found success in niche influencers who are excited by the problem we’re solving and are keen to support, in-person markets and events, and organic, word of mouth referral. We’re also beginning to partner with marketplaces and small retailers, to expand our brand reach.

Who are some mentors and leaders you look up to and what characteristics do they possess that you sought to emulate while starting your own company?

My biggest mentors are bootstrapped entrepreneurs who built up their businesses brick by brick. My father is one such example, and I have a handful of folks in my circle who have done the same. I find their grit and scrappiness inspiring; most of them don’t have a professional degree and gained their business acumen on the field.

I also admire kind and supportive leaders; team culture is one of the most difficult things to nail, and you have to be intentional from the beginning. I had a wonderful boss at my first job out of college. He knew how to nurture the strengths of his direct reports and wasn’t afraid to task them with challenging, meaningful work. Crucially, he was always there as our safety net in case we had questions or needed help along the way. I’ve tried to build the same type of ethos within Aam.

Do you see Aam as a strong contender in the fashion industry helping a wide variety of individuals?

I do! We’re one of the only brands catering to pear and hourglass shapes, perhaps because the fit issue is so fundamental and expensive to fix (see Q7). But beyond this, we’re one of the only brands that focuses on fit – period. The entire industry – from runways to fast fashion brands – is focused largely on design, when poor fit is actually the #1 driver of returns. Aam’s return rate is just 3%, vs. an e-commerce industry standard of ~30%. We can make the industry more customer-centric and less wasteful by investing in the early steps of proper sizing and fit testing.

In terms of helping a “wide variety” of individuals, Aam is a niche brand that is committed to helping the 1 in 4 women with curvy hips and thighs. I don’t plan to expand to other shapes at this time because I believe that in order to add value, you can’t be all things to all people. Our community has been underserved for almost 100 years and we’re here for them.

What made you decide to name the company Aam?

“Aam” means “ordinary” in Hindi, my native tongue. The company’s approach to design – starting with the consumer, and designing entirely for her – runs counter to the industry. My goal with this business is to make this consumer-centric approach to design more “ordinary,” giving power back to the women who wear our clothes, and elevating their voices on a global stage.

What is the process of rethinking fit standards?

Modern size charts are based largely off of a 1939 study that surveyed 15,000 women across the U.S. This study was flawed for several reasons including: 1) it relied on bust measurements, assuming women are proportional throughout and 2) it excluded women who were not Caucasian from the final results, thereby underrepresenting body shapes that are more commonly found among women of color.

At Aam, we’ve rebuilt a fresh dataset of 314 women across the U.S. who have pear and hourglass shapes, and are using this dataset to inform all of our collections. By fixing bad data, we’re addressing the root cause of poor fit and rethinking fit standards.

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Where do you feel the fashion industry can improve?

There are big opportunities for improvement in supply chain, fit and inclusion.

On the supply chain side, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to ethics and sustainability. There are great auditing standards out there (SEDEX, OEKO-TEX, GOTS, for example), but only a small percentage of factories are certified. In 2021, as I was building out my supply chain in India, I visited factories that spanned the full gamut, from regularly-audited, responsible manufacturers to those who enforced 14+ hour daily shifts and refused even chairs for their workers to sit on. Brands are engaging in conversations about diversity and inclusion but it’s often on the consumer side; few are willing to be as transparent when it comes to their supply chains, where women of color are disproportionately exploited. As consumers, one easy thing we can all do is check the Ethics & Sustainability page of the brands we love. Do they talk about certified factories, third party audits and following sustainability standards? If not, we have the power to ask – why?

I’ve shared a bit above about the issues surrounding fit – it is the single biggest driver of returns, an issue that has been plaguing retailers for decades. It’s costly, harms the environment and (in the long term) hurts your brand. I believe that investing in better upstream processes – improved size charts and more rigorous fit testing – will lead to huge improvements down the line.

And finally, inclusion. One of my pet peeves is seeing brands design styles that are clearly intended for straight shapes and small sizes and then scale them up to mid and plus sizes claiming that they now design “for all bodies.” Putting ill-fitted pieces on models of different shapes and sizes doesn’t mean you understand or care about that customer. We should be asking ourselves – what does this customer really want? How is this garment going to make her feel? How can we design FOR her, first and foremost? This is being inclusive in a real way.

As a CEO of a company what is your daily routine?

My day starts the night prior, when I write down my priorities for the upcoming day. I use this great planner by Kindred Braverly that helps break down my activities into bite size segments. I’m not a morning person and part of my team is based in India (with a flipped schedule), so I usually start my date late around 9am.

First, I workout, so I can feel like I’ve accomplished something early in the day. Then, I grab breakfast, coffee and start work around 10:30. I start with the highest priority items on my list, which can range anywhere from sales and marketing to strategic planning and design. I work in 1hr increments with 10-15 mins of break in between. During these breaks, I’ll step outside, hydrate or crank up some music and just free dance. I try to get away from a screen, so I can return to my work with fresh eyes.

I then have a hard stop from 7-9pm to spend time with my husband, and then I’ll usually squeeze in an additional hour or two of work with my India team, before heading to bed.

Early in my Founder journey, I started tracking productivity patterns during my week. For example, I’m usually less productive on Mondays than I am later in the week. So I try to schedule more interesting, strategic work early in the week in order to stay motivated. I also work a half day on Sundays, to take some of the pressure off of the following week.

As there are many companies interested in fast fashion, how does your company differ in terms of sustainable materials and ethical factories?

Responsible production is one of our brand pillars, so we think about it in each step of the process. All of our suppliers must be third-party certified for ethical working conditions from one of the leading, global certification programs (more info here).

Additionally, we use sustainable fabrics in all of our collections. For example, we work with organic cotton (vs. regular cotton), which saves water and is made without toxic pesticides. We work with new fabrics, like lyocell, that can emulate the handfeel and durability of less sustainable fibers without the environmental footprint. In our most recent collection, we introduced premium deadstock wool, which is fabric that was produced in excess by brands and would have otherwise gone to waste. We also ensure that all of our dyes are free of Azo compounds (several of which are carcinogenic) via rigorous testing.

On the production side, we rely on a combination of third-party audits as well as personal, first-party checks. I’ve spent days in each of our factories, observing the working conditions and interacting with the team.

On the packaging side, we spent a great deal of time thinking about how to recycle and reuse. Each Aam pant comes inside a reusable cotton cover, inspired by the beautiful saree covers you see in southern India. This cotton cover is placed inside a fully recyclable box, with a simple packing slip and card. There’s no excess paper, bubble wrap, or cardboard.

I’m proud of where we are in terms of ethics and sustainability – and I think we can still do better!

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We would love to hear some testimonials from previous customers.

“I have paid hundreds of dollars for ‘custom fit pants’ from various brands, and none of them fit quite as well as this pant did straight out of the box.” – The Flex Waist Pant, Size S

“This pant is amazing!! It is so lightweight and breathable… the material is so soft and silky, it feels like you’re wearing PJs but they look like elegant chic work/business pants.” – The Wide Leg Pant, Size M

“Never have I ever been able to easily pull a pair of pants over my thighs. I have ALWAYS had to jump to pull my pants up comfortably. These pants are amazing.” – The Crop Pant, Size L

“I can tell these are Aam pants instantly from how they taper at the waist. No other pants do that.” – The Limited Edition Wool Wide Leg Pant, Size S

Where do you see the company expanding in terms of different types of clothing offered?

I see bottoms as the biggest area of need, so we’ll first expand to other types of bottoms or clothes with bottoms: skirts, dresses, jumpsuits, potentially underwear and swim. Then, we’ll start expanding into other categories.

What is the toughest part of running your own company?

Staying motivated and showing up every day – even the bad days. As a Founder, there’s no one to answer to, no fixed schedule, and progress can sometimes feel very slow. There are weeks where I feel frustrated because I keep missing targets. Other weeks, we get a string of wins. It’s important to detach myself from both types of outcomes (wins and losses) and take neither very personally. This helps me commit instead to the process and just focus on the next small step forward.

But, easier said than done!

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I’ve read Brown Girl Magazine for years and am so honored to be featured. I hope folks reading this feel inspired to tackle whatever problem – small or large – that they understand innately. Personal experience is a powerful motivator and difficult for others to replicate.


Photo Courtesy of Yogini Patel

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

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What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

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What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

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What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.


Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.


I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Joyland: A Film Rising Above Unacceptability With a Story of Acceptance


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.

[Read Related: Pakistan Had its First-Ever Trans Pride Parade in Lahore]

The winner of the jury prize at the Cannes film festival, as well as Pakistan’s entry for the Academy Awards 2023, “Joyland” has been marred with controversies (and subsequent bans) from the onset of its win. Ironic, since the film’s core message promotes tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance for unconventional norms, sexual/gender identities, and human emotions and desires.

“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.

Rasti Farooq channels Mumtaz’s apprehensions and predicament with the utmost believability.

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.


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A post shared by Saim Sadiq (@saim.sadiq)

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. 

[Read Related: #JusticeforJulie: Pakistan’s Failure to Protect its Vulnerable Trans Population]

“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.

Photos Courtesy: Studio Soho/Khoosat Films

By Queenie Shaikh

Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and … Read more ›