Prem Singh Talks #OscarsSoWhite & Playing a Sports Icon & Advocate in ‘Tiger’

I remember being so excited when Pardeep Singh Nagra won the Ontario flyweight amateur boxing championship back in 1999. There was an overwhelming feeling of pride across the community, seeing this Canadian Sikh making it to the national level and potentially even all the way to representing Canada at the Olympics.

Finding out he was banned from competing in the nationals because he was an observant kesdhari (bearded and turban wearing) Sikh was such a blow. The consequent human rights legal fight and victory was monumental, and his resilience and persistence throughout it all was awe-inspiring.

[Photo Source: R3M Pictures]
Essentially, this is a story that needed to be told! So, Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese did just that with the new film “Tiger,” a movie for which they wrote the script and pushed hard to get made. We had the opportunity to sit down with Prem Singh, who are stars in the feature, to hear all about it.

How did it feel having “Tiger” premiere at the San Diego International Film Festival, and then to top it off, have it go on to win the Best Feature Film prize?

Prem Singh: Numbness, I had total numbness, I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing or where I should go. But overall, it’s a fantastic feeling, to know that our film won, and to know all your hard work and dedication to such an important subject was recognized. What was also special was that in the audience when we screened the film the theatre was packed and not one South Asian was sitting there, and to get that kind of response on our type of film was truly rewarding.

Seeing someone who looks like you and living your daily reality on screen is impactful for everyone, but especially so for young people and people from underrepresented communities. Pardeep Singh Nagra definitely understands this, he knew his case was bigger than just him and he continues to advocate for human rights in international boxing.

I hope the monumental success of Black Panther and Crazy Asians this past year really drove home the point for Hollywood holdouts. Representation matters, and it requires diversity both in front of and behind the camera, given your unique position as both the lead and the writer of this film, what are your thoughts about this?

Prem Singh: Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians are beautiful films that send out strong messages. TIGER does the same. As a South Asian growing up, trying to audition for roles, I would always go out as the stereotype, and there is nothing wrong in that. I personally wanted to do something different and create something special, so Michael Pugliese (Co-Writer and Actor of TIGER) went out and created something not just for the community but for other communities as well. To me representation matters, and on Nov 30th I hope we all can go out as a community and represent because this could be our moment to be added to that list of diversity in Hollywood.

Photo via Waytao Shing

On that note though, when you and Michael Pugliese began writing this movie back in 2010, given Hollywood’s well-known diversity problems (#oscarssowhite and now with Times Up and the #MeToo movements) did you worry about how you would “sell” it to producers and audiences alike? And how did you plan on getting buy-in from producers?

Prem Singh: We had an important message to spread. Now It is the entertainment business and we made sure we studied the business from an economical stand point. We also proved that there is a massive market for this. Diversity was always our main sell as well as making a great film. At the end of it all, you have to make a great film that people will enjoy, and that was our goal from day one. So, no matter the race, the culture, the sexual orientation, TIGER sends a universal message and that is standing up for what you believe in.

I believe we need to tell our own stories, and quite frankly if we don’t, either they won’t get told at all or they will be retold without all the parts that really make them ours. His story needed to be told. How did you include Pardeep in the process of the film to ensure you got his story right?

Prem Singh: Pardeep was very supportive from the beginning and when it came to telling his story, we stayed true to his entire journey from starting to box until his big fight. He was very helpful in telling the story. However, he stayed away from the creative aspect of the film, and he wanted us to tell his story. Our director Alister Girerson, told a very human story about Pardeep and is intenal struggles he faces which makes this film very compelling.

[Photo Source: R3M Pictures]

A follow up question for you. How did it feel to play him on screen knowing that if you didn’t get it right he and the rest of us are here watching you? Were you even a teeny tiny bit nervous?

Prem Singh: Very Nervous! When I spoke to Pardeep about the film he told me 2 things, 1. “Don’t give me an accent”, and 2. “Don’t make me look stupid” So from an actor’s perspective, I studied him watched tapes of him, and I even trained with his boxing coach, Dewith Frazer to get the right fighting style. My goal is to make Pardeep proud, and he has seen the film and he is! So, a big weight lifted from my chest!

Had you ever boxed before this film or is it something you had to learn?

Prem Singh: I have never boxed before this film, as Michael and I were writing this we started to train boxing, because we knew that one day we will be going to camera. So, we would train 5 days a week, sometimes twice a day to make sure we were in the best shape of our lives.

We here at Brown Girl Magazine really understand the value of the hustle. You have to work hard for what you want, and oftentimes, because of systemic barriers, even harder. Pardeep didn’t just have to train to beat the opponent in the ring, he was up against a system set up against him, and still he prevailed. You and Michael too are serious hustlers. I understand that you pitched the film to Mickey Rourke directly, and I’ve read the short version, I want to know the details though. How did you guys get him to say yes?

Prem Singh: Michael says everywhere that I “Stalked” him! So, since he’s not here to defend himself, I’ll say, for the record that I didn’t Stalk Mickey Rourke, we BOTH found out where he trained and went to his gym at Wild Card boxing in LA and waited for him!! LOL take it any way you want! We wrote the film for Mickey, and for someone who is not only a great actor but was a pro boxer as well, he was a perfect fit. So, when we saw him, we pitched him the project and just talked about the issues and our goals as filmmakers and the rest was history.

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The film opens in theaters on November 30th. What is the most important thing that you hope that audiences come away with?

Prem Singh: Come out and represent! I not only made this film for everyone, no matter what culture, race, religion, I made it through the lens of a Sikh man! So as a community we might not get an opportunity like this again. So, on Nov 30, at the Courtney Park, and Yonge and Dundas locations, come out, and watch a great film that will make the entire community proud, I say let’s make history together!

I’ll be watching at the Courtney Park Mississauga location near my hometown of Brampton, to no doubt a full house given the buzz around the community, will you and any of your colleagues be in town, too?!

Prem Singh: I will be in Toronto/ Mississauga/ Brampton doing press, so you never know where I will be! Come out opening weekend, I might meet you guys there.

TIGER releases in select theaters on November 30, 2018 in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Mississauga, and Vancouver. Come out and show your support for the story and diversity in film. More representation is good for us all.

By Sundeep Hans

Sundeep Hans was born in Toronto, raised in Brampton, with a slight detour via Punjab. She’s a social justice activist, … Read more ›

Redefining Manners: British Asian Priya Kansara Talks About her Latest Film ‘Polite Society’

Priya Kansara

Weddings, huh? Talk about a stress fest. And for the bride, it’s like a 24/7 walk on eggshells. However, add in a paranoid and overprotective sister, and you’ve got a recipe for a completely different degree of drama. In “Polite Society,” Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) and her gang of clumsy pals take the phrase “till death do us part” to a whole new level as they plot to “steal” the bride — aka Ria’s own sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), during her shaadi reception. But with a wedding hall packed with guests, a mother-in-law from hell, and a groom with more shades of fraud than a rainbow, this heist is anything but smooth sailing.

It goes without saying but “Polite Society” comes with a cast of wacky characters, gut-busting one-liners, and an action-packed heist sequence, making it a must-watch for anyone who loves a good comedy. I mean who hasn’t dealt with some serious wedding drama, am I right?

Lead actress Kansara agrees wholeheartedly. “I definitely have!” she chuckles, as I catch up with her at Soho Hotel in London. Despite the rubbish weather outside, Kansara is a ray of sunshine with her infectious enthusiasm.

The minute I read the script, I thought to myself…wow, playing Ria is going to be one wild ride!

[Read Related: Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History — A Review of Sundance’s ‘Polite Society’]

And wild is definitely the right word to describe her character. Ria is a British-Pakistani martial artist-in-training from London, determined to become a professional stuntwoman. Her sister, Lena, who dropped out of uni, often ends up being the guinea pig for filming Ria’s stunts for YouTube, including one lovingly dubbed “the fury.” She reveals

I’d never done martial arts before this film. The stunt training started from the day I got the role, and it was three to four times a week all the way until we finished filming. It was a seven-week period in total, and boy, was it physically demanding. Oh my God, I think I can add a whole new skills section to my CV! But on a serious note, it was so much fun and we had an amazing stunt team. They, including my stunt double, taught me so much. It was important to me to do my own stunts as much as possible, but also strike a healthy balance.

For South Asian women, who are often expected to be quiet and agreeable, all that punching and kicking on set must have been cathartic, right?

Honestly, it was like anger management at work! I got to kick and throw things around — it was the perfect balance.


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A post shared by Priya Kansara (@priyakansara)

What sets Kansara apart from other actors starting out in the industry is her ability to draw from her own life experiences to bring authenticity to her characters on screen. Her career began with a degree from UCL and a communications job at a pharmaceutical company. But today, her versatile range and unwavering commitment to her craft have propelled her to the forefront of British comedy, portraying defiant South Asian women we’d love to see in real life.

From my own experience as a South Asian woman, I’ve always been told to do what’s ‘proper’ and think twice before speaking up. Playing a character like Ria and putting myself in her shoes, I felt like I was doing and saying things that I wish I had done at her age. It was almost like living through her and speaking my mind about things I never did.

Without a doubt, every South Asian woman on this planet wishes she cared more about herself and less about what other people think.

Ria totally inspired me. If only I had her mindset when I was younger, my career path would have taken off way sooner instead of worrying about other people’s opinions.

The chemistry between the cast members on and off-screen is so apparent, especially the sisterhood between Ria and Lena. The wild adventures of a bride, and her paranoid maid of honour navigating through family drama, are bound to create some unforgettable moments on set.

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We both confess our love and admiration for Nimra Bucha’s portrayal of Raheela, Lena’s evil mother-in-law and share a teenage fangirling moment:

I’m obsessed with that woman. There’s something terrifying yet ultra sexy about her character in “Polite Society” that’s mesmerising. I absolutely loved the dance sequence. As South Asians, we’ve all grown up watching Bollywood films and idolising Madhuri Dixit’s iconic dance moves. “Polite Society” gave me my Bollywood heroine moment, and it was a dream come true with the costumes and jewellery.

It’s definitely a unique experience for Kansara, considering her former career was worlds apart from entertainment. So, what advice does she have for aspiring actors who may secretly wish to pursue the same path, but are unsure of the next steps? Kansara advises, drawing from her character’s heist-planning skills.

I believe starting small and honing your craft is an underrated superpower. If you’re passionate about acting, make short-form videos, and build your portfolio. You never know who might be watching.

So, grab your popcorn and your sense of humour, and get ready for “Polite Society” — the film that proves that sometimes, the most polite thing to do is kick some butt and save the day. It released in cinemas on April 28th, and I highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures

By Queenie Shaikh

Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and … 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. 

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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

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Nimarta grew up devouring Hindi movies, coming-of-age novels and one too many psychology textbooks. … Read more ›

The Poetry Film Breaking Genres and National Borders

“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.

This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.

[Read Related: Poetry That Reflects the Fire Inside]

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After So Long (English Translation)

Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long

Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
Kya karu?
(What should I do?)
Kaha jau?
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
Barso baad.
(After so long)

I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long

Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
Wahi dil,
(The same heart)
Baarso baad.
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]


Poem by Simha & Jae
Produced by Star Hopper Studios
Directed by Varsha Panikar
Cinematography and grading by Tanmay Chowdhary
Editing by Asawari Jagushte
Featuring Vaishakh Sudhakaran
Music Production by Simha
Hindi editing by Rama Garimella
Recited by Simha, Rama Garimella, Annaji Garimella
English Translation by Nhylar

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By Varsha Panikar

Varsha Panikar (they/he) is a filmmaker, writer and multi-disciplinary artist from India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper, a … Read more ›