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!
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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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.
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
In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.
[Read Related: A South Asian Daughter of Divorced Parents Speaks up After the Tragic Death of Pakistani-American Photographer Sania Khan]
Violence prevention researchers have long used traditional gender roles to explain intimate partner violence in South Asian countries. These norms are deeply entrenched beliefs in society about appropriate roles for people based on their gender. In South Asian communities, these norms typically privilege men in intimate relationships. These beliefs are further perpetuated by mainstream media. For example, despite historic criticism for its depiction of harassment as “romance” or abuse as “lovers’ quarrels,” Indian cinema has only normalized toxic masculinity and violence as a form of conflict resolution with its hundreds of millions of viewers.
Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.
[Read Related: On Domestic Violence: Model Minority, Private Pain]
Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities
Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it.
The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows.
Addressing the “Shadow Pandemic”
First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble. All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities.
More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.
While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.
All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.
Intimate Partner Violence Resources:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline Call: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224; Text: “START” to 8878
- National Dating Abuse Helpline Call: 1-866-331-9474
- National Sexual Assault Hotline Call: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Kirin Sinha, founder and CEO of Illumix, has been in the entertainment-tech space for almost a decade. She grew up with an interest in technical spaces (math) as well as creative and artistic pursuits — specifically dance — and wanted to bring both together.
Enter Illumix, a company born out of her passion for both tech and the arts.
[Read Related: Shark Tank’s Krystal Persaud of Grouphug Solar is Breaking Barriers for Women of Color in Technology]
Sinha has set out to help foster creativity but in a tech-forward way that will make a huge impact, and she knew that a tech company is what will help her drive the change she’s looking for.
I believe that the most impactful companies in the past several decades have been tech companies, the ones that can make a huge impact. I wanted to be part of that for the future and redefine who the voices are that are creating this next layer of technology. For me, that was the passion around women in tech, other voices being heard in the tech space, and how they can shape what the future looks like.
Here’s the in-depth conversation that we had with Sinha:
Let’s talk about Illumix. How did it come to be?
I started ideating Illumix in 2015/2016 and then the company was officially formed in 2017. We are a tech infrastructure focusing on bringing together the digital and physical worlds; an augmented reality platform that lets anybody easily create augmented reality content, without having to invest the time, and money building out the technology themselves. So it’s really about how can we make this form of content accessible to brands and companies around the world.
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For those who don’t know, what is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality (AR) is bringing the digital and physical worlds together. It’s when there is a digital layer on top of your real world. So, you see something through the lens of a camera but it’s not actually there. The most common example is Pokémon Go.
How have you seen the tech space/business grow over the last decade with social media and its immense popularity?
The growth of social media really gave a lot of power back to the consumer. It really became about user-generated content, and even more recently, it’s become more about personalized content — what you see on your TikTok feed is probably dramatically different from what I see on mine. I think that has really led to the core underlying trend here, which is, that content is more personalized, it’s more interactive, or immersive, and those two pieces take us to the next logical step: augmented reality.
One of the things [AR] does is it allows our content to be even more interactive and immersive than what we see on a 2D screen. It also allows things to become much more about you. For example, in e-commerce, it’s very different to see a 2D image of a model wearing something that may not at all correlate to you versus actually seeing what that product would look like on you as you’re making a purchase decision.
Being able to take all these different components and bringing them into your world, I think, is very powerful and is the foundational trend that’s driven, at least most recently, in social media.
You’re all about the tech, entertainment, and lifestyle spaces! How do all three of these industries play a role in your day-to-day?
I really found my passion for tech and media in 2016. I always knew I was passionate about technology; I always knew I had a creative component. I always thought I was going to be a professor. But when I first started to explore entertainment as a real industry or field that I was interested in, it completely lit me up. I think it was such an interesting time around then, when you saw these big traditional tech companies — like Apple and Netflix — moving into more of a media space. So, that intersection was fascinating to me and it was the perfect blend that I was really excited and passionate about. That’s when I knew that my career was going to be about media and technology.
The lifestyle component is something that I think a lot about because as an entrepreneur, you give 100% of yourself to your company. It always trumps everything in your life and that’s very difficult. It requires a lot of sacrifices, and it can be very grueling, but it’s also long-term; it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You have to think, ‘If I want to be running this company 10 years from now, how can I make it sustainable for me when it takes so much of me?’ So I think that’s where I became really focused around lifestyle pieces and what you can do day-to-day to help drive your success; how you can create habits, discipline, and lifestyle choices that give you the ability to show up 100% every day, but still maintain that for a long period of time.
It’s something that I’ve been experimenting with for years. I feel like I’ve treated myself like a scientific experiment since I was in high school. I’ve tried all sorts of sleeping schedules and diets — I’ve done everything in highly regimented ways and I think that’s given me decades of information on what’s effective and what works for me.
What have you learned throughout your journey of starting Illumix?
There are many things! There were two avenues that I had to grow the most in: perseverance and my relationship with rejection. I think that in most traditional jobs, you might see ‘no’ or see some elements of rejection, but as a founder, a huge part of your job is just to take rejection. It’s to fundraise, it’s to tell your stories, it’s to try to sell and be rejected in every way. I think [knowing] to not be demotivated by that, and actually treating that as motivation to keep going, realizing that no ‘no’ is a no forever, it’s a ‘no’ right now, is important.
That reframing has been really important and I feel every entrepreneur will have moments when they think everything is going down. I think being able to get used to that churn and the volatility that can be there, and always maintaining a level of certainty and vision in where you’re going, is incredibly important.
For me, it’s not about the work and the sacrifice — I was actually quite well-suited for that — it’s the emotional component of feeling like everything is on your shoulders, you have this responsibility to your employees and investors, to reach certain outcomes. You just have to keep going. You have to reframe your attitude towards ‘no’ in such a profound way.
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You mentioned earlier that you want to create a space for women in the tech industry and for their voices to be heard. Have you found that there has been this upwards trajectory for women and their careers in the tech space?
This is 100% a male-dominated industry even today. The number of [female] entrepreneurs has been declining and I think that one of the things that always stood out to me was that there are not a lot of women who are starting their own companies, so that’s already an important space to continue to grow. Further, there are not a lot of women who have technical backgrounds, and who are starting technology companies. Of that pool, you see a lot of consumer-focused brands, but it’s not technology companies, and that’s a whole different ball game to some level. It’s a different set of investors [and] more of a tech focus automatically means it’s more male-dominated.
I would love to see more women pursuing companies that are not gender-specific. It is important for women to serve other women because we have an understanding, but there’s no reason why only men should be running technology companies of the next decade. To my point earlier, the largest and most impactful companies will be technology companies, and that is an opportunity for minorities and women to have a voice and really shape the future in a way that’s huge and far-reaching.
For me to be growing up, and being in the space, and really not seeing a lot of other women [in this industry], I didn’t have that mentor figure for me who could help figure things out, and at some point, I decided this is what I want to do and this is the version of the world I feel passionate about, and want to live in. I’m just going to go and do it and hopefully bring a lot of other women up alongside me. Even if it’s not me in the end, I feel like I made an impact and cleared the way for us.
Advice you’d like to give anyone looking to start a tech company?
The most important thing going in is what is your vision of the world? Not your product, not anything specific to you, but if you can answer the question, ‘in 10 years the world will look like, X,’ and you know your reason for WHY we get there, that’s where the big impact is, in terms of the ways we shift how we operate. If you know that, and that’s your north star, and that’s what you believe in, then there’s always flexibility in how you get there.
What are your thoughts on being a South Asian, female entrepreneur?
I definitely want to say something about the expectations around being a South Asian woman in business. I think in general for women, at least I felt this for South Asian women, there are expectations on balancing family and career and which pieces ultimately come first. And that is always a line I’m trying to dance around because family is the most important thing to me, and I will always be there for my family first, but at the same time, you do need that level of dedication and willingness to give yourself over entirely to your company. I think solving for that balance, and this is part of why I’m so passionate about those lifestyle pieces, and figuring out a way for that to be sustainable for me in the long run, is a big motivation behind why I do that kind of content.
It’s not just a pure optimization game, it’s about figuring out what types of work, moments and crises, and opportunities I decide are at the top of my list and worth me setting that time [out], and what types of family things have to be at the top of my list always. I experiment with that in so many different ways — i.e. no meeting days where I can really just think about the company but also spend more time with family.
Figuring out what those balances are, in being successful in both day-to-day, is one of the most challenging things I go through. The reality is that you never feel great about either. You never feel like you crushed it on both sides. It’s more about stepping outside of the ‘everyday’ and thinking on a wider scale. Like, this year, how do I fill that balance plate?
What’s next for Illumix?
We have historically been, in the majority, in the entertainment-tech field. As an infrastructure play, this year will be about us expanding into new verticals. So for us, commerce is one of the biggest verticals to expand into; we might look at other forms of entertainment like sports or music. So it will really be about creating new use cases and creating new verticals that can leverage Illumix to create their own stories or express content in a new way.
[Read Related: In Conversation With Neha Samdaria Founder and CEO of Aam: A New Type of Fashion Label]
Sinha’s Illumix has made great strides in the entertainment-tech world since its inception. It was also part of the Disney Accelerator Program with which the team had the chance to work with an incredibly talented and creative set of individuals. It’s only up from here!
Stay tuned for an Instagram LIVE session with Sinha in the near future! Watch our IG for more!
Featured Image Courtesy: Kirin Sinha.