This post was originally published on our partner website India.com:
There has never been a better time to be an Indian in Hollywood—and “Family Party” actress Jaya Prasad couldn’t agree more. Prasad, 27, plays the role of Arti on Netflix’s 50-minute narrative that indulges in the Indian-American lifestyle and evokes laughter and emotion while doing so.
Prasad has been a theater actor since she was a child, and began modeling at the age of 16. After studying mathematics and economics at the University of California, San Diego, she began working in the tech industry in San Francisco. Prasad’s talents in both these varied fields have led her to numerous accomplishments at her young age.
For example, she launched a social networking app for kids as the entrepreneur-in-residence at a startup while also starring in “Ab Laut Aa,” a music video by Bollywood sensation, Sunidhi Chauhan. When she found out a local film was casting an Indian girl, it was an opportunity she did not want to pass up. She met Pari Mathur, director of “Family Party” for the audition—and clearly, she was the perfect fit.
The narrative tells the story of Arti (Prasad) and Nick (played by Vishal Vaidya), two Indian-American teenagers who are trapped at a family graduation party for Arti but would rather be with their own set of friends at a concert happening in town. They decide to pair up, and with another friend’s help, hatch a plan to escape—and that is when things start going south. The narrative is full of moments that each of us can relate to.
Prasad believes that her character is a blend of innocent adventure and calculated persuasiveness, which she plays with her natural charm.
“Before we started rehearsing, Pari asked me to watch two old movies: ‘Footloose’ and ‘The Graduate,’” Prasad explained. “He communicated that Arti’s character simultaneously encompassed the free, fun-loving aura of Ariel from ‘Footloose’ and the seductive nature of Mrs. Robinson, in that she could mysteriously persuade an unsuspecting victim into doing what she wanted. Once I understood her motives, it was easy to step into the role.”
“Family Party” is very reflective of the Indian-American life, but that’s not what it is limited to—it also somehow connects to the life of any immigrant. It is easy to feel like we belong in that world and can relate to at least one or more characters or scenes.
“Honestly, I would love it if each person who watched ‘Family Party’ walked away with the reminder of a memory, or feeling like they could relate to something from the film,” Prasad said. “The characters are all very real, from the parents to the aunties and uncles to the friendships and the teenagers with all their angst. Though the film happens to revolve around a typical Indian-American family party, the relationships, and emotions driving the story would be the same in any household or high school.”
Prasad has always been drawn to the arts, whether it is acting, dancing, or singing. Her career as a runway model began when she was 14, and that opened her up to the idea of being in front of the camera—so she began taking acting lessons.
“It was in those first acting classes, whether I was getting into a specific character or simply improvising one, that I realized I could act forever,” Prasad confessed. “Acting naturally fosters an empathy for others and an understanding of different perspectives, and I became hooked to that feeling of connectedness and how it trickles over into how to live life.”
Luckily for her, and Prasad believes this too, this is probably the best time to be an Indian trying to break into the American entertainment industry. While she believes a lot remains to be achieved for South Asian actors, she also feels that we are making significant progress.
“There is plenty of room for everyone to come in with new ideas and share new stories, and honestly, the more people see those stories, the more they will open up,” she said.
This is definitely the case; however, existing prejudices due to ethnicity is also a huge deal while getting roles. You end up not being right for the part or the role is based solely on minority stereotypes. Only recently has this trend begin to change—and for the better, of course.
“I’ve never experienced this in an overt sense though I know it exists and that I’ve been exposed to it,” Prasad said. “I think the most important thing is to be confident in your craft so that in the meantime while things keep changing, you can blow them away with your performance and continue booking the roles that weren’t originally intended for ‘someone like you.'”
Prasad said she can identify with this dynamic shift, not only in the field of entertainment but also in technology. As an Indian ‘techie’ in the Bay Area, you learn a thing or two about being boxed in by who you are—however, she has broken out of that shell too. Moving to San Francisco after college, Prasad was inspired to make something of her own. Her first project was to develop a social app for kids age 13 and below.
“Not only was there a huge market for it, but I love kids,” Prasad confessed. “It was an extremely challenging project because of balancing countless child protection regulations with an effort to keep the app fun and engaging, but it worked out really well and we launched on the iTunes App Store. During my time at the incubator, I also developed a web series to empower girls.”
When she decided to start acting full time and leave the incubator, she shut everything down. In 2014, she started studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York City.
Prasad said she believes that the beautiful thing about being a South Asian in acting right now is how much opportunity there is to inspire others and contribute to new perspectives and growth within the industry, though there is still some resistance to overcome from both sides. Within the Indian community, an acting career still requires explanation and justification. The more it becomes acceptable for new generations to follow their dreams instead of falling into expected career paths, and the more Indians pursue creative endeavors, the more the world will be exposed to the different ways of thinking that only increased diversity can bring.
“Our culture has a beautiful value system that includes concepts like hard work, respect, and education, and I want to show that these values do not need to be compromised by going into entertainment and that it’s okay for kids to aspire to make a difference through film,” she said. “I hope that as more young people see ‘different’ faces like mine on television and watch movies like ‘Family Party,’ they will be inspired to join and create as well, and continue to break down barriers from all sides.”
Saloni Gajjar is a recent alum of NYU’s Magazine Writing Program. Her passion lies in pop culture writing, as is evident in her work with magazines like Marie Claire, Interview, and Complex. Her goal is to show the arts as a medium and mirror of the society, much beyond just entertainment.
From a queer brown boy in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) to now a fabulous trans femme artist in her 40s, Vivek Shraya is no stranger to life and its unpredictable journey. Her love for music as a young boy transcended any naysayer, and as she got older, she was hopeful that she’ll make it in the world of music one day; her ambitions were strong and the inhibitions were defeated by her love for the arts.
Art and poetry gave me a place to express the loneliness, the isolation, the frustration, the pain that I was experiencing.
But, as Shraya ventured deeper into the industry, she found that it wasn’t an easy code to crack. She moved from Edmonton to Toronto for better opportunities to showcase her talents, but the city gave her a wakeup call:
I found it really hard to create a music career and so at around 30, I broke up with music — even though technically in my 30s I kept making music — that was the first moment in my career that it occurred to me that I wasn’t entitled to success.. Just because I was a nominally good singer, had some decent contacts, was full of ambition, and was a hard worker, that didn’t necessarily guarantee I would be successful.
Shraya knew she was a creative person and couldn’t give up her creativity in the name of the failure she faced with her music. She ventured into writing her first (self-published) book, “God Loves Hair,” and that’s when she realized that she could still explore the arts through different mediums — books and short films. She continued to write, but at the back of her mind, she hadn’t given up on music.
Once people started showing interest in my other work, I was constantly trying to figure out how to use that interest to leverage my music. So if I was doing a reading, I was singing songs; if I was putting out a book, it was like ‘how do I put out a single that’s attached to that book?’ If I was making a film, it was like ‘how do I score for the film and have a song?’
Even with all the work in place, and using it to her advantage to further her music, Shraya says that by the age of 38/39, she knew that a successful career in music was,
Never gonna happen.
And that’s when she made a play about failure — “How To Fail As A Popstar” — which has now turned into a show on CBC Gem. Shraya took her story (and lessons) on failure and turned it into an incredible and relatable story for the masses to watch in the comfort of their own homes. She came out triumphant at the end, after all.
We sit down with Shraya for an exclusive chat about “How to Fail as a Popstar” — its inception (revisited), if she ever thought the story would go from book to play to CBC Gem as a show, and how diversity and inclusion are at the core of the series. There’s also a special surprise at the end you don’t want to miss!
Have a look:
You can now watch “How to Fail as a Popstar” on CBC Gem!
November 2, 2023November 2, 2023 6min readBy Nida Hasan
It’s not every day that a film leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed with a flood of mixed emotions — from grief and hopelessness to fear and rage, all the while brimming with a sense of pride for the protagonist. This usually is a testament to the maker’s cinematic prowess; their ability to not just engage their audience but also invoke a response. In “To Kill A Tiger” however, this is a result of both the director’s unrestrained and incisive approach and the eye-opening reality that unfolds on screen. Emmy-nominated filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s documentary, “To Kill A Tiger,” is not at all gritty or violent in its depiction; there is no blood and gore that compels you to feel the pain and empathize. It’s the trauma, collective suffering, and the almost sickening reactions that surround the struggle that makes it an eerie watch.
In essence, “To Kill A Tiger” is an unfiltered look into the aftermath of a horrific sexual assault in Bero, a tribal village in Jharkhand, India. The film starts off with Ranjit, a poor rice farmer and 13-year-old victim Kiran’s father, recalling the details of her brutal rape, at a family wedding, by three men including her cousin. After Ranjit files the case, the perpetrators are arrested immediately, but the road to justice is long and dreary, and the chances of getting it, woefully small.
In India, where a woman is raped every 20 minutes and where 90% of those rape crimes go unreported, Ranjit’s unwavering support for her daughter and her right to justice is a rare sight. He is joined by a host of activists including those from Srijan Foundation to further his cause, in the hopes that his unlikely win may bring some form of systemic and societal change. But in his almost 14-month-long, arduous journey, Ranjit and his family find themselves stuck in a destructive cycle of victim-blaming and the intense pressures of upholding the community’s so-called honor. Comments like “she should have known better,” or “she must’ve been a tease for boys will be boys,” and suggestions of marrying her off with one of her rapists so as to keep the village united and let peace prevail, are a harrowing reminder of how much of rural India is still so deeply entrenched in patriarchy and powered by toxic masculinity, which is what actually led Pahuja to this case in the first place.
“After the Delhi gang rape. I decided I wanted to make a film on Indian masculinity. I spent a fair bit of time researching and raising funds for the early development phase because it’s such an abstract concept; how do you tell a story about masculinity?” Pahuja shared, while chatting with Brown Girl Magazine.
“Over the course of my research, I came across the work of a Delhi-based organization, Center for Health and Social Justice. They, essentially, are pioneers in the space around masculinity. They understood very early on that if there were any substantial, effective strides to be made to end the discrimination that exists against women, one would actually have to tackle masculinity, and give men a new way to be male. The film that I initially set out to make was following their work. They were running a program in the state of Jharkhand and Ranjit was enrolled in that program. And that’s how I came across this story. It wasn’t like I was looking for a story about a sexual assault. The incident just happened around that time.”
But shifting the focus to a deeply personal story with an uncertain future, and one that was highly sensitive to its surrounding environment (significantly volatile in nature), posed a series of challenges for both the family involved and the crew. For one, it was crucial to ensure that the fact that there’s a camera present does not, in any way, influence Ranjit’s course of action; and that both Ranjit and Kiran have room and the freedom to make decisions as they see fit.
“We always made it very clear that they shouldn’t do what they were doing for the camera, or for the videos. We told them we will support whatever decision they want to make and that they shouldn’t feel a compulsion to keep pursuing this. We wanted to ensure that they were pursuing justice, in spite of all the things that were going on. Because we were all worried for them. We didn’t want them to be in any kind of danger or to be in a position where they were unsafe,” Pahuja stressed.
As is evident in the film, there are plenty of moments when it seems Ranjit would jump the ship. Apart from the mental and financial burden of keeping up with innumerable court dates, and a system that does little to help the marginalized get justice, the threats to his family’s wellbeing were insurmountable. In one instance, we see this growing hostility veer towards Pahuja’s crew — the villagers question the filmmaker’s continued interest in the incident, warning her to stop meddling in their community’s affairs. Pahuja recalls the instance:
“It was a scary situation. We were aware that this eruption might happen; it wasn’t unexpected but when it happened, it was a shock. You know what I mean? We had been in that village for several months filming, trying to get people on our side, trying to create relationships, even with the boys’ families. And Ranjit was fine with that; he understood why we needed to do that. We made a lot of effort to not be a bull in a china shop; we were very careful. We were certainly aware of the sensitivity and of the possibility that there could be conflict, but not to the degree that [it] happened. I was shocked, I was afraid but the primary emotion that I had was also one of guilt. I felt very ashamed of myself for disrupting something very complicated.”
In the face of such adversity, with the world shunning her and with every possible witness jeopardizing her shot at justice, it is Kiran’s unblemished view of the world, her relentless faith in good winning over evil, and her fierce determination to see her attackers pay for their crime, even at such a tender age, that’s truly admirable. As a viewer, you’ll find yourself at your wit’s end watching Kiran constantly relive her trauma, repeating meticulous details of the incident to one legal official after the other, but she perseveres, also lending her father the courage and the strength to continue her fight.
Is “To Kill A Tiger” a depressing exposition of the inherently patriarchal, and significantly problematic, mindset of the Indian population that is in turn breeding rape culture? Yes. Does it leave you incredibly frustrated and disappointed over the bare minimum impact that Ranjit and Kiran’s defiance and eventual victory has over prevalent attitudes? Yes. With a plethora of rape cases in India suffering a fate worse than Kiran’s, was it a story that needed to be told? Definitely yes. Though a world where women’s voices are not silenced may still very much feel like a utopian fantasy, “To Kill A Tiger” is effectively opening a dialogue by laying bare the roots of it all. Through this profoundly resonant story, Pahuja is helping us understand why whilst taking the first step towards the ‘how’ for her work, and the scope of impact, doesn’t end with the audiences.
“Right now, we’re working with Equality Now; they’ve come on board as our impact partners. And we’re devising a kind of global strategy in terms of what are the things that the film can achieve? And the change that we’re seeking is both at the legal level and at a systems level. And of course, at a cultural level as well. For change to happen, you have to change culture, and culture comprises many different layers. So you have to have an approach that looks at all of these different layers. We have some very specific things that we know we want to do such as creating a fund for survivors. We also want to create a coalition of survivors in India. And then, of course, we want to work on masculinity. We’re really hoping that with Ranjit being the role model, the film can travel with [the] organization to have an impact on men and boys.”
“To Kill A Tiger” is currently showing in cinemas across the US.
October 3, 2023October 3, 2023 8min readBy Arun S.
Badshah is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the South Asian hip-hop landscape. From farmlands to stardom, Badshah embodies the quintessential tale of humble beginnings and the rise to the top. He is one of the most successful generational artists who’s donned multiple hats, including that of a reality TV judge and has built a culturally rich empire with equity in a diverse set of businesses. Voted as the world’s No. 1 songwriter on YouTube by Blokur and being the first Indian artist to chart on Billboard Global 200, he is among the most bankable names in the Indian music industry; pretty much every label owner and/or film producer turns to him when in need of a guaranteed hit.
I recently got an opportunity to meet Badshah while he was in LA to record an album. Meeting him was surreal; almost like a bucket list moment. As someone whose music is a party starter in itself, it was surprising to learn that Badshah likes to keep to himself. The rapper is no stranger to a frenzy of fans huddling around him with camera phones. The environment was no different on the day we met. Yet he was kind, approachable and generous, smiling genuinely for every click of the camera. We spoke at length about his latest musical outing, his foray into entrepreneurship and South Asian representation at large. Below are the excerpts from our conversation:
We just learnt that you’ve been spending a lot of time here in LA. Are you liking it better in the U.S. than back home in India? What prompted this transition of spending more time overseas given that you are someone who endorses the heartland of India?
India will always be home for me. LA is a more diverse hub where you can just jump into the studio with artists from different ethnicities. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m shuttling between India and LA. The other day, I was strolling down the street and I noticed people jamming to a Bad Bunny song. In my head, I was like this needs to be a Hindi or a Punjabi song. There are multiple ongoing conversations, but everything I’m working towards globally is to represent the culture and normalize Indian-ness at a very grassroots level.
We really enjoyed the album “3 a.m. Sessions.” It showed a different side of your music discography. What was the process of creating this album and what was your intention behind presenting a more personal and intimate album?
I launched it as a random drop for my fans. My label wasn’t too hyped about it so I just went ahead and released it on my channel at 3am and it just exploded! The album was more about songs that I felt good making, it allowed me to dive deep with the storytelling and gave me a premise to be authentically vulnerable.
What can you tell us about your new single “Gone Girl?”
It’s me revisiting my older soundscape and reinstating what my moniker stands for. Badshah is all about blockbusters and bangers. For the longest time, my fans were waiting for me to come up with an anthem and I’m all about keeping my fans happy!
While you have managed to craft a legacy of your own, there is a section of the industry that dismisses your success. Why is that?
It’s human nature to not want to celebrate another’s strength and success and seek pleasure from others misfortunes and weaknesses. Till the time you’re an underdog, everyone wants to support you because it’s relatable and unpredictable. But once you’ve achieved a certain stature, the same people want to invest in someone else because they feel success comes with a sense of entitlement and privilege. It’s a vicious cycle of love and hate. I’m grateful for being overlooked because it reinforced my belief in myself and it pushed me to work harder. You can love me or you can hate me, but I know I’ve earned the respect and that’s the only opinion that matters.
You’re a mentor, entrepreneur as well as a philanthropist — aspects of your personality that most people aren’t privy to. What prompted you to take on such varying roles in life and why do you feel it’s important for artists to extend beyond their art?
My craft would be very self-limiting if I didn’t blend in the element of purpose. Music helps you to build a spiritual conscience and creative appetite that can empower you to go beyond hedonism and create opportunities for community progress.
Did you apprentice with anyone or was it more just self-education when transitioning into this prolific creative businessperson and learning the business side of things?
It was very organic. Maybe it was my love for mathematics that originated into me embracing entrepreneurship. Being invested for the long haul and having sweat equity gives me a sense of responsibility as opposed to engaging in time-bound brand partnerships based on my public stature. I have taken a lot of un-calculated risks, but I enjoy the process of creating an establishment. That business streak has been in me since I was a child. In school, I was selling comic books and in college, I was selling medicine and land. Fashion label, record company, television network, a film production house, nightclub — I’ve tried it all and I am still looking forward to expanding within the beverage and sports industry.
Currently, Reggaetón and K-POP are having huge moments around the world. When do you feel South Asian sounds will reach a mainstream level?
I’m hoping within the next two years. We are at the cusp of a Brown takeover and this was long overdue. In a world where every other culture and community is enjoying its fair share of spotlight, I think it’s about time South Asians are celebrated and are given the due they deserve. South Asians are a hardworking lot and are invested in their craft and the world is just about waking up to how multi-hyphenate we truly are! Diljit paaji at Coachella is a great example of how audiences are investing in not just the music, but the overall cultural experience. AP Dhillon and Karan Ajula are doing great as well. Late Sidhu Moose Wala was a real legacy artist who pushed the boundaries for Indian hip-hop, sitting out of a remote village in India, and encouraged music consumption that directly put a spotlight on staying true to one’s roots. Similarly, I’d like to do the same for Indian hip-hop globally — celebrate the culture, champion other artists, build an indigenous empire and be the voice of a generation without having to conform to any diktat or cater to the need of validating where I come from.
The legacy of a cultural juggernaut. I am working towards building an establishment that extends beyond the mundane materialism and impacts individuals on a more humanitarian level. The success needs to transform into something more meaningful and greater than just million-dollar brand deals, or stadium tours, or record-breaking streaming numbers. I’d like to build towards generational cultural wealth. When people remember me, I want them to smile recalling how they were touched by me in a way that left them with something to cherish. I don’t want to just live inside minds, but also inside the hearts of people.
How do you celebrate your success?
With grace. I don’t believe in hierarchical systems. I don’t consider myself above or below anybody. I’m always sharing my success, and congratulating my peers on their success as well. I’m not the type to take success for granted because I worked hard for it and I’m grateful that God views me as worthy enough.
Tell us about the person behind the moniker.
I’m contrary to what you see in my public profile. I’m a happy social recluse who’d prefer a studio session over a glitzy red carpet. I feel my public persona is an alter ego as I’m quite straightforward and boring in real life. Though one thing that has stayed constant is my love for fashion, jackets, and sneakers, more precisely.
How do you feel about the Asian Underground scene in the U.K. influencing your music and who were some of the artists and tracks that helped pave the way?
In my early teens , I listened to a lot of Panjabi MC, Bally Sagoo, and Rishi Rich. They helped me pursue hip-hop more ardently and gave me a sense of direction in my quest.
As someone who is constantly in the public eye and most susceptible to hate and criticism, how do you motivate yourself on the hardest of days?
Music and family are always therapeutic, but because I’ve seen massive struggle in my heydays, I can come around the hard days far easier now. I’ve realized that the war is against myself and I have to take full responsibility. If I need to learn new things and progress, I need to befriend disapproval, embrace the struggle, and enjoy the discomfort. I’ve always taken the harder route. I’ve lost friends, rewired my brain to think in new ways, foregone old patterns, pulled myself away from anger, but it’s made me feel empowered knowing that the power to change my life lies within me.
In an era where popularity is gauged as per one’s social media following and streaming numbers, how important is the aspect of authenticity and storytelling for you?
Storytelling gives character, whilst authenticity builds reputation. You may forget the face or the name, but you will never forget the story. The human brain is wired to connect through stories and the more organic and real these stories are, the more an artist becomes relevant.
Speaking of numbers, does creativity get affected in the whole number game?
Numbers are a great flex, but it’s in no way a measure of whether a song is a hit or not. Just because a song has ‘X’ number of million views, doesn’t guarantee an artist’s achievement quotient. These are just titles for the hype which can fade if you aren’t consistent creatively. Fans still need to attend your shows and consume your music, more unswervingly.
What more do you want to see from the Indian-Bollywood music industry? What’s lacking and can be done better to transcend borders and industries?
We need to embrace diversity and celebrate not just the major feats, but the small wins too. We don’t need to blend in or do something that’s against the culture as if we have nothing to offer. We need to stand up and own our uniqueness. Indians were born for greatness, it’s our time to shine, respectfully and authentically.
It feels like you almost see it as a mission on some level, outside of just making millions and selling super dope records, to kind of get the Indian culture up. You have extensively spoken about representing the scene more authentically and taking the Indian sound overseas and how you’ve been inspired by the late Sidhu Moosewala’s career trajectory. Why is cultural representation so important for you and what are you envisioning to propagate it?
Culture is what defines identity and representation is what bridges the gap between communities. Together they lay a foundation for anti-racist behavior and beliefs. However, there is still work to be done towards representation where diversity is seen as beautiful and valued. The barrier is tokenism, where artists are included in projects solely for the sake of diversity. We need representation that is diverse and not tokenized.
What do you think your true essence is? What would be true about you no matter how successful you get?
My commitment to the community and the craft. We are born to help people and if my art can uplift someone, I’d consider myself successful.
Who are you inspired by?
I’m motivated by everything that involves hard work because talent alone isn’t enough. I’m inspired by Virat Kohli, Ratan Tata, Drake, Jay-Z, and the list just goes on.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
I’d love to collaborate with Elon Musk. Maybe I can headline a concert he organizes on Mars one day!
Any particular American hip-hop artists that have inspired you?
I really love J. Cole. He’s amazing! I also love Jay-Z and Kanye West.
We hear there’s new music coming up for you. What can fans expect from you in the coming year?
I have some dope collaborations in the pipeline, and an arena show in London, later this year. I’m also a judge on two reality shows and life is kind!
Face rejections with grace and accept success with humility. The attitude we bring to things changes the course completely. You give away what you want. If you want love, love unconditionally; if you want respect, respect equally. It’s just a mentality thing!