It’s 2012, I live in Phoenix, Arizona, my older brother is a sneaker-head obsessed with “undiscovered” hip-hop and trolling every forum that exists, and I am listening to the mix he burned for me on my iPod Nano (LimeWire: You a real one, thanks for the viruses). I press the next song button and hear,
Today, nobody cares But, oh, tomorrow they will, they will They said my future was dark, you see me now? Just look around, I’m beamin’
“I’m Beamin,” by Lupe Fiasco plays, my brother says to me, “Little one, you know a brown dude made this video, right?” I was like bro…My iPod doesn’t have a screen — what video?!
We head to YouTube to stream the video on our Dell desktop, and it loads after three minutes of buffering. My favorite pastime is reading credits, knowing the names of the people that make things happen. We scour the description and my brother says, “See, Shomi Patwary, our people can make it in this game.” I say, “That sounds like it could be African American. We don’t do stuff in Hip-Hop.”
It’s 2015, my senior year of high school. Mark Ronson’s “I Can’t Lose” plays. I’m scouring the credits and see “Director: Shomi Patwary” — a Bangladeshi-American from Virginia Beach, the Creative Director of Karmaloop TV.
My brother passed away in 2014, but he was right: Our people can make it in this game and they did.
So how does a Bangladeshi Immigrant from Virginia Beach become the man behind the lens of award-winning music videos for the likes of Pharrell, Beyonce and Diljit Dosanjh?
Where did it all begin?
In 1990 we moved from Bangladesh when I was eight and my brother was one. My uncle sponsored us and we lived with them in the suburbs for about six months, expecting our life to be like his, My uncle was actually pretty wealthy at the time, he had a Mercedes SL, a 2-story deck next to the water, mansion-sized modern Japanese inspired home. So I was really off with my idea of how Americans lived.. My parents decide there are better work opportunities in New York City, so we move to the hood, in a small one-bedroom apartment. In suburbia you saw an array of people, my uncle was a doctor, every other uncle had some type of career- In NY, in the hood, there was nothing but poverty. We struggled for some months until my uncle said it was time to come back to Virginia — where the cost of living was lower. My dad worked every odd job under the sun while studying to become a CPA, his growth enabled him to see people and life from a 360 perspective. We climbed our way up and eventually made it to a house of our own. That’s really where I learned the concept of growth.
When did you start to realize music was your jam?
My older cousins in Virginia were super into hip hop, and we were all really close. The first track I really remember is ‘Wreckx-n-Effect Rump Shaker‘ produced by Pharrell in 1994. Ironically enough his mom ended up being my teacher in school, we never took that seriously until MUCH later. Now we laugh about it.
My cousins heavily influenced my music taste but so did my surroundings, I was into Skateboarding, grew up around a dense Filipino population was into 80s new wave-like New Order, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure. Everything really. I fell in love with the rave subculture and started listening to the prodigy early on.
My dad got me a Pentium processor computer for my ‘homework’ but really I had decided I was going to be a producer, I was a total nerd — that shit’s cool now but back then, I was programming and hacking, and then producing. That was high school.
Struggling to bridge his love for film, music, visual, art and lyrics, Shomi felt lost when trying to decide “what to do with his life.” That’s when it hit him that video and film allow him to have all his sensory passions.
I Went to Old Dominion University to become a programmer or software engineer but was already well versed and bored, I had taught myself everything in high school and it became nonchallenging. Then I saw the 2000s N-E-R-Ds music video in the early 2000s and was like, wait — they’re from Virginia?!
It then became my mission, I gotta get an internship or become a college rep or something to get to them, and through the grapevine of connections, I finally got to Pharrell.
It was all timing and networking, someone knew someone, and I was just ready to do anything under the sun they needed for free and by this point, I had built some websites and their record label needed help.
I started filming BTS. Pusha was like ‘download an instrumental’ and I knew how to do that so I did it and made them a website without talking to the record label and it ended up working. I did shit for free, whatever the guys needed. At that time the concept of being well versed in tech, wasn’t common, no one really knew how to do anything and I did, so it worked.
Pusha T? Casual. So, you go from the video intern to making paper?
Phillip Ly, my sixth grade best friend and I had grown together with Star Trak, they had introduced us to others and before we knew it our websites and random BTS videos had turned into desired ‘content.’ One of my managers Magoo, from the Timbaland group and Magoo was like yo, you got this, manage our pages, forums, blow us up… And we did.
I still remember seeing Drake’s submissions to try to get connected to The Clipse. He just wired us the money and they made a track together, I didn’t really make anything from making the connection happen.
This one time, N-E-R-D gets this contract with Pepsi and hires us to do the website, we had been getting stipends and token payments here and there, and then suddenly we get hit with a $30,0000 wire and that’s when the game changed.
‘My creative hustle is feasible, what?!’
The market crashes in 2008, does it affect your hustle and the music industry?
The recession hits and no one wants to invest in graphics or websites. The music industry isn’t making money, labels are dying and until this point, my parents hadn’t bothered me much. They were okay with the idea of me doing ‘tech’ technically…
I started to bug out and thought maybe I should get my masters, the opportunities are running out, and then Push calls me. He was working on a project with Kanye and they needed BTS, that’s when I was like hoooold up, I can do more than websites? Hell Yeah… But I have no equipment, so they go buy me a Canon 7D for the depth of field from a DSLR, they’re like ‘yeah, no problem.’
Meanwhile, I’m over here like, ‘YOU JUST BOUGHT ME A CAMERA!’
I made a Lupe Fiasco x Kenna x Mike Shinoda video for the Haiti hurricane relief efforts — this is during the time when labels didnt know how to make money and everyone’s lost — Asher Roth sees that video and likes it. As a kid, I grew up loving Spike Jonze and the inspired DIY filming style, and before I knew it, I became a music video director.
And then you made it BIG, right?
No. Like any other hustle, your location (Virginia Beach) has limitations and the money isn’t always steady, we had been carelessly spending, balling in our early 20s…I had to make a steady income and go get a job at the university. Things were good but not that good, the recession still hit all of us, HARD.
So I take a step back, my parents had been on me about getting hitched, I was creatively making moves but confused about my career. My parents are like ‘let’s go to Bangladesh and get you a woman,’ and I’m like ‘so what you’re really saying is I can go to Bangladesh and spend time with my cousins and go on vacation if I visit a girl or two?’ Alright.
I’m not really trying to get an arranged marriage but I meet this girl, and she was everything I wasn’t expecting and super impressed that I could speak Bengali. I didn’t know it then but she would be the KEY to my business.
I headed back to the states and was like, let’s get to know each other. We Skyped for a year and then got married.
You got married! Congratulations! Now, what happens?
My brother had been a successful producer for some time, and my wife and I decided to move to New York City, meet some people he knew and got a job at Karmaloop TV. That’s where I met A$AP mob and other artists.
We leave the nest, leave the safety, and moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, NY.
We were in NY with no salary and opened Illusive Media, a production company, in 2015. I had already shot with Beyoncé and Major Lazer but was still not full time. It was all under Karmaloop and the CEO let us do our own thing because we added brand value.”
I was laid off, but Joseph Patel from MTV saved me and is my first South Asian inspiration. He’s somebody I really looked up too. He was the only one in the game for a while and got me a job at Fader.
My wife and I had learned the ins and outs of production over time, I realized I couldn’t maximize my potential at Fader, I was working myself into the ground and developed vertigo, if I was going to die working, I was going to die working for myself. So I left. I had built a pretty extensive portfolio and network by this point but nothing was guaranteed.
It was scary, I was married, responsible for another life and eventually a family, but I just knew this was it.
What was your biggest lesson while building Illusive Media? Did you ever fail?
Yes! Everyone does.
I had only mastered the guerilla-style shooting I had been doing, no formal training in other styles. So when a major label hired us to do a shoot, one of our first completely independent production projects, we came out with a mediocre project because we didn’t know certain professional concepts. The label cursed us out.
That was a humbling experience for sure. I had only known how to be creative, but my wife was the real key, she started learning how to run a set and production, ask for the right amount of money and minimize costs.
It was A LOT of trial and error, people trusting us and believing in the craft. We started to hire our friends we could trust, it was the most fulfilling experience to feed the mouths we loved.
My wife helped us scale and invest in the right things, we started buying homes and passive income properties instead of cars and clothes…but that’s still nice too.
Hip-hop can be controversial in its messaging, as a director do you believe artists are responsible for the message their music sends to the public?
One hundred percent, I’ve regretted things that I have worked on. When you’re a young and hungry artist or director, you think it’s your one shot, but when you get older and wiser and you don’t repeat mistakes.
We’re responsible for what we show and tell the public, it matters.
So you’re a household name in hip-hop, when do you start tapping into the South Asian market?
The first time I did a South Asian project, it was for Shahrukh Khan. That is the ONLY time I’ve seen my wife fangirl. It was amazing.
I go from Shahrukh to a fairly recent video for one of the coolest and most humble artists I’ve met, Diljit Dosanjh. While we were working on ‘Big Scene,’ the creative process was simple because he knew he wanted to target his South Asian audience but wanted a global product, which made it easier than working with individuals that wanted a very Indian product only. I think that’s where our synergy developed.
It was the first time I saw a South Asian that was rocking his swagger and had fashion, beats and a vibe I could relate to.
I am in a place where I can help my community. Minority communities grow with smaller budgets, but the key is, don’t let your ethnicity decide that you should get a break.
Dandila has a real message. He’s from St. Louis. It’s still him. It’s simply just be yourself. Don’t expect support just for being brown. Put in the work, and the help and recognition will come.
Any last words on folks trying to make it “mainstream?”
I think the nature of this business is so chaotic. One thing people don’t talk about is being in the creative field is always doubting yourself and turning jealousy into a good thing, It’s normal to want to do or have what others have, just learn it and earn that.”
Okay, okay you can close your mouth now. Pick up your jaw, re-adjust your posture and hear me out. There are people willing to help you, there are role models that look like you, the trick? Hard work.
The entertainment business has so many individuals that look like us and share similarities and differences, the trick is — there isn’t one, the best way our community can help one another grow is by showing up, (you may have seen Patwary moderating the panel for Brown Girl and filmmaker Suswana Choudhury’s short film, “Dawat”) doing the work and supporting. Take a page out of Patwary’s book and keep up with his newest project’s and videos at Illusive Media.
Always remember where you started and the wise words of Lupe Fiasco, “They said our future was dark, you see us now? Just look around, we’re beamin.”
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.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
“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)
The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.