Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari Wowed the Crowd at BookCon 2015

BookCon

by Saumya Bhutani 

With their cult-like following and celebrated TV shows like “The Office,” “The Mindy Project” and “Parks and Recreation,” Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari have become two of the biggest names in comedy.

The year of 2015 marks an addition to their list of achievements—the release of Ansari’s new book and Kaling’s highly anticipated sophomore novel.

While we wait until September for Kaling’s “Why Not Me?” (after her wildly successful “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”), Ansari’s “Modern Romance” represents his first foray into the literary world. Both Kaling and Ansari were present at the 2015 BookCon, an annual book convention, in May at the Javits Center in New York City.

On May 30, a crowd of 2,000 boisterous fans battled to get into the Special Events Hall to see Kaling. Teenage girls and young women broke the security barriers to secure the best seats available. Everyone was in for a special treat as Kaling’s best friend, her former beau, and “The Office” co-star and co-writer, BJ Novak interviewed her. Kaling offered exclusive information on “Why Not Me?” which is slated for release in early September.

She shared that the title had an underlying meaning to it. It explains how she is not experiencing marriage and children at this age, unlike many of her friends. The title simultaneously describes her emergence in show business, as she believes, why shouldn’t she, a female minority, have a shot at success, as well?

Kaling also addressed the cancellation of “The Mindy Project” on FOX and its move to Hulu. She described having her own television show as being in a “rocky relationship,” with uncertainty if it would last each year. With the privilege of creating a mainstream television show, Kaling said she did not expect this type of a struggle.

Mindy Kaling in conversation with actor/writer BJ Novak at BookCon. [Photo Source: Facebook.com/BookCon]
[Mindy Kaling in conversation with actor/writer BJ Novak at BookCon. |Photo Source: Facebook.com/BookCon]
Beyond her personal projects, Kaling had many other insightful observations to offer when questioned by Novak and the audience. At the end of her first book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” Kaling listed her goals for the next five years and where she hoped to be when writing her second novel (which was to be married with children and a Hollywood movie star).

Kaling reflected on those aspirations at BookCon saying, “F*ck you, 2010 self!”

She lamented on how being such a motivated person and creating those kinds of expectations prevented her from enjoying the success she has experienced in the past five years, which she is (rightfully) proud of, despite not meeting those other goals. Thus, she said her only goal for the next five years is to make just one, really good, new friend, a task that she described as quite difficult in adulthood.

Finally, Kaling talked about trying to find the balance between exercising her creative freedom while trying to incorporate her Indian identity into her work. She defended her choices by stating that a white male artist, like James Franco, never has to explain his choices, whereas she does. Kaling said she wants to infuse her heritage more and wants to write about growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Fans left the interview in awe of her style and comments and were gifted free excerpts from “Why Not Me?”

Later that afternoon, in the very same Special Events Hall, Aziz Ansari talked about “Modern Romance,” released on June 16, 2015, which he co-wrote with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg. “Modern Romance” took the pair over a year-and-a-half of research as they conducted surveys and focus groups in major U.S. cities as well as abroad.

Ansari hilariously described his inspiration for the book, a hook-up with a girl whom he refers to as “Tanya.” He said he had a great time with “Tanya” and thought “Tanya” did, too. But much to his dismay and confusion, “Tanya” never responded to any of Ansari’s texts throughout the next couple of weeks. A situation all too familiar to many of us, which prompted Aziz to want to write a book exploring how technology, including texting and dating apps, affects courtship, dating, and relationships.

A situation all too familiar to many of us, which prompted Ansari to write a book exploring how technology, including texting and dating apps, effects courtship, dating and relationships.

In the book, Ansari and Klinenberg talked about the historical changes in meeting people versus new technology, in which the latter provides no binding geographical boundaries and gives people limitless options. One of Ansari’s poignant observations was that, in the past, people wanted a partner to be someone to settle down and start a family with, but now, a partner must be a best friend, confidante, therapist, someone you really want to spend all your time with, and more.

One of Ansari’s poignant observations in the book was, in the past, people wanted a partner to settle down and start a family with, but now, a partner must be a best friend, confidante, therapist, someone you really want to spend all your time with, and more.

[Aziz Ansari in coversation with The New York Times’s “Modern Love” column editor, Daniel Jones, about his new book. | Photo Source: Facebook.com/BookCon]
[Aziz Ansari in conversation with The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column editor, Daniel Jones, about his new book “Modern Romance.” | Photo Source: Facebook.com/BookCon]
During the conversation with The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column editor Daniel Jones, Ansari mentioned his parents’ arranged marriage in India. He credited the success of their marriage to the idea that in an arranged marriage, love slowly comes to a boil, whereas often otherwise, love begins heated and passionately, but does not last as long. Ansari’s interview was filled with numerous comic anecdotes that he came across during his research, including issues of how many “y”s to add when texting, “Hey” and stories of OkCupid etiquette faux pas.

However, the most controversial part of Ansari’s interview was when he stated that everyone finds themselves in these kinds of situations but rarely speak about it…to which I say, Ansari, would you like to see the various group chats on my phone in which my girlfriends and I screenshot text messaging encounters with boys? Or, have you not read Brown Girl’s very own “Shaadi In The City” column? Perhaps, Ansari only found this bit to be true of men.

Both Kaling and Ansari delighted fans at BookCon with their humor and remarks. It is worth noting that on Saturday at the Javits Center, there were four main speakers in the Special Events Hall, and two out of these four were Indian-Americans. Seeing Indian-Americans have such a prominent role at such a large scale event is remarkable.

As mainstays of American media, Kaling and Ansari’s presence and cultural influence have great implications for the presence of South Asians in the U.S.

[Feature Image Source]


Samuya BhutaniSaumya Bhutani is a recent graduate of Vassar College where she majored in History and minored in Biology. She wrote her thesis on the relationship between beauty ideals and the changing roles of women in India in the late 1970s. Saumya is an aspiring physician but also considers herself a history aficionado and pop culture junkie.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

How ‘RRR’ Changed the American Perception of the Indian Film Industry

As a South Indian American, I am aware of how non-brown Americans view the Indian film industry. One word: Bollywood. Bollywood and the South Indian film industry has always been lumped into the same category as Bollywood, despite the diversity. For Indians, South India is obviously different from North India, but non-brown people assume it would all be the same. This extends beyond Indian cinema; feeding into assumptions regarding other aspects of culture like language, food, and so on. People tend to assume all Indians speak Hindi or eat tikka masala at home rather than trying to understand the diversity of Indian culture. With time, especially with the help of social media, there was more accessibility to understanding the differences among these cultures, yet nothing truly spread across the globe. Then came “RRR.”

[Read Related: On the Road to the Oscars: M.M. Keeravani and Chandrabose’s ‘Naatu Naatu’ Redefines the World’s View of Indian Music]

RRR” is a Telugu film from Tollywood. This South Indian film has become a worldwide sensation with its incredible visual effects, captivating plot, and catchy music. I was blown away by the reception this film got in the United States, especially from American film critics who were all praise. What impressed me the most was how more Americans clarified it was not a Bollywood film, and differentiated it as a Tollywood film. The number of people taking the time to learn the difference between Tollywood and Bollywood might seem simple, yet meaningful, nonetheless. South Indian films are incredibly underrated and are finally getting the attention they deserved. It is incredible to see the celebration surrounding the film and what it represents and means to this community and how we get to share it with the world. The hype was real, and then the awards season began.

 

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The Golden Globes top the list of some of the major awards for television and film and it was amazing to hear that “RRR” had been nominated in two categories for this award. Funnily enough in my own world, it aired on my birthday. Then came the moment when Jenna Ortega said “Naatu Naatu, RRR” and the song played as M.M. Keeravani approached the stage to accept his award. This song became the first Asian, not only Indian, song to win the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The 80th Golden Globes saw many wins for the Asian community with films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “RRR.” There is something beautiful about being South Indian in America and watching a South Indian song win an award in America on one’s birthday. There is a joy in getting to tell my friends, both brown and non-brown, about it and share the song, “Naatu Naatu,” with them. Sure it is Indian, but it is just a bit closer to home, and that closeness stands with a beautiful meaning. When it came to the Critics’ Choice Awards, it was touching to hear about how S.S. Rajamouli grew up with the encouragement of creativity and storytelling. It honestly inspired me to continue my own projects; I hope to see them prosper as well. 

[Read Related: Sri Rao and the Future of South Asian Diasporic Cinema]

After the win at the Golden Globes, the Oscars became highly anticipated for the Indian community, especially when the nominations for Best Original Song were announced. Of course, when the familiar title appeared once again, a victory felt within grasp. “Naatu Naatu” had a couple of big moments at the Academy Awards ceremony: the performance and the win itself. The performance was introduced by the absolutely phenomenal actress, Deepika Padukone, who, too, is s South Indian. Her introduction of the song brought forward the context in which the tune takes place, that is during 1920 under the British colonization of India. She reminded all of us of how significant the song was along with its catchy beat. When it came to the announcement of who won Best Original Song, it was a first-of-its-kind victory given that it was the first time an Indian film won in this category. The speech made by M. M. Keeravani was beautiful as he sang to the tune of “Top of the World” with his own lyrics to take in the moment. It was certainly an extremely proud day to be Indian anywhere in the world, and especially to be a South Indian.

Seeing non-brown folks acknowledging the diversity of Indian culture has been beautiful to witness. The cultural pride of saying an Indian film, specifically a South Indian film, won the Oscar, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and two Critics’ Choice Awards so far is an absolute joy. Seeing South Indian representation, especially during the awards season, is inspiring for brown creatives. This has been a time of great cultural pride in the South Indian community, and as a South Indian creative myself, I am honored to see it.

Photo Courtesy: Netflix


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By S. Kavi

S. Kavi is a South Indian American writer, poet, and artist. Her work involves the exploration of South Indian culture, … Read more ›

Anita Verma-Lallian Talks Camelback Productions and the Need for Greater South Asian Representation

Camelback Productions

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.

[Read Related: Anita Verma-Lallian Launches Arizona’s First South Asian-owned Film Production and Entertainment Company ]

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.

What kind of content are you looking to create?

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.

Photo Credit: Claudia Johnstone

By Rasha Goel

Rasha Goel is a 2X Emmy-nominated television host/producer and international correspondent. Her talent has led to opportunities such as giving … Read more ›

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History — A Review of Sundance’s ‘Polite Society’

Polite Society

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. 

[Read Related: Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani of Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ on Womanhood, Racism, and Issues Generations of Desi Women Still Struggle With]

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. 

Polite Society
Director Nida Manzoor, cinematographer Ashley Connor and actor Priya Kansara on the set of their film “Polite Society.”

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.

[Read Related: Ms. Marvel’s Iman Vellani and Mohan Kapur Talk Cultural Pride, Hollywood and Brown Representation]

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. 

Photo Credits: Focus Features LLC

By Nimarta Narang

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