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A little over a year has passed since Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American to win the Miss America pageant. How has the 25-year-old’s life changed since she won the crown and gained international stardom? Davuluri said the past year has certainly kept her on her toes.
“I’ve traveled a little over 210,000 miles during my year of service as Miss America, which is almost the distance to the moon, to put it in perspective,” she said.
Davuluri has toured the world as a public speaker. It can be difficult for any woman on-the-go to manage her busy lifestyle, but Davuluri said she tries to remain flexible.
She does not travel with a hair and makeup team, and she said she mostly gets ready for events on her own. She stays on top of her fitness routine by working out to Jillian Michaels DVDs in her hotel room.
[Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images]
So, what keeps Davuluri going through the constant travel and public appearances? She said it is more than just the glamour, she is committed to using her position as Miss America to support the causes close to her heart.
“I’m constantly thinking about my platform, which is celebrating diversity through cultural competency,” Davuluri said. “I’m also promoting women in STEM education, science, technology, engineering and math, having a STEM degree myself.”
Every Miss America contestant is required to choose a platform which they pledge to promote during their year of service. Davuluri said as a South Asian American, cultural competency was the clear choice for her.
“My platform is something I’ve essentially been promoting my entire life,” she said. “It’s not about just talking about diversity, it’s about having hands-on activities to engage with.”
As Miss America 2013, Davuluri has worked to reach as many people as possible with her cause. She partnered with the Y.M.C.A. to organize diversity workshops for kids. She also launched Circles of Unity, a project which encourages students to use social media to spread cultural awareness and combat ignorance.
[Photo by Handout/Getty Images]
“Whether it be learning a different language, a new instrument or even something as simple as trying a different cuisine, those are all things that children can engage with apart from just sitting in a lecture,” Davuluri said.
Her victory in September 2013 was a ground-breaking moment for South Asian Americans, but it also set off a flurry of racist backlash on social media. Critics misidentified her as Arab or Muslim. Some even called her a terrorist.
Davuluri, unfortunately, said she wasn’t surprised. She faced those negative comments on a smaller scale when she won Miss New York earlier that year, but she handled the hostility with the poise of a true beauty queen.
She said she wants to continue to encourage other first-generation Americans to test the boundaries and chase their dreams, whatever they may be.
“I remember watching those pageants and thinking that could never be me,” Davuluri said. “For every negative comment, I saw this year, I have received so many positive and encouraging comments.”
Syeda Hasan is journalist reporting for Brown Girl Magazine and Houston Public Media News 88.7, Houston’s NPR station. She is also the host of BG’s podcasts. Syeda is a news junkie who loves non-fiction, from documentaries to the Real Housewives. She is a proud Texan and Longhorn with a mild obsession for all things French. Syeda has previously reported for the Daily Texan and KUT News in Austin.
March 20, 2023March 29, 2023 3min readBy Rasha Goel
Award-winning commercial real estate and land consultant in Arizona, Anita Verma-Lallian, is venturing into the world of entertainment with her newfound production house, Camelback Productions, making her the first South Asian female in the state to do so. Verma-Lallian is a woman used to paving her own way, and now she’s committed to doing it for future generations.
Through her production company, she aims to contribute towards greater South Asian representation in mainstream media with a focus on storytelling that’s relevant to the community. In a conversation with Brown Girl Magazine, the real estate maven spoke about what inspired her to shift from investing in land to investing in creative dreams.
Tell us more about Camelback Productions and what your hopes are for the company?
The intention is to help communities that are not being represented in the media. As you know, there are a lot more streamers looking for content so that presents an interesting opportunity for people to tell stories that are otherwise not being told.
For us it’s important to tell these stories that aren’t being told, and tell them in the way that we want them to be told. With South Asians, for instance, the roles typically given are stereotypical. There are only four or five roles we are playing repeatedly. I want to show the South Asian community and culture in a different way.
You come from a business and investor background. I am curious to know what catapulted your interest towards establishing a production company?
Good question. There were a few things that inspired my interest. I was looking to diversify the different opportunities we offered our investors. We’ve done a lot of real estate, so we were overall looking for different investment opportunities. And then, at the time when I started exploring this, the real estate market was in this wait-and-see for many people.
Everyone was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens next. There was a slowdown at the end of 2022 which is when I started looking into this more. Film seemed like it was kind of recession-proof and not really tied to what’s happening in the economy, which I thought was refreshing and exciting.
Also, overall, I observed what was happening in the industry with there being a push to see more South Asians in the media. The timing felt right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Good stories and good quality scripts. We are looking at all types of content — movies, docu-series, comedy shows, and reality shows. We’re open to anything that has a good message.
On a personal level, what hits home for you with this production company?
Growing up I always loved film and TV. We watched a lot of Bollywood movies because that’s what we related to and I always loved that. But I did feel there wasn’t a lot of representation of people that looked like me. Being able to change that — especially after having kids, and a daughter who wants to go into film — is important for. It’s a contribution for future generations. It’s important to me that as they grow up, they see people that look just like them.
Is there a significance to the name Camelback?
Yes! Camelback Mountain is a very iconic mountain in Phoenix.It’s one of the most famous hikes we have here and a relatively challenging one.
The significance is being able to overcome challenges and barriers. I have a nice view of Camelback Mountain and it’s something I look at every day, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed. It has a very calming and grounding presence.
To me the mountains signify being grounded and not being able to be moved by external factors. That’s what I want this production company to be!
What would you advise people interested in entering the entertainment industry?
The best advice I would give someone is to align yourself with people that you know are experts in the industry; that have a good track record. Learn from as many people as you can.I learn as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and I study different things to understand what was and wasn’t successful.
Being a teenager is scary. Hormones, high school, trying to fit in — add to it a flesh-hungry demon from the Indian subcontinent and it becomes downright terrifying. At least, that’s what award-wining director Bishal Dutta’s debut feature “It Lives Inside” will have audiences thinking when it hits theaters on Sept. 22.
From the producers of several blockbusters including “Get Out” and “Us,” “It Lives Inside” stars Megan Suri as Samidha. Samidha is an Indian American teenager growing up in a quintessential small town, where she’s one of only a handful of South Asian faces at her school. She has a sweet, hardworking dad (Vik Sahay) and a caring, but stern mother (Neeru Bajwa). Both of them like their daughter home early to make prasad for prayers and insist no one whistles in the house, fearing it’ll attract evil spirits.
Much to her traditional mother’s dismay, when Samidha enters high school, she begins to resist her Indian culture. She prefers to be called “Sam,” and speak English, leaving her homemade lunch tiffins on the counter on her way out the door. Most significantly, she distances herself from her former best friend and fellow Indian, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan)
Tamira has become the center of school gossip carrying around an ominous black mason jar, dwelling beneath the gym bleachers. One day, she corners Sam in the locker room, begging her for help from the “monster” trapped in the jar, but Sam is rigid. Her desire to fit overcomes her emotions. Tamira storms out — and then mysteriously goes missing.
Little does Sam know, her childhood friend’s behavior and disappearance were brought on by the Piscacha — a flesh-eating Hindu demon drawn to negative energy — and Sam’s disbelief has just unleashed its terror back on her.
“It Lives Inside” is a breath of fresh air. It has the nostalgic backdrop of a 1980s teen movie (think “Sixteen Candles” or even “Halloween”) but adds the thrill of an exciting new monster for horror fans, and looks for the final girl.
Audiences have spent decades watching and screaming at faith-based horror stories like “The Exorcist,” “The Conjuring,” and “Carrie,” but “It Lives Inside” is the first of its kind for Hollywood, drawing from Hinduism for its frights.
Now, I can’t lie…when I first learned the story would be rooted in Hinduism, I was nervous. I worried that religion and culture may be used as a gimmick, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Dutta’s approach is reminiscent of Bisha K. Ali’s with “Ms. Marvel” on Disney+. Characters speak Hindi and we see South Asian religious practices, foods, and clothing displayed prominently, in a natural and authentic way that other groups can easily learn and understand. The culture merely rounds out the story, it’s not the main character or conflict.
The Piscacha, feeding on the despondence of its prey, may remind some of Vecna from season 4 of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but Dutta offers a fresh angle, alluding to the characters’ negative feelings toward their culture being the source of its power.
He offers South Asian American audiences relatable family dialogues and dynamics, but also steers clear of cliches like showing popular kids as mean or Sam’s American crush unlikeable.
“It Lives Inside” isn’t a horror movie you’ll lose sleep over, but that doesn’t mean it’s without palpable moments of fear.
Thanks to Dutta’s creative shots, smart pacing and sensory visuals, in addition to the emotion-packed acting of its cast, the film successfully makes your skin crawl and your jaw drop on several occasions.
The characters are smartly cast with several standouts. Suri is a welcome new face for the horror genre’s final girl and she delivers her role with the right amount of escalating fear and desperation. Meanwhile, Bajwa leans into hers with the passion you’d expect from a protective brown mom, though, at times, some of her Hindi dramatells come through.
“Get Out’s” Betty Gabriel is also noteworthy as Sam’s teacher Joyce and an early confidant. Her support of Sam was a refreshing break from the “this person must be crazy” trope we see so frequently in demonic films.
All that said, “It Lives Inside” does border on being formulaic. It follows a template and scares we have seen numerous times and ones that have done well historically.
But in its familiarity, it also manages to feel fresh. With its South Asian twist, the film proves that even formulaic horror films can find new life through diversity and inclusivity. It raises the idea that they have the potential to scare wider audiences and tell more spooky stories by exploring new cultures and casts.
While “It Lives Inside” is not perfect — the climax may leave you with a few lingering questions — it is a stylish and well-made film and a welcome piece of mainstream South Asian representation.
Recent past has seen South Asian stars delve into many different genres on television and the big screen, but horror has remained largely untouched. Thankfully, “It Lives Inside” has set the table for some brilliant South Asian-based horror films in Hollywood for years to come.
“It Lives Inside” made its world premiere at SXSW and has made its way through the film festival circuit. It will be released theatrically by Neon on September 22.
“Don’t bully me with your kindness,” says Pi Patel (Hiran Abeysekera) to Lulu Chen (Kirstin Louie), from the Canadian embassy who is visiting Pi in his hospital room in Mexico. Pi was the sole survivor of a cargo ship traveling from Pondicherry, India, en route to Canada. His family and the animals from his zoo from back home all passed away, and Pi turned up after being stranded for 227 days at sea.
In this scene from the “Life of Pi,” that recently won in three categories at the Tony Awards, Pi’s sanity is being questioned as his account of what transpired at sea is too…fantastical. His vivid imagination and inspired attention to detail seem like a story a child would share. The character Lulu, from the embassy, is trying to gently nudge him into telling her the more ‘truthful’ account of what happened —one that doesn’t include a carnivorous tiger, a cannibalistic island, and a horrific Frenchman. Pi finally tells her to stop patronizing him. To stop bullying him with her perceived kindness. To actually listen to what he is saying.
It is this one line from the show that has become one of the most surprising and thoughtful lines I have encountered in all the art I have consumed in 2023 thus far. In fact, surprising and thoughtful are words that I would use to describe the overall musical itself. Directed by Max Webster, and adapted by the playwright Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel, “Life of Pi” is so enchanting, charming, and fantastical that with every beat of the show, I would hear gasps emanating from the crowd. The 24 cast members, many of whom were puppeteers, brought the different animals to life as we switched between the two timelines of Pi recounting his life at sea, in the hospital room, and Pi living out his life at sea.
Dreamlike to the audience and a nightmare to Pi, the scenes depicting his challenging, lonely, and magical time at sea beautifully depicted the magical realism of the novel. The choreography of the different cast members puppeteering the animals added a sense of whimsy and movement that lent itself to Pi’s childlike imagination. The lighting, the sound, the set, and the actors all came together to create a musical that is like almost being in a drug-induced trip — the set moves seamlessly from the hospital room to the boat, and back to the hospital room, and then the boat; sometimes both at the same time. You can feel the waves when Pi is on the water and see the little fish moving about. It’s as though you are with Pi throughout his journey — you feel scared when he is attacked, you feel inspired when he is in bliss, and you feel pain when he longs for his family.
The biggest marvel, though, is Richard Parker. The puppeteering behind this character is excellent — he is at once menacing, vulnerable, scared, and strong. The transformation of Parker is such that he starts out as such a grand animal and when we see him finally arrive on the island, he looks so frail and thin. You root for him as much as you root for Pi. And Pi himself is the heart of the musical. Abeysekera imbues Pi with so much confidence, playfulness, wit, and fear, that it makes you believe his stories and his relationship with the relentless tiger.
When Pi tells Lulu to not bully him with her kindness, he is telling her to not shatter his perception of the world he has lived; either it be real or constructed. Pi eventually shares with Lulu and Mr. Okamoto (Daisuke Tsuji), a representative from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, a version of events that is devoid of animals but one that is darker as it depicts human beings in their primal, selfish states. He then asks them, “Which story is better?” Lulu and Mr. Okamoto are speechless, as is the audience. In the end, it’s not about the story they believe but the one he believes. For the one he believes is the one he lived. And no one can bully him into thinking otherwise.