The following article is a list of candidates who’re vying for a seat in Congress, however, some of the elections below have already passed. Please note, this is not a representation or an official endorsement of any candidate by Brown Girl Magazine.
Frustrated by the lack of action and scandals plaguing the U.S. government, individuals across the political spectrum have their eyes on seats in Congress, hoping to usher in change and fresh perspectives during the upcoming midterm elections.
Out of these men and women, an unprecedented number of candidates are looking to become new members of the U.S. House of Representatives and new U.S. Senators.
Here’s an alphabetical list of the 24 new House candidates:
1. Harry Arora, R-CT (4th District)
From immigrating to America as a graduate student, Harry Arora is now a successful businessman and investor looking to reinvigorate Connecticut’s economy and lower healthcare costs. He lives in Greenwich, CT with his wife and three children and will be running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Himes, who has been serving the district since 2009.
2. Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, I-MA
The Mumbai-born inventor of the first email system and holder of four degrees from MIT, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai is currently the CEO of CytoSolve, Inc., which is trying to discover cures for major diseases. Calling himself the “All-American Indian” and a personification of the American Dream, the biomedical engineer is proposing that the U.S. Postal Service provide a truly secure public email system to protect citizens’ privacy. Ayyadurai has been in the news for repeatedly questioning Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage.
3. Abhijeet “Beej” Das, D-MA (3rd District)
Abhijeet Das is one of thirteen(!) candidates looking to replace retiring Democratic incumbent Niki Tsonga. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and the first Indian-American running for Congress from Massachusetts. Das intends on changing Washington D.C.’s “toxic” culture by passing universal healthcare, fixing the VA, and creating comprehensive immigration reform.
A California native and son of Indian immigrants, Chintan Desai moved to Arkansas in 2010 and works for KIPPS Delta Public Schools. He writes on his campaign website,
“I believe that all Arkansans have the right to the same opportunities I’ve had in my life no matter where you live, no matter who your family is, no matter the color of your skin.”
Desai faces three-time Republican incumbent Rep. Rick Crawford.
5. Jitendra “JD” Diganvker, R-IL (8th District)
“JD” Diganvker is the embodiment of the American dream: after immigrating to the United States in 1995 and working at a retail store, he and his wife tragically lost his two daughters in a house fire, became an American citizen in 2003, and now runs his own credit card processing firm. If he wins the Republican primary, he will challenge incumbent Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi in the first ever Indian-American vs. Indian-American general election. Diganvker hopes to fight government over-regulation and rising healthcare costs as a Congressman.
6. Suneel Gupta, D-MI (11th District)
Brother of famed physician Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Suneel has had much success of his own as a law school and MBA graduate, product developer at Groupon, and colleague of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Gupta is looking to replace retiring Republican incumbent Rep. Dave Trott on a platform of “better jobs, better wages and better skills” for his car manufacturing community. He lives in Birmingham, MI with his wife and two daughters. Read more about Gupta in our exclusive interview here.
7. Peter Jacob, D-NJ (7th District)
Peter Jacob ran unopposed against incumbent Rep. Lance in the 2016 election for the 7th Congressional District and lost by 11 points, but he is looking to beat the Congressman once again while facing competition from fellow desi Goutam Jois. A strong believer in fair campaigns, he does not take corporate PAC money. Jacob’s professional experience includes working as a licensed social worker and developing and maintaining a homeless shelter. He received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Kean University and his master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis.
8. Goutam Jois, D-NJ (7th District)
With an undergraduate degree in Government and a Master of Public Policy degree from Georgetown and a law degree from Harvard, New Jersey-born Goutam Jois is more than qualified to be one of America’s newest public servants in Congress. Jois’ campaign focuses on his legal experience related to police brutality, LGBTQ rights, and First Amendment free speech issues. The Democratic June primary for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District will decide which Democrat will take on Republican incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance.
9. Yatish Joshi, D-IN (2nd District)
Indian-American Yatish Joshi is “The Change that Indiana’s Second District Needs.” An entrepreneur, Joshi founded the company “GTA Containers” in South Bend, Indiana over 29 years ago and prides himself on currently employing 53 Hoosiers. This husband and father are running on a platform of giving “hard-working Hoosiers a raise,” providing affordable healthcare to Americans, supporting “strong family values,” and helping “create a more just and inclusive world.” An open primary election is on May 8, 2018.
10. Ali Khorasani, D-TX (2nd District)
A self-designated “Leftist Progressive” and graduate of St. Edward’s University, engineer Ali Khorasani first got involved in politics in 2013 when he volunteered to offer testimony against SB4, Texas’ anti-immigration law. He is passionate about reproductive rights and women’s rights and interreligious dialogue (he was a part of President Obama’s Interfaith Challenge!). Khorasani along with fellow candidate Silky Malik lost the Democratic primary in March, but had he been elected to Congress, he would’ve been younger than any incumbent Congressperson.
11. Sri Preston Kulkarni, D-TX (22nd District)
Sri Preston Kulkarni may be one of the most accomplished and experienced candidates on our list: in addition to speaking six languages and receiving an MPA from Harvard, this man was commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and has served as foreign policy advisor to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Kulkarni hopes to use his diplomatic skills back in Texas to create unity and respect amongst communities.
12. Bobby Mahendra, D-NV
Born in New York City, raised in Houston, and currently living in Las Vegas, Bobby Mahendra is a Democrat pledging to create 15,000,000 new jobs in 6 years and a 10-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants if he is elected Senator. Mahendra is a Certified Public Accountant and will compete in the primary election in May. He also ran for the Senate in 2016 but lost to Catherine Cortez Masto in the Democratic primary.
13. Anita Malik, D-AZ (6th District)
“Listen first. Then lead” is Kansas City-born Malik’s motto. Her more recent projects include BrideRush, an online booking tool for event planning; ListenforHer, resources to help women at work; and process consulting for local startups and government agencies. As a Congresswoman, Anita Malik intends to pass legislation to support affordable childcare, equal pay, and wellness programs.
14. Dean Malik, R-PA (1st District)
Dean Malik is the face of diversity and the American dream: a lawyer who served two overseas tours in the Marine Corps, he was raised Jewish by a Jewish mother from the Bronx and a Muslim father from Pakistan. Malik is currently a Major in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and was formerly an Assistant District Attorney at the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office in PA. Malik lives in PA with his wife and four children and will be running against Republican incumbent Rep. Fitzpatrick in the closed primary in May.
15. Silky Malik, D-TX (2nd District)
The daughter of working-class Indian immigrants, Silky Malik has worked in cancer research and overseas as a primary school substitute teacher and for Malaysia’s largest charitable women’s organizations. Running to be “the people’s representative” in her native Texas, Malik focused her campaign on immigration reform, universal healthcare, and Congressional transparency. Up against four other Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives including fellow South Asian-American Ali Khorasani, Malik, unfortunately, lost the open primary on March 6.
16. Aruna Miller, D-MD (6th District)
One of the first South Asians to formally file for candidacy last year, Aruna Miller immigrated to the United States when she was seven years old and currently serves as the first Indian-American woman in the Maryland House of Delegates. A civil engineer, wife, and mother of three daughters, Miller is campaigning for better jobs, education, and infrastructure.
17. Radhakrishna Mohan, D-NY (11th District)
Radhakrishna Mohan is a civil servant for the State of New York, having worked in the IT Department for nearly three decades. A resident of Staten Island, Mohan has been involved in the community as a member of the Police Precinct Community Council, Community Emergency Response Team, and the Staten Island Hindu Temple Board. This First Responder will face fellow Indian-American Omar Vaid (featured below) in the Democratic primary in June.
18. Chetan Panda, D-TX (25th District)
A first-generation American, Chetan Panda is the son of an educator and businessman and went to Georgetown University, where he majored in International Economics. While he did not win the Democratic nomination after an open primary was held in March, Panda’s campaign focused on three main issues: 1. Delivering affordable healthcare to every American; 2. Investing in infrastructure, clean energy, and education; and 3. Breaking down socioeconomic barriers.
19. Suraj Patel, D-NY (12th District)
Suraj Patel is a first-generation immigrant, entrepreneur, lawyer, lecturer at NYU Stern, and former member of the Obama White House Advance Team. He will be up against fellow Democrat and incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney in one of the richest districts in the country. Some of the issues in his platform include the legalization of marijuana and digital voting.
20. Saira Rao, D-CO (1st District)
A lawyer by training and daughter of Indian immigrants, Saira Rao is a co-founder and Creative Director of In This Together Media, a book packaging company of children’s fiction with greater diversity in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation and experience. She is the author of “Chambermaid” (Grove Press) and “The Madlands” (forthcoming).
“I have big, willing ears to listen,” she says. “And a big, unapologetic mouth to spread stories for change.”
The fate of Rao’s campaign lies in the results of the primary, which will be on June 26.
21. Deep Sran, D-VA (10th District)
An educator and tech entrepreneur, Deep Sran founded Ashburn-based Loudoun School for the Gifted in 2008 and the education company Actively Learn after working as a corporate attorney. Sran said watching the 2016 elections, the presidential and the 10th Congressional District, prompted him to run, but he, unfortunately, dropped out of the race in March.
In a Facebook post announcing his withdrawal, Sran wrote, “I will continue to work for true education reform through innovation and greater equity, to prepare the next generation of leaders and to build a better world.”
Sran lives in Ashburn, VA with his wife and two daughters.
22. Hiral Tipirneni, D-AZ (2nd District)
Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician, is partaking in a special election after incumbent Rep. Trent Franks resigned in December. She immigrated to America with her parents when she was three years old and currently lives in the Phoenix area with her husband and three children.
“I believe in solving problems and improving lives, which is all about people, not partisanship. That’s what I did in the emergency room, and I’m running for Congress to do the same,” she said.
Tipirneni defeated Brianna Westbrook in the Democratic primary for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District in February. She will face Republican Debbie Lesko in a special election to be held on April 24.
23. Omar Vaid, D-NY (11th District)
Omar Vaid is the son of two Gujarati immigrant parents and grew up in Illinois and Florida. He attended UCF where he earned a degree in Business Management, and currently works in the entertainment industry (he works on the sets of “Luke Cage” and “The Get Down”). Vaid believes that “Made in America” is a key to the perseverance of the American Dream. He will be up against Radhakrishna Mohan, among other candidates, in the Democratic primary.
24. Arvin Vohra, LB-MD
A unique candidate in the group, educator and current vice-chairman of the Libertarian National Committee Arvin Vohra’s personal statement speaks for itself:
“At heart, I’m more of an anarcho-capitalist/voluntaryist than anything else. But while we work on seasteads and charter cities, I’m doing my best to spread the message of liberty through politics. At the same time, as an educator, I help students become more capable, independent, intelligent, and confident.”
As a Senator, Maryland-native Vohra hopes to “ downsize, defund, and eliminate damaging federal government programs.” A closed primary election will take place on June 26, 2018.
January 18, 2023January 18, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
January 16, 2023January 16, 2023 6min readBy Sejal Sehmi
I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.”
Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind.
Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too.
Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,
I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.
During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance.
The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose!
Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type — the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way.
It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits,
Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you.
I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance.
But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,
The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour?
I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?
A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride!
I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.
“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.