‘Stray Dogs Come Out At Night’ – In Conversation with Dr. Mina Husain

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The sky is tinged with blue hues and a dusty rose – sunset – as Iqbal stares out into the Arabian Sea. A stray dog sifts through strewn rubbish nearby on the Karachi beach. There is an overwhelming sense of loneliness, as we follow this maalishwala (masseur), who is struggling to accept his illness and by extension, his profession. This is the setting of “Stray Dogs Come Out At Night,” a Pakistani short form narrative film that was selected late last year to the BFI London Film Festival. The film also makes strides in presenting themes of mental and sexual health; themes often rarely discussed in South-Asian communities.

Dr. Mina Husain is a practising psychiatrist in London, who lended her extensive knowledge and cultural experience to the production process. Stray Dogs Come Out At Night is her second film, (following Dia in 2018) and it delves into the complexities of living two lives; one that is transparent, and one that is shamefully hidden from family or friends. Husain summarises,

“The themes weaved through ‘Stray Dogs Come Out At Night’ bring up critical issues which resonate across cultures.”

The theme of a ‘double identity’ is not entirely unfamiliar to young people today. It can trigger a deterioration of one’s mental health, and evoke intense feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and self-doubt – all emotions felt by the film’s protagonist, Iqbal (Mohammad Ali Hashmi). I sat down with executive producer Dr. Mina Husain (digitally) to discuss the movie’s message and how young people can cope with mental health struggles during a pandemic.

I firstly want to say congratulations for Stray Dogs Come Out at Night, which was the first Pakistani short-form narrative film premiering at the BFI London Film Festival! How do you feel about the nomination?

“Just getting accepted into the BFI – we were over the moon! Myself and my director Hamza Bangash, sat down and had a conversation. We kind of made a last-minute decision to submit the film, not thinking we were going to get it. When I got the email I was literally jumping, telling everyone we got the BFI! We’re also really excited to be nominated for an award!”

How did the story of Iqbal, a maalishwala (masseur) who struggles to accept his illness, come to life?

“My inspiration and reasons for doing this film are quite different from the rest of my team, in the sense of: we come from really different backgrounds. I come from a medical background, I work in mental health, and so I actually got into film when I spent some time in Pakistan. I was working there for a year out of my training programme, and I was working in the mental health hospitals there. That’s where I kind of realised that people were becoming really mentally unwell, before they even accessed mental health services. We know that the longer mental illness is untreated, the worse the prognosis. That’s why we need to catch it early. The reasons why people weren’t accessing the service was because of the lack of awareness about mental illness, as well as the huge stigma that is attached to it. So that’s why I actually got into film! I met Hamza through various connections, reached out to him, and made our first film ‘Dia’ (2018) which is about a young girl that tries to escape a conservative family. She pursues an online relationship, detaches from reality, and it looks at some of society’s reaction to her illness. From there, we wanted to explore depression and anxiety, and focus on the social determinants of health: social factors which affect people’s mental health. We looked at population groups, like young men, who maybe aren’t particularly open about their problems, and migrants, who have their own set of challenges.

That was my first take on it! Then Hamza, who is much more creative than I am, saw particular groups of people around him like the maalishwalas. He lives in Karachi, so he started looking into this and researching. This story is unique to the specific character but the emotions that come from it translate across cultures. What we wanted to specifically explore was the fact that he is a migrant, he moved away from his family, and is essentially leading this double life. He is not able to talk about his profession; he is socially excluded, feeling trapped, and he’s got an illness that he is unable to talk about. Ultimately, he feels lonely and desperate, and that’s what we wanted to portray. The actor, Mohammad Ali Hashmi, also nailed the performance, he had this vacant expression the whole time, like he was there but not really there.”

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Mohammad Ali Hashmi in “Stray Dogs Come Out At Night” [Photo Source: Screenshot / Mina Hussain, Hamza Bangash, City Lights Productions]

You said that the “themes weaved through Stray Dogs Come Out at Night bring up critical issues which resonate across cultures” – do you see this especially in British Asian culture?

“I see it a lot in British Asian culture. Number one – this double life thing? It’s huge, even within my friendship circle. I see a lot of people keeping things from those closest to them, like family members. Also, migration. There’s a huge amount of people who have moved into different cities in the UK, away from their family, and also, moving to different countries. London is quite a transient city, similar to Karachi, where a lot of people are coming from various different places to work. I definitely think you can see a lot of these issues in the South Asian communities over here.”

I know it must have been such a huge feeling of pride to represent Pakistan in such an acclaimed stage like the BFI. So, I wanted to ask, why is it so important to bring South Asian stories that are specifically told from South Asian perspectives to wider audiences?

“Ultimately, as a team, we want to start rebranding our culture. South Asian culture has not always been portrayed in a positive light, so we want to really amplify the voices of South Asian actors, directors, writers, and more. That is one of the biggest reasons. Also, the usual stories are very cliché, and you don’t get a grip of what the culture is. We want to present very real stories from Pakistan, rather than the western perception of what Pakistan is.”

I’ve noticed that South-Asian representation is also very limiting, where everything is just labelled as ‘Indian’, when being South Asian includes countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and more]

“Yes, exactly! I think we’re all just lumped into one group of people. Even the term ‘BAME’ sometimes gets under my skin because it’s like, how can we group such a diverse group of people into one category?”

Was producing “Stray Dogs Come Out at Night” very different from producing “Dia,” your 2018 short film?

“We used the same team, which was great! They both came with a different set of challenges, especially with the type of stories we were trying to tell. At the moment, we’re trying to touch on things that are relatively controversial – but do it sensitively. Going through Dia, kind of prepared us for this. We were vague about certain things, because we didn’t want to be ‘in your face’ about it. Dia was very challenging because that was the first time, I had done anything with film and the arts. But it was great to work with a creative team in Pakistan as well as a mental health organisation called Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning. They were the ones who funded this, and the whole collaboration was great – the fact that it was a UK-Pakistan collaboration was awesome.”

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[Photo Source: Screenshot / Mina Hussain, Hamza Bangash, City Lights Productions]

What is so powerful about using the medium of film to convey these deeper messages?

“I think nowadays, there’s so much content, and it’s easy to access it. I know, from research, that film is a really influential art-form. The data shows that it shapes the way we perceive things, like the way we perceive mental illness. There have been quite a few controversial films that have come out where mental illness has not been accurately portrayed – it’s been harmful for people, and our speciality as well.

Mental health is quite a unique speciality in that you’ve really got to trust your doctor. I know that is the same in all branches of medicine, however, I feel like in psychiatry, this is the most important – having a good understanding and trust between the doctor and patient. Films like One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest really took us a step back, with how people began perceiving treatment as dangerous. I feel that films reflect society, as well as influencing society.”

So, you are a successful practising psychiatrist, as well as being a film producer. These disciplines seem totally far apart. Do you find that the skills are transferable? Does one inspire the other?

“For me, definitely! They seem to marry quite nicely. Firstly, my training programme has been really good – Royal College of Psychiatrists – in allowing me to pursue this and take time off when I needed it. I guess in terms of representation of characters, having a background in mental health has really helped. However, a lot of stuff in the film has helped me in my clinical practises as well. To be in mental health – you really need to question your own perspective. You can’t be a good psychiatrist and be judgemental, you know? So, hearing other people’s stories and perspectives, especially from the people that I’m working with, like the cast and the crew, helps me in my job. Both of them help me work on the other, if that makes sense. They seem like they’re worlds apart, but they’re actually very similar!”

You’re an adviser to Colourful Minds, an organisation I’m familiar with as a student in London. Could you tell me more about your work there?

“I’m part of the team there! Colourful Minds is an organisation which is looking at supporting the mental wellbeing of children in the BAME community. The starting aim was to reduce the stigma of mental health and start off with schools. But now, we have expanded to giving more general tips on wellness, and going into schools and religious places like gurudwaras, mosques, and churches, to support children who come from deprived backgrounds. We have got a great team of people to provide these sessions. It’s based in London but we’re looking to expand!”

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[Photo Source: Screenshot / Mina Hussain, Hamza Bangash, City Lights Productions]

The times we are living in are so extraordinary, and honestly, terrifying. So, it’s unsurprising that a lockdown environment causes specific mental health issues to flare up – how do you think young people, specifically in the BAME community can combat these challenges?

“We have a lot of strengths, specifically in our South Asian culture, like family values, or how tight knit our communities are. I feel like we need to amplify our strengths, like leaning on family members and starting conversations. The other thing we need to focus on is actually religion. Again, a lot of South Asian people are practising various religions, and I think religion does provide a sense of hope and can be an anchor for people. Ultimately, we’ve got to look after ourselves. Basic things: have a healthy diet, get out, exercise, and make sure your sleep is adequate. Look after yourselves and lean on each other during these difficult times.”

You said an extremely important point: “It is imperative that health services adapt to meet the needs of the largest ethnic minority group in the UK.” Where do you feel health services, government outreach, and even the education system has fallen short? Where can they do more?

“I can talk specifically about mental health. I think everybody’s learning. The expression of distress looks different in different minority groups. Somebody who’s South Asian and is depressed is going to (or can) express it differently than how a white person would express it. We need to start understanding this, and it also needs to go into our curriculums. We need more representation, like when we’re practising doing clinical interviews in medical school. We need to start involving different members of various communities.

I also think that we need to push representation as a community. For example, there aren’t actually that many South-Asian therapists, and we know that in order to have effective therapy, you need that patient-therapist relationship, and so, an understanding of culture is so important for that. Your therapy needs to be culturally adapted – it cannot be generic.”

This is a huge question, but something I’m truly passionate about. What steps can we take to destigmatise mental health conditions in the South-Asian community?

“I think that there are so many different campaigns and strategies we can use. Things like mental health days, suicide prevention days – all of these campaigns are beneficial. Film and media is an important tool. Our own platforms, like social media, can be utilised to start the dialogue. Community events, publications, and public spaces, when they get opened, can also be used. I think film is a great way to do it because it’s very non-personal. You can talk about something without bringing your own vulnerabilities into it.”

[Read Related: ‘Little Voice’ Star Shalini Bathina Talks BIPOC Representation & Mental Health Advocacy]

As we settle into a new year, what advice can you give young people (who are predominantly doing remote learning) to stay healthy?

“I’m a person who can get inside their own head so I think to young people, I would say, to the things that aren’t serious, don’t take it so seriously; put things into perspective. Then I’d say all the basics again, look after yourself, look after your physical and mental health, sort out your sleep, and talk to people that you trust. Finally, don’t be afraid to get professional help, because sometimes, people need it. We’ll probably all need it at some point in our lives and there’s absolutely no shame in getting it.”

By Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar

Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the deputy editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s … Read more ›

‘I Am Sirat’: Inside the Life of a Transgender Woman in India


Often referred to as hijras and kinnars, transgender men and women are a part of society just like any other individual, regardless of how different their lives may be. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta and actress Sirat Taneja have created a documentary to bring to life a story about dual identities and the hardships that the LGBTQIA2S+ community members continue to face, despite the support they have found around them. Mehta and Taneja take the baton and continue the fight for equality in “I Am Sirat,” a documentary, presented at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), on Taneja herself.

“I Am Sirat,” set in Delhi, India, is shot completely on a smartphone. Talking more about filming the documentary on a cellphone — a conscious choice made by the ace director — Mehta confidently says:

It wasn’t a creative decision. It was the only decision we had [to] make the film the way we wanted to, which was very intimate and with nobody else around us. When Sirat was telling her story, she was free to tell it without a crew. That’s the way we wanted it. There were no cameras, no sound, no lighting. It was her life, she was in control of it.

The story highlights the deep intricacies of Taneja’s dual identity. At home, her mother cannot accept the idea of a trans daughter and requires her to be a man, even though she’s made many attempts to tell her family that she does not identify as a male. With her efforts to express her true, authentic self, falling on deaf ears, Taneja sets out to live a life that appeases both her family at home and herself. She goes as far as being her mother’s son in the house while renting out a room for her beautiful clothes and makeup elsewhere in the city; this room is the keepsake of who she really is, the woman she always longed to be.  

At one instance she is even physically assaulted for expressing her true gender identity. While the film does not depict the assault, it showcases the traumatic aftermath of it. But the violence doesn’t discourage Taneja from living out her truth. If she’s oppressed at home, she leaves that baggage at the door on her way out — in public, she’s a woman. 

[Read Related: Transgender Model Anjali Lama Discusses Fashion and LGBTQ Advocacy]

The documentary allows viewers to see how Taneja carries this dual identity and how it impacts her as a person. We see her lose many things she considers important in her life, including her job with the Government of India and the love of her life, all because of her trans identity. The myriad of hardships that she faces can be seen throughout the film with struggles not limited to personal and social, but also financial and psychological.

Taneja lives in a single-parent household with her siblings. As the eldest child in a low-income household, she is required to take on her late father’s responsibilities as the breadwinner of the family. In addition to financial issues, the lack of a father figure in her life creates more obstacles for Taneja, including those around sex reassignment surgery. Enter, the idea of following tradition. 

It would be remiss to not mention that “I Am Sirat” grazes over the idea of how paradoxical modern-day India really is. On one hand, there are talks about progression, making space, and living your most authentic life; on the other, people like Taneja are asked to put up facades in the name of tradition. Tradition, conservative ideals, and possibly even patriarchy are at the forefront of the oppression that Taneja and her counterparts face. So, even for a country that’s made some notable changes to its governing policies, many of its outdated conventions still trump the law.


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“I Am Sirat” really makes the viewers reflect on how far the world has come in offering support and camaraderie to the LGBTQIA2S+ community on a broader level — mainstream media has made important strides to bring equity and inclusivity to the forefront — while hardly ever paying heed to the struggles these minorities face day-to-day with their loved ones. There’s an element of duality even for them in their fight to be recognized; they want acceptance from the public as well as their families. A story like Taneja’s puts into perspective how transgender men and women will never choose the easy way out; they’re determined to be an honorable part of society regardless of what it will cost. A heartbreaking truth, to say the least.

[Read Related: Pakistan Had its First-Ever Trans Pride Parade in Lahore]

“I Am Sirat” brings about an important message for its global audience: never forget to celebrate who you really are, undeterred by the trials you’re put through. And Sirat Taneja is a living example of this simple life lesson, who danced her way from the TIFF red carpet right into our hearts with her soulful story.

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By Soaad Qahhar Hossain

Soaad Q. Hossain is a writer for Brown Girl Magazine and a technical project manager and scientist living in Toronto, … Read more ›

‘It Lives Inside’: Of Late Night Terrors and South Asian Representation

Photo Courtesy: NEON © 2023

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. 

[Read Related: Megan Suri Talks ‘Never Have I Ever’ Season 2 & Decolonizing South Asian Mindsets]

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. 

It Lives Inside
The character Tamira is seen carrying an ominous black jar in the early stages of the film. Photo Credit: NEON © 2023

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.

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Mohana Krishnan plays the distraught Tamira in “It Lives Inside.” Photo Credit: NEON © 2023

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 drama tells 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.

[Read Related: Kamala Khan As ‘Ms Marvel’ Is The Greatest Thing To Happen To Pakistani-Muslim-Americans]

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. 

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By Ramona Sukhraj

With a B.S. in Marketing from the UCONN School of Business, Ramona has made a name for herself publishing over … Read more ›

Kirti Kulhari & Jim Sarbh to Star in True Story on Muscular Dystrophy Titled ‘Sach Is Life’

Kirti Kulhari
Actress Kirti Kulhari at the 'Sach is Life' press event | Photo by @swapniljunjare

Red Bison Productions, a New Jersey-based production house, announced their upcoming film “Sach Is Life” at a press event hosted at Goa Restaurant in New York City. The film draws inspiration from an extraordinary true story about a mother and her 3-year-old boy suffering from multiple dystrophy.


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This project entailed over two years of extensive research and has resulted in an original story centered around a family who relocated from Kashmir to the United States to save their son fighting a daily battle with death and uncertainty. 

“Sach Is Life” stars 2023 Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh (recognized for his work in “Rocket Boys,” also known for his roles in “Made in Heaven” and “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway,”) and Kirti Kulhari (known for her roles in “Four More Shots,” “URI,” “Pink,” and “Criminal Justice,”) in lead roles. “Sach Is Life” is produced by Rahul Bhat & Romila Saraf Bhat and written and directed by Harsh Mahadeshwar. 

[Read Related: ‘Made in Heaven’ Season 2: The Return of Grand Weddings and Grander Morals]

“We proudly introduce ‘Sach Is Life,’ a film based on extraordinary true events,” affirms Romila Saraf Bhat and Rahul Bhat, both producers of Red Bison Productions in Princeton, New Jersey, and Harsh Mahadeshwar, a writer and director in Houston, Texas.

“This is more than just a film, it’s a tribute to the invincible human spirit and the infinite potential that resides within each one of us. We are thrilled to collaborate with immensely talented actors Kirti Kulhari and Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh to bring this heartwarming story to life.” 


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“I’m extremely excited to collaborate with a crew from the U.S. and to work in an environment that’s different from how it’s done in India. I’ll do my best to make it a film that we all are going to be proud of,” said Kirti Kulhari, who will play the role of the mother. “Sach Is Life” also marks Kirti’s international debut. 

Calling “Sach Is Life” an “incredibly uplifting” story, actor Jim Sarbh said he’s proud to be a part of this film.

“I am excited to be a part of this extremely heartwarming and inspirational story of resilience, dedication, and belief. Nothing moves me quite like a story of a family coming together to help one of their own achieve their dreams.” 

“Sach Is Life” begins filming around April 2024, and will be shot in Kashmir, New Delhi, New Orleans, New Jersey,  and New York.  

About Red Bison Productions:  

Red Bison Productions is based in Princeton, New Jersey, US, and demonstrates a strong and enduring dedication to the South Asian diaspora. Their mission is to bring global true-life stories to worldwide audiences. 

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By Brown Girl Magazine

Born out of the lack of minority representation in mainstream media, Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South … Read more ›