Nirbhaya, the word means “fearless” in Hindi, and is now a symbol of the struggle worldwide against sexual violence.
When Ladydrinks’ Joya Das invited me to join her for the opening night of Yael Farber’s play “Nirbhaya” in NYC, I immediately said “yes,” and asked if I could bring my husband. With the whirlwind of late, we hadn’t had enough time to talk and connect. The hour-long train ride into the city usually gives us a chance to catch up. As we ventured into Manhattan, we talked about a lot of things. His work week. My upcoming book, “Soaring Through Stars.” His mom. The girls. And, of course, my Facebook-hooked hubby slipped in a date-night selfie.
When we arrived at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, we had just enough time to sit and meet our seat neighbors, the Caucasian woman next to me was a yoga coach and recent visitor to India. As the lights dimmed, silence fell over the audience. A very different silence would soon be broken.
The stage props of seats on a city bus in front of swaying windows gave the stage freedom and simplicity. When the play began, I didn’t realize the individual stories were true. One particular story is of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a young medical student who boarded a bus with her boyfriend in New Delhi in 2012 and was subjected to a brutal gang rape that subsequently led to her death.
Furthermore, what makes the play exceptional is that the stories told on stage were by the very women who experienced the devastation no one likes to talk about, think about or believe.
I’ll be honest, I failed to read the words under the central image on the program clearly stating that the stories were told by the women themselves. Two stories in, I began to ask myself, I wonder if these injustices didn’t just happen, but happened to the women on stage? In fact, when the woman with burn-scarred skin began her story, I even tried to convince myself that she wore stage make-up. I had become the very person I worry exists—the viewer who fails to see past the words. The reader who puts the book down and goes on with his or her life. Same old, same cold. The citizen of the world whose world centers around me, myself and I.
And if you know me, I’m a crier. I cry while watching Disney movies. I cry when the Budweiser Clydesdales helps reunite the pup with his owner. I cry when a sad song comes on the radio, even if the radio plays it a hundred times a day. I’m that person.
But this night, when weeping rained over the stage for long moments at a time, I didn’t cry. Teary eyed, yes. Gut tight at moments – definitely. But I didn’t all out cry. For many reasons, but one immediately apparent to me as we left the theater that night. Control. I wanted to be in control of my emotions when I could not control the journey nor the outcome of the women’s lives in front of me. And when we lose control, we get uncomfortable. Like Cinderella trying to catch her balance in new heels at the ball—she doesn’t.
In fact, the question during the Q&A reflected this discomfort as one woman asked, “Why make the play so intense? Why not put a positive spin on it? After all, you’re all beautiful and all lived to tell…” I paraphrase, but the gist of the question rests. Replaced by the unrest in the actors who were as uncomfortable with the idea that a little optimism is what was missing in this world. The fact is that optimism could very well be the enemy when violence against women comes out of the shadows. Truth never promised to be pretty. Just true.
And I especially appreciated what one of the actresses shared that night after the play. And I paraphrase, but she said something along the lines of,
“I don’t persevere despite my rape. The rape permeates my life every day. When I tell my story, and you hear it and believe it, I can then exist and persist, because you see me. All of me. And then I can go on, no longer in hiding.”
And another woman who admitted,
“When we shared our play in India, I wasn’t sure if we’d be embraced or beaten. It could have gone either way. But the cost of keeping silent is far more than speaking up.”
Indian and American audiences have received “Nirbhaya” with sold-out theaters and rolling feedback after each show.
Farber, writer and director of “Nirbhaya” shared that so many women came up to the cast afterward and whispered in their ears, “I was raped too.” Or “That happened to me too,” and the most powerful truth of all, “Now I know I’m not alone.”
On the brink of launching “Soaring Through Stars,” book three of my young adult trilogy, when I first penned Talia’s story, I didn’t know what her mother Gita would go through in the forthcoming chapters, and nor did the women at the shelter in “Seeing Through Stones.” I did know that I wanted to nudge readers out of the box. Into a world where hope seems to lie around the corner you never turn.
Because we are that corner. We are their hope. We can’t do everything. But we can all do something.
As I heard International Justice Mission’s Gary Haugen during his TedTalk today, I was reminded once again why I write. Why I exist. He said, “Compassion moves us to suffer with others.” Will I be moved to tears and stop there? Or will I be moved to action?
Called “one of the most powerful pieces of theater you will ever see.” by The Telegraph, NIRBHAYA premiered at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, in August 2013. It won the coveted Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award given to an outstanding Fringe production which raises awareness of human rights. It also won the Scotsman Fringe First and the Herald Angel Award for Outstanding New Play.
On the night of December 16th, 2012 a young woman and her male friend boarded a bus in urban Delhi heading for home. What followed, changed the lives of these two people and countless others forever. Internationally acclaimed playwright and director Yaël Farber creates a searing new work that cracks open the cone of silence around women whose lives have been shattered by gender-based violence. nirbhayatheplay.com
Presented by Culture Project and Shivhans Pictures with Shivani Rawat, Julio DePietro, Cornelia Ravenal, The Embrey Foundation, and Abigail E. Disney. NIRBHAYA is an Assembly, Riverside Studios, and Poorna Jagannathan production.
The play is running from April 16 – May 17 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Tuesday-Saturday at 8p.m. and Sunday at 5p.m. Visit the website for showtimes and tickets.
South Asian representation in entertainment and media is rapidly increasing nationwide. “We are making strides in the industry, and I am excited about the journey ahead,” said Indian American actor Teresa Patel, known for her roles as Paramedic Harvell in the NBC medical drama, “New Amsterdam,” and Neela Patel in the ABC soap opera, “One Life to Live.”
As a rising star, Patel is breaking barriers for South Asian women nationwide. We, at Brown Girl Magazine, had the opportunity to speak with Patel, a pharmacist by day and an actor by night, about her journey into acting and how she balances both careers.
While her love for Bollywood is common among South Asians, her background and continued work in pharmacy are what make her stand out the most among other creatives.
“I went into pharmacy school knowing that I wanted to do both,” Patel said.
She added that while she knew she was interested in both, she wasn’t sure how to pursue them initially. She never let that dream or passion die down.
“I’ve always known I wanted to pursue acting. I knew I would have to pave a path to pursue acting, and I figured I will work as a pharmacist until I could make it possible — because acting is an investment.”
Patel shared her experiences and emphasized the importance of financial stability, especially for women.
“I believe in strong independent women who can finance their own dreams and build the life they want to live. You don’t want to have to rely on anybody else to do it for you.”
She shared that while it was something her parents did want her to pursue, being a pharmacist was something she eventually loved doing and ultimately helped her pursue her dreams of acting, due to the financial stability it provided as she built her acting career.
“I enjoy what I do and that’s what I love about the life I created. I have grown to love my pharmacy life and I love pursuing acting. I feel fulfilled with both.”
When talking about balancing two demanding jobs, Patel walked us through a day in her life. We spoke about the importance of organization and how she managed to juggle both, but of course, it didn’t all come easy. She shared how she worked during the day and simultaneously enrolled in an acting conservatory which she attended in the evenings.
She also noted that she had to make a lot of personal sacrifices since her time was limited with work, training, and auditioning. But despite how difficult the times were or how much she initially “struggled” to find that balance, Patel shared that those were some of her “most memorable” times.
“It felt like a hustle, and I had the chance to experience two very different parts of my life. Looking back, a lot of my growth as a person happened during this time — which is what makes it so memorable for me.”
Speaking about representation and how the media has changed over time, Patel noted that while South Asians are still often given stereotypical roles, recently, a change can be seen in the roles they have been playing and creating.
“There’s just more inspiration and more out there now,” she said, speaking of the different emerging writers, actors, and shows depicted in the media.
“South Asians are starting to be seen as leads, as people who can have love interests, who have their own issues, not just white-collar professionals on screen.”
She added that change cannot happen overnight but is slowly occurring in media spaces. Patel also noted that more roles that don’t just highlight one’s identity are needed, adding that roles should not just represent a culture but be able to be played by anyone, despite identity or color.
Reflecting on roles that emphasize characteristics only associated with one culture, she said:
“Women have so many types of backgrounds, that’s what I want to see more. A role shouldn’t be just for South Asians,” Patel said. “Like any woman should be able to take a role, my identity shouldn’t define what roles I can get.”
Outside of acting and being a pharmacist, Patel wears several other hats including directing her own short film. Without giving any spoilers — we learned that Patel’s film will revolve around the bond between herself, her sister, and her nephew.
“Instead of waiting for the right role or opportunity, I realized I can invest in myself and create my own.”
In terms of advice, she would give to others,
“I don’t believe we are all meant to do only one thing all of our lives. We are full of potential, but you do have to believe in it and try your hardest to live up to it,” she said.
She noted that people often “glamourize” the acting world and forget to talk about what brought them to where they are, emphasizing the importance of training, marketing, and networking — all of which can cost money.
. “While you have a full-time job, you can still invest in yourself financially to live out your dreams.”
Patel can be seen in American medical drama “New Amsterdam” on NBC.The show currently has five seasons available.
It is the strength of both British and South Asian cinema that every few years, and with increasing regularity, a film comes along that is able to successfully and thoughtfully bridge the highs and lows of both cultures. With the recognisable cross-cultural DNA of films like “Bend it Like Beckham”, “Bride and Prejudice”and others before it, Shekhar Kapur brings to the silver screen an honest and comedic representation of East meets West with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” — an exploration of love and marriage across international norms.
Written and produced by Jemima Khan, the film draws from elements of her own experience of marrying then-Pakistani cricket star and now ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and relocating to the country for 10 years.
“Particularly in the West, Pakistanis would quite often be seen as terrorists, fanatics and backwards,” says Khan, as she reminisces about her time spent in Pakistan over Zoom. “My experience of living in Pakistan was very colourful, vibrant, and fun. I always felt like the rom-com side of Pakistan was more surprising than anything else.”
A film not just about the heart, but with a lot of heart of its own, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” touches on South Asian families, culture, individuality, and marriages in the 21st century. Set in the UK and Pakistan, this is a feel-good and fun story about childhood best friends and neighbours, Zoe and Kazim, AKA Kaz. And as the narrative unfolds, new light is shone on their friendship and questions are asked about the cultural norms and practices we have grown to accept.
It isn’t your usual ‘boy-meets-girl’ tale. On the contrary, they’ve known each other forever; the fabric of their lives intertwined. Kaz is a British-Pakistani doctor of “marriageable” age, opting for an “assisted” marriage set in motion by his own desire rather than parental duress.
“I think we’ve replaced the term “arranged” with “assisted” because South Asian parents now trust their kids more to make the right decision for themselves,” said Shahzad Latif, sitting next to Lily James, who nods in agreement. “It’s still a process. Some parents may have more confidence in their kids than others, but we’re getting there.”
Zoe – played by Lily James – is a professional documentary maker living on an inexplicably fancy houseboat (bit of a stretch for somebody having difficulty funding projects, but, at this point, a crucial ingredient for London rom-coms). As a white British woman, her method of finding love isn’t one that involves parents or family.
“It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the script,” says a smiling James in response to whether any culture shocks were encountered during filming and table reads. “Pakistani culture is so rich and colourful, and it was important for me to showcase this side of the country. So no, no culture shocks per se, just more singing and dancing in comparison to British culture!”
Zoe’s camera is the vehicle through which the film examines Kaz’s “contractual love”, as she trawls dating apps while following her best friend down the assisted aisle.
Emma Thompson’s Cath plays the comedic matriarch to Zoe, eager to witness the conclusion of her daughter’s swiping days by being with someone suitable. She’s found a family in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha Khan – a more layered mum — one that is embracing both tradition and modernity. It would be fair to say that Azmi successfully sells cinema-goers on the difficulty of that struggle.
“Today’s society is slowly coming to terms with providing children the space they rightfully require and deserve to make decisions,” says Azmi, reflecting on how scripts and films have evolved over time. “Gone are the days when parents would blackmail their children into marrying the first person they come across. Just because they are their kids doesn’t mean they are actually children. They are adults with views and minds of their own.”
Kaz is then introduced to Maimoona (Sajal Aly); a shy introvert from Pakistan, unsure about the idea of moving permanently to London. She’s dealing with internal battles of her own; battles between personal desires and societal expectations.
“Maimoona may not have verbally said much, but her face said everything,” explains Aly, looking beautiful and radiant as ever. “She is torn between what she wants and what society silently shoves down at her and eventually, she goes with what the latter expects.”
The film navigates between London and a fabricated Lahore filmed in the suburbs of the British capital; a feat that comes as testament to the film’s production design. Kaz and Zoe’s jaunts across Lahore, backdropped by its magnificent architecture, set the stage for Pakistani music legends to shine, including the mesmerising voice of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan.
And if this wasn’t enough, Nitin Sawhney and Naughty Boy add further melody to the film’s music, as they talk about their experience of creating appropriate tunes such as the foot-thumping “Mahi Sona”.
“It was a great process and experience to create an appropriate language and expression of music which added elements and flavours to the film,” says the duo enthusiastically. “It’s also an ode to our South Asian heritage.”
Even though the tone of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is distinctly feel-good, the film thoughtfully explores the unconventional ways that relationships may be built, and what multiculturalism can teach one another. Is it, in fact, more sensible to be practical about relationships? Is it possible to learn to love the person we’re with? Is love really the only ingredient needed for a successful marriage? Why was Kaz’s sister shunned for marrying outside of their culture? And do Western relationships draw more on the ideas of assisted partnerships than we realise?
A clever reference is drawn from the moment Prince Charles shattered many royal dreamers’ hearts with his dismissive “whatever in love means” comment upon his engagement to Princess Diana, thus proving that these notions may be closer to home in the West than one might believe.
James and Latif are a charismatic pair, with Zoe married to her independence and Kaz gently questioning her prejudices. The film is also a vivid demonstration of British talent, with Asim Chaudhry playing a hilarious yet questionable rishta uncle, comic duo Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen appearing as a pair of TV commissioners with a briefcase of ridiculous ideas, and Nikkita Chadha as the confrontational Baby — the film’s feisty rebel, in love with dancing.
“It’s incredible to be part of such a diverse and stellar cast,” smiles Chadha animatedly, while sipping on tea at Soho House in London. “My character is defiant and nonconformist — perfectly conflicting with the name “Baby “. I’m really excited for everyone to watch the film.”
Divorce is still stigmatised in South Asia — a theme often carefully avoided in desi films and television. Khan gently addresses it as a twist in the film – with a reminder that be it love or assisted marriage — amicable and mutual separations are a possibility.
As a complete package, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” deftly wraps up all the emotions associated with love and family in its joyful, musical, and vibrant 109-minute runtime. With its cast, music and direction, this classic rom-com is set to make you laugh, cry and, even more importantly, make you think about the multi-dimensional nature of love within and across cultures. The film is now showing in cinemas worldwide, and we highly recommend it.
Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and chilli paneer. She recently released her first book called The Poor Londoner, which talks about comical expat experiences people face worldwide. With degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing, her work and research on gender inequality in the travel industry is taught in universities across the globe. Her travels and everyday fails can be found on Instagram (@thepoorlondoner) and YouTube (The Poor Londoner).
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan and now blended into the hustle-bustle of London, Marium is a trainee technology consultant, by day and sometime also night, and also finishing her bachelors in Digital Innovation. In the midst of striving to be someone, she enjoys dreaming about the impossible (impossible according to desi standards and sometime Harry Potter impossible as well), and writing about them. She enjoys baking, decorating things and a cup of chai!
September 14, 2023September 14, 2023 3min readBy Marium Abid
Pairs are made in heaven, and who better than the “Made in Heaven” expert crew to bring them together? Gracing our screen after three years, Zoya Akhtar’s brainchild “Made in Heaven” returned to Prime Video on Aug. 10 with seven episodes.
Set six months after the first season, Tara and Karan (played bySobhita Dhulipala andArjun Mathur) return with their original crew to plan magnificent weddings.
Although grand weddings are at the forefront of the show, there are multiple subplots to keep you hooked — maybe even shed a tear or two. The crux of the storyline is still Tara and Karan’s lives as we see them on a rollercoaster of emotions trying to manage their erratic personal lives.
Keeping true to its spell-binding depiction of weddings, love and relationships, every episode explores a challenge that is deep-rooted in South Asian norms and behaviors. With Kabir Batra’s (played byShashank Arora) voiceover — who’s also the photographer and videographer for the Made in Heaven company — this season makes us question whether the core of a marriage is love or flamboyance.
The season-opening leaves you mesmerized and wanting to fall in love; the extravagant set and a glamorous display of high fashion are true inspirations for whenever there’s a wedding in the family. The artistic works Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta, Tarun Tahiliani, and many more, steal the show; their trendsetting designs are a sight for sore eyes.
While this season brings forth many new faces as supporting characters, such as Dia Mirza and Sanjay Kapur, we also have some new members joining the original crew of “Made in Heaven.”
Mona Singh enters as Bulbul, wife of Jauhari (played by Vijay Raaz). She is introduced as a domineering auditor but as the show progresses, we witness the many layers of her character unravel; including that of a strong matriarch. One of the most compelling aspects of the show is her fight to save her son — who gets involved in a case of school harassment — and her and Jauhari’s approach and sensitivity toward the situation.
With her outstanding acting, Singh breathes life into the character. She exudes the panache of a businesswoman while perfectly depicting the complexities of a strong woman with a violent past — the mystery of which we learn as we move toward the end of the show.
Bulbul, however, is not the only new character on the show. Played byTrinetra Haldar Gummaraju, Meher is a trans woman in search of love and companionship. With Meher’s character, the makers have brilliantly opened the doors for more inclusive stories to come to the fore.
While each episode is a different story tackling some of the greatest shortcomings of our society, the lives of Tara and Karan remain at the center of it all; their characters evolving with every new challenge that is thrown at them. We see Tara “drop” from her previous known status of being a Khanna to just being Tara. Her story is one of identity, ownership and self-discovery; Karan’s, on the other had, is that of grief as we see him grapple with finding acceptance and drug abuse. Their struggles add substance to their characters navigating the privileged world; gravely reminding us of all that’s flawed.
It might feel a bit preachy and overwhelming at times, especially when two issues are being addressed in one episode. But in the end, it all makes sense…thanks to the extraordinary acting, marvelous direction, opulent sets and impeccable styling. “Made in Heaven” season 2 has to be your next binge-watch.