Shehn Datta serves as the political coordinator at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, her responsibilities include supporting the political team in building partnerships and relationships with stakeholders and providing technical assistance to allies.
Before joining BISC, Datta worked to elect the President in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles in North Carolina. In the intervening years, she attended the University of Oregon School of Law, focusing on international law and government services. Datta previously taught in public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, igniting her passion for juvenile justice and advocacy.
She holds a B.A. in sociology and women’s studies from Mills College and a J.D. from the University of Oregon School of Law. She is a proud Californian, the daughter of immigrants, one of whom is a teacher, and an aunt to two amazing but silly nephews. Datta lives in Washington, D.C., where she enjoys discovering rooftop bars and reading novels in coffee shops.
Tell us about the work Ballot Initiative does:
We provide assistance to campaigns and progressive organizations in the life of a ballot measure, so that it can qualify all the way through election day. We provide tools for building coalitions and how to speak to voters about a qualifying ballot measure. This includes organizations or individuals that are passionate about certain issues and want to see discussion among voters.”
Have you done anything specific to target South Asian voters?
I have spoken to South Asian voters on campuses and the surrounding communities, but most of my activity has been within the progressive organization as a whole by keeping in touch with organizations such as SAALT, SALDEF and the Asian American Federation. This has helped me stay informed about what issues matter to South Asians and what makes a difference to our community as a whole.”
What kind of response have you received for trying to educate or recruit South Asian voters?
When you talk about issues, people are more open to talking about them because issues are something we can connect on more openly than we do with candidates. When we discuss candidates, we only get to part of the issues compared to a specific issue such as immigration reform. Many South Asian voters can agree that the immigration system has plenty of loopholes, which makes it easy to get lost in the process. This doesn’t always translate to the discussion of candidates since that focuses more on the individual than specific issues.”
Have you seen a difference in how people react in terms of age groups within the South Asian community? Are young South Asian Americans more likely to pay attention to issues or candidates?
Young South Asian Americans deeply care about political issues, and we see how certain issues can affect our families. In my household, my father pushed us to talk about politics, but in many families discussing politics is considered improper. Talking about politics makes a huge difference whether it has to do with specific issues or candidates.”
What can we do in the future as a community to drive people to vote?
Talking about why voting matters is the most important thing we can do. This applies to all communities and can get the wheel rolling in terms of educating others. One of my jobs in the past involved registering voters in churches, and then informing the same voters about upcoming elections. This is something we can start in our own religious organizations and by engaging people in civic participation. We can also educate non-citizens about how they can be helpful in the voting process. Another thing we can do is to speak with political organizations on campuses or South Asian organizations. Social media is another resource we can use to connect with others and engage them in the political process. We can’t complain about the political process if don’t participate in it.”
As we see more South Asians running for office, have you seen a greater turnout within the community? How does that help us as a community?
It makes a huge difference that more South Asians are running for office, which helps us be more visible as a community. We are more than just doctors, engineers, or those in the tech field. As a collective voice we can validate that we are Americans and can vote just like any other American. I have seen people in the South Asian community donate to opposing parties because they think it’s important to elevate South Asians to a platform where they can be vocal about representing the American community and the South Asian community. It’s okay to cross party lines when the motive is to engage more people within the community and create a platform for viable candidates.”
How does Ballot Initiative help voters navigate through the process?
We don’t directly speak with voters, but we provide organizations with tools regarding ballot initiatives and how to speak with voters. We act as the connecting tool between organizations and the voters. We help people build and foster coalitions to speak with one another. Since Ballot Initiative has a national viewpoint, we can see what kinds of measures are successful and how similar measures can be used in the future. This helps understand how different states have different challenges and what measures work in the process. We have resources such as pre-election reports available to voters that show what initiatives are happening in different states. We are always open to speaking with people and engaging our entire community. We have internships available for young leaders to speak about ballot measures across the country.”
Update: Shehn Datta shares a message about Election Day
Over the weekend my Facebook newsfeed was full of young Americans involved with “Get Out the Vote” efforts across the country. People posted pictures of themselves knocking on doors, encouraging others to volunteer for local candidates or simply just spreading the message of why voting matters in strengthening our democracy. As young Americans, we all have a reason to get up and vote on a candidate or ballot initiative, which matters deeply to us.
On this Election Day, I encourage you to find your reason to vote for a better tomorrow. Find the candidate you have support and faith in. Find the initiative that you believe represents what you care about or what would help better society for the people around you. We can only change this country for the better when we participate, and the best participation effort comes from getting out there and putting our votes in.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, follow Gandhiji’s teaching and “be the change you want to see,” by voting!
Rishika is in her last year of law school. She is a self-proclaimed coffee addict, foodie, and a news junkie. She has a deep love for politics, culture, religion, tackling misogyny, and sociology. When she’s not busy reading or drinking coffee, she enjoys watching horrible reality, and traveling.
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.
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.
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.
From singing and acting to drawing immaculate figurines, Saheli Khan, 11, has made her debut in the North American Broadway tour as young Anna in Disney’s musical “Frozen.” As a first-generation Indo Caribbean, with roots in India and Pakistan, she continues to pave the way for young people with similar backgrounds.
Khan has always enjoyed entertaining those around her and she continues to have the motivation to pursue her passions. In school, she always sought to lead her class in songs and she was encouraged by her parents and teachers to enroll in music and acting classes, even at a young age. These ventures fueled her passions even more.
Continue reading to learn more about her journey!
What do you like about acting the most?
I like to portray different characters. Specifically, I like playing characters who have strong personalities and those who portray a sense of bravery, especially during problematic occurrences.
As a first generation Indo Caribbean actress, how do you feel about your journey as a young Disney princess? Do you feel that you are paving the way for other Caribbean and South Asians who want to pursue similar paths?
Diversity has always been important to me, but in today’s society, I feel that most people would like to be accepted and encouraged. As a Disney Princess, I am simply helping to broaden the field for all young people to see that skin color should not matter.
What do you like about your character, Anna? Is there anything that you may dislike?
Young Anna is a ball of sunshine! She is happy, funny, and a delight to be around. Despite having a troubled childhood, she grows up to be just as joyous, but she is also courageous as she goes on a journey to find her sister. I love everything about young Anna and she truly embodies who I am as a person.
Who is your inspiration and why?
My parents are my inspiration. My mom is beautiful, loving, and she works hard without ever giving up. No matter the task, she finds a solution and keeps on going with a smile on her face. She always tells me, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown.” And my dad is my best friend. He’s insanely funny, caring and knows all the best places to eat! My parents are exactly how I want to be when I grow up.
If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?
I would love to be Annie on Broadway or play the lead in a series or movie.
What is the one last thing that you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?
There are many things I do before I step on stage. I do fun and silly things quietly with my “Frozen” sister, Mackenzie Mercer, and play with my Anna pigtails for good luck.
What are your other passions?
I love to sing, act, and spend time with my younger cousin, Ayla. I also love to draw and color since it makes me feel relaxed. I was told I have a great ability to draw and make figurines ever since I was a child. And I love exploring new cities and eating at great restaurants with my family.
What advice do you have for young people who are just starting their careers, specifically within the field of musical theater?
To have a positive mindset, practice diligently, and enjoy every moment within the journey. I have learned that there may be some occurrences that may not take place the way that you want them to, but there’s always an opportunity to learn from them.
Aside from your career, how do you balance your schoolwork and acting?
I attend school virtually, which is essential when I am on tour. Each day I have scheduled school hours that allow me to focus and complete all school assignments. Once that is done, I have most of the day to work on extracurricular activities, go on outings, and hang out with my friends. Though performing takes a large chunk out of my day, it helps that I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work.
What types of roles do you see yourself playing?
I love to play humorous characters such as young Anna from “Frozen.” I truly enjoyed this role as it captures who I truly am.
Khan’s debut marks the start of a budding career. With her array of talents and future goals, we are bound to see more of the young actress in the future and more representation of Indo Caribbeans in mainstream media. If you would like to purchase tickets for Disney’s “Frozen,” click here.