Kiran Gandhi, better known asMadame Gandhi is enveloping us in her new “Visions” energy. Full of kindness, emotional intelligence and representation, Kiran is redefining how we view power and what it means to manifest it. Having just returned from India, shooting with an ALL female Indian team for her song “Waiting for Me,” we sat down to talk about where the Madame gets her motivation, and what’s next musically…and you can come to kick it with us at her show on Tuesday, March 10th, at Elsewhere in Brooklyn! Get tickets here!
Visiting India, everybody is referred to as “Madame” little (choti) madame, elder (badi) madame, baby madame, though its roots are in a problematic classist, colonialist structure, musically and sonically I like the way “Madame Gandhi” sounds together percussively. It references my Indian roots and creates space for a feminine style of leadership which traditionally was exclusive to the home but, I wanted to explore leadership outside of that. So often we teach women and girls to masculinize in powerful roles or the workplace but leading in the femme is powerful and rare.
In India pronouncing ‘Gandhi’ is easy but in the states the countless number of times people butcher my name professionally is frustrating.
From Bombay to NYC, you split your time between the states and India, what impact did that have on your views on culture and social mobility?
It taught me how to recognize my privilege in the world and how to be a responsible and empathetic person. Seeing kids in the street in Mumbai growing up, seeing poverty in downtown L.A. in skid row, it’s always been important to me to understand what privilege means, acknowledge it and use it for good, in both music and my day to day life. Each month we take sanitary products down to the skid row because giving back matters and access to healthcare resources should be a global right.
From the album “Visions,” Gandhi has a track called “Young Indian” that explores being raised in a cultural melting pot, and criticizes elitist education, breaking down the work of self-improvement. Here’s a little snippet.
Went to schoolto see what they are really teaching kids. Seems like making money is the only thing there is. Not to say that being in class is not a privilege. But I would rather take that knowledge and be changing things. Patriarchy kept stopping me so I drew a map. Ways to navigate the boy’s club, the bros and the frats. Ways to ease my mind so I stay fine cuz I can’t deal with that.And if this degree’s in misogyny, well you can have it back.
It was my second year as a digital analyst at Interscope records and in a product planning meeting I pitched a brown female drummer, and her manager gave me a chance to submit it, the rest is history. After I got into Harvard Business School, I ended up going on tour.
What was the biggest or least expected take away from your time at Harvard Business School?
The heightened commitment to emotional intelligence that is embedded into the curriculum, they want you to be your best self holistically, we would have to practice having real-world tough conversations, talking about fears and goals, asking for feedback, giving it, being constructive in real-time. Being empowered with those communication tools has served me personally and professionally.
A woman running while bleeding should not be a topic of conversation, seeing a woman bleed should no longer have the same shock value. Have you seen a shift in the stigma associated with women’s menstruation since you ran the London Marathon free bleeding?
Yes, since the marathon went viral and Rupi’s story bleeding on Instagram, Google saw a spike in the words “period and menstruation” searches exponentially increasing. Even if it was how people looked at their own bodies, it’s been beautiful to see them interact with themselves in an educated way.
We have seen an increase in companies providing great products for those of us who bleed. We’re moving away from candy wrapper concealing packaging, and owning our healthcare products.
Some companies are committing to safer materials and being more honest. Apps, tracking our cycles, the innovation has been incredible. I love being able to understand my body, my emotions and what affects me with the help of those tools, I’m more in touch with myself.
How did your internal network of family and friends react to the marathon?
They loved it, ironically my Irish grandmother was the one who was done with the discussion fairly quickly, stereotypically people assume it would be my Indian relatives.
“Top Knot Turn Up” is one of me and Hitha Palepu’s favorite songs of all time. Where were you in life when you wrote it?
I love that she loves this, it makes me so happy every time she tags me. I was in the desert and channelling my fearlessness and freedom, my power has never been this ‘boss bitch’ vibe, but for me, I would prefer that somebody sees that I enjoy leading from empathy, kindness, awareness and emotional intelligence. The ability to positively reinforce. I am not aspiring to be this femme fatale, but I lead from love, perhaps it’s my ‘Madame’ archetype. That is the ‘Top Knot Turn Up’ energy.
Often times womxn are booked, hired, promoted based on tokenism or specific parts of their identity, i.e. being queer or South-Asian, how does that make you feel and what can we all do to do pivot towards true equality and representation? Is it all about focusing on the merit?
Intentional affirmative action efforts make a difference and are important but with anything it needs to be genuine, we can’t do it to checkboxes. Most industry structures have been designed by men for men, for ages that’s how things used to be, if we think a doctor or drummer looks like X, we won’t be able to judge them effectively until we change that.
When I was at Harvard, I felt imposter syndrome, I wondered if I earned my spot or If I was a diversity candidate, even though my GMAT scores were 97% and I earned the right to be there. There’s a huge part of me that believes the best and most effective future will come from us being in the positions that we are not represented in, and making us feel safe enough to stay in them and be retained and nurtured. Folks should realize how lucky and what an asset someone who is of color, queer, trans, etc are, their contributions are incredible and worthy of having beyond a diversity check.
‘Visions’ has a song called ‘Young Indian’ on it, it includes my criticisms of elite education. It also has a song called ‘See me Through,’ which is this queer R&B love song directed by and featuring my friends because if we don’t tell our stories, somebody else will tell them for us and they won’t be right.
For the young folx making covers of your songs, where can they send their audition tapes?
Direct message me on Instagram. I consider myself pretty active and would love to see it. I’ve learned so much especially during the CAA, from my followers and community and I want to stay engaged, informed and educated. Hit me up!
“Visions” is an introspective lens on the layers of Gandhi. The different intersectionality of purpose, presentation, and emotions. Its spoken word and diverse percussive nature are almost as though all the thought processes we go through as humans are being shared out loud. My #2020 vision isn’t crystal clear yet but, with this album as my soundtrack, and a little love from Gandhi and Resistance Revival Chorus on March 10th, all of us will be feeling the Madame Energy.
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.
“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.
This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.
Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long
Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
(What should I do?)
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
(After so long)
I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long
Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
(The same heart)
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
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For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.