Zayn Malik’s Memoir is the Only Thing Keeping us From Weeping Uncontrollably

Zayn Malik

by Lakshmi Gandhi & Asha Sundararaman

The following post was originally published via and republished here with permission. 

Since bursting onto the scene as a teenager member of One Direction, Zayn Malik has constantly been in the public eye, particularly in his native Britain. The son of a Pakistani father and British mother, Zayn stunned many fans earlier this year when he canceled several concerts because he was suffering from severe anxiety.

In his new book, Zayn goes into why he opened up about his anxiety and revealed he also suffered from disordered eating throughout his early career.

Lakshmi: Asha, that was a lot of major revelations! Especially for the singer who was pegged as the “suave bad boy” of One Direction.

Asha: It really was. These are hard enough for the general public to talk about let alone some from a South Asian background and a celebrity.

Lakshmi: When I was writing for Metro New York, I was known as the Zayn expert in the newsroom. Part of this was because I genuinely like boy bands! But I also have to admit that the mercenary part of me also realized that anything about Zayn leads to major clicks. People (many of whom are presumably young women and girls) love reading about him!

Asha: It’s because he’s adorable and was objectively the most attractive member of 1D.

Lakshmi: So adorable! And he really was the most talented one in the group, in my opinion.

Asha: Part of it also was probably also because he’s “exotic” though.

Lakshmi: Well, One Direction was created when all of the members were individual contestants on the British X Factor. Simon Cowell was the one who said the five of them should be a band.

Asha: Oh right, I think I knew that.

Lakshmi: And Simon is shrewd enough to know that a British band needs a hot South Asian Muslim kid! Especially given the demographics in the UK and all that.

Also, “Without Zayn Malik, One Direction become four goofy white guys shouting,” also remains the greatest headline ever written about Zayn leaving the band.

Asha: Best headline ever! He’s definitely the least goofy of them all.

Lakshmi: And I think that was the problem (and also the problem that a lot of child stars have). He wanted to move in a more mature direction, but his boy band fan base wasn’t ready.

Asha: It must be so hard to transition to an adult star once your fan base is teens.

Lakshmi: He often hints at that. This is from that AP profile of him:
He longed to sing songs in a different style and write his own lyrics. “What you’ve got to understand is that none of us really had much say in the music,” he writes. And the Simon Cowell approved style is straight up pop (i.e. Spice Girls.)

Asha: Oh yeah, definitely as a boy band that makes sense, especially one created by Simon Cowell.

Lakshmi: Have you read Mara Wilson’s book? I haven’t yet, but I’ve seen excerpts that deal with how film producers didn’t know what to do as she approached puberty and how they make her do things like wear a chest binder so she’d still look like a child. I was thinking about that when I read about Zayn’s struggles with eating. He dances around it a bit but says he might have had an eating disorder.

Asha: He said he “forgot to eat” in that interview with the AP.

“I realized that I wasn’t eating as much just down to the amount of work that we were doing … our schedule was kind of crazy so we were all over the place,” he said in an interview.

Lakshmi: Here’s another quote, this time from his book:

“When I look back at the images of myself from around November 2014, before the final tour, I can see how ill I was,” the 23-year-old writes in the book, calling it an ‘eating disorder.’

If you have teens/young adults in a band and you are a huge company managing them, not having them eat is VERY BAD.

Asha: THIS right there. How does an entire team not notice that one of their stars isn’t eating? Unless they didn’t really want him to eat…

Lakshmi: Well, one thing that is true about eating disorders is that people who have them often get very good at hiding things and making everything seem “normal.” It’s part of the tricks your mind plays on you.

Asha: True.

Lakshmi: And I think Zayn is particularly courageous to open up about this aspect of his past because he was cast as the ‘bad boy.’ Bad boys in the teen pop star world don’t often show vulnerability, especially when it comes to mental health.

Asha: Yep, super important.

Lakshmi: The post I wrote about Zayn opening up about his anxiety was one of the most read and shared things I did this year. Here’s what he said just after he pulled out of a performance:

“Unfortunately, my anxiety that has haunted me throughout the last few months has gotten the better of me,” part of the statement reads. “With the magnitude of the event, I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career. I cannot apologise enough…”

I felt so bad that he felt the need to apologize to his fans because he was struggling through something.

Asha: He probably feels like he let them down because he couldn’t go on stage.

Lakshmi: Definitely (and I know we’ve all had moments like that on a smaller scale). But I think like Zayn a lot of people go through this thing where they tell themselves, “I can’t take the time to take care of myself, people need me!” And that often makes the problem worse.

Asha: Yep, they have schedules and commitments. There’s no time to take a sick day or a mental health day without something falling apart.

Lakshmi: It’s also worse for child stars. People mocked Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan when they were at their lowest points, but both of them were supporting their families from a very, very young age. They probably realized they were on their own (and unprotected) decades before they should have.

Asha: Yeah, kids really shouldn’t be supporting their families, especially not in an industry like the entertainment industry.

Lakshmi: Definitely not. Let’s talk about how Zayn’s South Asianness plays into the discussion about his anxiety issues.

Asha: Most South Asians I know say the same thing: the South Asian community doesn’t talk about mental illness. You’re supposed to deal with it silently and it’s just not acknowledged at all. I know that’s the way it was in my family until a few years ago.

Lakshmi: I actually practiced telling people that I have anxiety issues (and randomly drop the fact that I see a therapist into conversations like I did during one of our recent chats!) I started doing this because I realized how much I had internalized the stigma. Once you say you can’t talk about something, it makes it 100 percent worse.

Asha: I think it’s also easier to do that in a place like NYC where it felt like everybody had a therapist (at least in my opinion) rather than a random part of the UK or the US, or anywhere in India/Pakistan

Lakshmi: Yes definitely. I’m typing this from a Starbucks across the street from my therapist’s office, which is in a very exclusive part of Park Slope. So it’s definitely a privilege to have access to this (but if you have access and need to go, please go! And if you don’t have access, know that many clinics have sliding scales and might be able to work with you to find a therapist, particularly if you live near a university with a social work or medical school.)

Asha: I also wonder if it’s a community thing dating back to when your family unit was your entire social life so there was nothing else to do but swallow it.

Lakshmi: Zayn himself seemed to realize how toxic it was to swallow those feelings in this excerpt from the book:

“I’m gonna tell them the truth,” I said. “I don’t want to say I’m sick. I want to tell people what’s going on, and I’m not gonna be ashamed of what’s happening.”

He was lucky because his management was supportive!

Asha: So lucky! Hopefully, that means the industry’s changing.

Lakshmi: And because his fans are so protective of him, it seems like he inspired many of them to speak up about their anxiety and depression issues as well. But what I found in the wake of my cancellation at Wembley wasn’t hate but a massive amount of support from fans—people who understood, kids who were in the exact same situation as I was. Guys on Twitter were telling me how anxiety had affected their lives and saying that they were glad I had spoken up. It felt as though some good had come from the situation.

Asha: Such a heartening response!

Lakshmi: I also think that leaving the band and doing his own thing (and the amount of control that gave him) was really empowering. He probably wouldn’t have made a statement like that if he was still in 1D.

Asha: That’s probably completely true.

Lakshmi: It’s also interesting that Zayn really started delving into South Asian/Pakistani things after he split.

Asha: True.

Lakshmi: Did you read that article I sent you about why he put an Urdu song on his debut album ?

Asha: I did! It was great. He probably has more freedom to explore that part of his identity now that he’s not in 1D because when them he was expected to be exotic but not too exotic.

Lakshmi: Yup! And it’s important to remember that Zayn is in his early 20s, which is when a lot of us start exploring identity issues.

Asha: Also true!

Lakshmi: This part in particular, when he talks about how the song came to be, was very relatable:

“I was telling Malay about my relationship with him and how important it was for me to do well for him, to earn his approval. My dad’s a hard worker and he has strong values. He was a personal trainer and is solidly built, and he used to go on at me all the time about being a good student and getting the right education. He wanted the best for me, and I wanted to please him in return…. I wanted to show him, as much as everyone else, that I could do it.”

Asha: We all have the need to prove something to our parents.

Lakshmi: Yes, reading between the lines, you could also see why it might be hard to talk about anxiety with his family. I think especially if your family grew up poor and you didn’t (and Zayn is obviously very well off now!) so it makes it hard to talk about mental health too. Like, yes, people who date supermodels can also suffer from anxiety. But that is somehow hard for people to understand.

Asha: Because they tie happiness to wealth when it’s so much more than that.

Lakshmi: Then there’s the immigrant thing, ‘I came here for you, why can’t you get out of bed?’

Asha: Oh my god, yes.

Lakshmi: And that line of thinking helps no one!

Asha: One day we’ll have to talk about the second generation thing and the difference between growing up as in the majority and growing up as a minority.

Lakshmi: Yes! When I was writing that post about Zayn canceling his concerts, I found a piece from the BBC that quoted a health expert about British South Asians. South Asians “don’t want mental problems in the family to be exposed. They want to hide it, to preserve the family image and status.”

Asha: And make their kids marriageable.

Lakshmi: But also, does anyone really care if you are in the US or the UK? I think it’s more about what we internalize that what reality is like.

Asha: Even my white mother sometimes comments on how she’s surprised my (Indian) cousin’s wife married him given his mental health issues. Some people definitely care.

Lakshmi: But those people should be avoided, as they sound unpleasant!

Asha: Also, I believe there’s evidence to suggest that stress triggers some mental health issues, especially in men. And being a black or brown man in the West is certainly stressful.

Lakshmi: Yes, there has been a lot written lately about how dealing with racism can lead to PTSD.

Asha: It’s certainly been my anecdotal experience.

Lakshmi: It’s being studied more in recent years. I think especially for young black and brown men who grew up during stop and frisk or other events that make you feel like your very existence makes you a criminal those things are hard!

Asha: Seriously. And I think repressing your identity is also hard, in different ways.

Lakshmi: To go back to Zayn, being a boy band member is basically the equivalent of constantly playing a character. So if you suppress who you really are, it takes a toll (and tabloids deliberately don’t understand that and mock you when you act out). You know what book you should read? “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine.” I loved it! It’s a YA about a precocious middle schooler who is a musical prodigy and becomes famous and (inevitably) corrupted. It’s secretly about Justin Bieber, but the author will never admit it.

Asha: Ooo, I’ll check it out. I’m reading a super dense food history book that I might give up for a while.

Lakshmi: Jonny Valentine is interesting because it came out in 2013, so before Bieber really began worrying people (and then made his comeback with his latest album.) But the way it’s written, you can see why child stars are often doomed to fail.

Asha: Well, I for one hope Zayn doesn’t fail.

Lakshmi: Honestly, I think that he will be fine. He’s getting treatment. He is talking about his issues. He is getting to explore his identity at a younger age many other child stars get to. Those are all encouraging signs.

Asha: Maybe we’re slowly changing the way we treat our child stars.
Lakshmi: Also, I think the fact that Zayn is exploring Urdu poetry and music is encouraging. I don’t speak Urdu but I know I’m not the only one who finds the sound of Urdu music incredibly inspiring and soothing.

Asha: It’s beautiful.

Lakshmi: Yes! And I think it’s fitting to end this week on the English translation of Zayn’s song “Flower.” Here’s how he translates the lyrics for fans in his book:

“By the way, here’s the translation of the lyrics: ‘Until the flower of this love has blossomed / This heart won’t be at peace / Give me your heart….'”

Isn’t that perfect?

Asha: So perfect.

lakshmi-gandhi-246x300Lakshmi Gandhi is a journalist and pop culture writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Metro New York, NBC Asian America and NPR’s Code Switch blog, among other sites. She likes it when readers tweet her @LakshmiGandhi with their thoughts on Asian American issues and romance novels.

as-retouched-1006Asha Sundararaman is a freelance writer and photographer based in Oakland, California. When she’s not discussing pop culture, she can be found in her kitchen blending the flavors of her Southern and Indian roots.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

‘Life of Pi:’ A Story of Survival and Magical Imagination

Life of Pi

“Don’t bully me with your kindness,” says Pi Patel (Hiran Abeysekera) to Lulu Chen (Kirstin Louie), from the Canadian embassy who is visiting Pi in his hospital room in Mexico. Pi was the sole survivor of a cargo ship traveling from Pondicherry, India, en route to Canada. His family and the animals from his zoo from back home all passed away, and Pi turned up after being stranded for 227 days at sea. 

[Read Related: Vishal-Shekhar Invite You to ‘Come Fall In Love’ with The DDLJ Musical at The Old Globe]

In this scene from the “Life of Pi,” that recently won in three categories at the Tony Awards, Pi’s sanity is being questioned as his account of what transpired at sea is too…fantastical. His vivid imagination and inspired attention to detail seem like a story a child would share. The character Lulu, from the embassy, is trying to gently nudge him into telling her the more ‘truthful’ account of what happened —one that doesn’t include a carnivorous tiger, a cannibalistic island, and a horrific Frenchman. Pi finally tells her to stop patronizing him. To stop bullying him with her perceived kindness. To actually listen to what he is saying.

Life of Pi
On Sunday June 13, the “Life of Pi” won three @thetonyawards in Best Scenic Design in a Play, Best Sound Design of a Play, and Best Lighting Design in a Play.

It is this one line from the show that has become one of the most surprising and thoughtful lines I have encountered in all the art I have consumed in 2023 thus far. In fact, surprising and thoughtful are words that I would use to describe the overall musical itself. Directed by Max Webster, and adapted by the playwright Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel, “Life of Pi” is so enchanting, charming, and fantastical that with every beat of the show, I would hear gasps emanating from the crowd. The 24 cast members, many of whom were puppeteers, brought the different animals to life as we switched between the two timelines of Pi recounting his life at sea, in the hospital room, and Pi living out his life at sea. 

Dreamlike to the audience and a nightmare to Pi, the scenes depicting his challenging, lonely, and magical time at sea beautifully depicted the magical realism of the novel. The choreography of the different cast members puppeteering the animals added a sense of whimsy and movement that lent itself to Pi’s childlike imagination. The lighting, the sound, the set, and the actors all came together to create a musical that is like almost being in a drug-induced trip — the set moves seamlessly from the hospital room to the boat, and back to the hospital room, and then the boat; sometimes both at the same time. You can feel the waves when Pi is on the water and see the little fish moving about. It’s as though you are with Pi throughout his journey — you feel scared when he is attacked, you feel inspired when he is in bliss, and you feel pain when he longs for his family. 

Life of Pi
Directed by Max Webster and adapted by the playwright Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel, “Life of Pi” has received rave reviews throughout its run in New York City.

The biggest marvel, though, is Richard Parker. The puppeteering behind this character is excellent — he is at once menacing, vulnerable, scared, and strong. The transformation of Parker is such that he starts out as such a grand animal and when we see him finally arrive on the island, he looks so frail and thin. You root for him as much as you root for Pi. And Pi himself is the heart of the musical. Abeysekera imbues Pi with so much confidence, playfulness, wit, and fear, that it makes you believe his stories and his relationship with the relentless tiger. 

When Pi tells Lulu to not bully him with her kindness, he is telling her to not shatter his perception of the world he has lived; either it be real or constructed. Pi eventually shares with Lulu and Mr. Okamoto (Daisuke Tsuji), a representative from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, a version of events that is devoid of animals but one that is darker as it depicts human beings in their primal, selfish states. He then asks them, “Which story is better?” Lulu and Mr. Okamoto are speechless, as is the audience. In the end, it’s not about the story they believe but the one he believes. For the one he believes is the one he lived. And no one can bully him into thinking otherwise.

Photos Courtesy: Box Office Guru/PR

By Nimarta Narang

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

Anita Verma-Lallian Talks Camelback Productions and the Need for Greater South Asian Representation

Camelback Productions

Award-winning commercial real estate and land consultant in Arizona, Anita Verma-Lallian, is venturing into the world of entertainment with her newfound production house, Camelback Productions, making her the first South Asian female in the state to do so. Verma-Lallian is a woman used to paving her own way, and now she’s committed to doing it for future generations.

[Read Related: Anita Verma-Lallian Launches Arizona’s First South Asian-owned Film Production and Entertainment Company ]

Through her production company, she aims to contribute towards greater South Asian representation in mainstream media with a focus on storytelling that’s relevant to the community. In a conversation with Brown Girl Magazine, the real estate maven spoke about what inspired her to shift from investing in land to investing in creative dreams.

Tell us more about Camelback Productions and what your hopes are for the company?

The intention is to help communities that are not being represented in the media. As you know, there are a lot more streamers looking for content so that presents an interesting opportunity for people to tell stories that are otherwise not being told.

For us it’s important to tell these stories that aren’t being told, and tell them in the way that we want them to be told. With South Asians, for instance, the roles typically given are stereotypical. There are only four or five roles we are playing repeatedly. I want to show the South Asian community and culture in a different way. 

You come from a business and investor background. I am curious to know what catapulted your interest towards establishing a production company?

Good question. There were a few things that inspired my interest. I was looking to diversify the different opportunities we offered our investors. We’ve done a lot of real estate, so we were overall looking for different investment opportunities.  And then, at the time when I started exploring this, the real estate market was in this wait-and-see for many people. 

Everyone was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens next. There was a slowdown at the end of 2022 which is when I started looking into this more. Film seemed like it was kind of recession-proof and not really tied to what’s happening in the economy, which I thought was refreshing and exciting.

Also, overall, I observed what was happening in the industry with there being a push to see more South Asians in the media. The timing felt right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.

What kind of content are you looking to create?

Good stories and good quality scripts. We are looking at all types of content — movies, docu-series, comedy shows, and reality shows. We’re open to anything that has a good message. 

On a personal level, what hits home for you with this production company?

Growing up I always loved film and TV. We watched a lot of Bollywood movies because that’s what we related to and I always loved that. But I did feel there wasn’t a lot of representation of people that looked like me. Being able to change that — especially after having kids, and a daughter who wants to go into film — is important for. It’s a contribution for future generations. It’s important to me that as they grow up, they see people that look just like them.  

Is there a significance to the name Camelback?

Yes! Camelback Mountain is a very iconic mountain in Phoenix. It’s one of the most famous hikes we have here and a relatively challenging one.

The significance is being able to overcome challenges and barriers. I have a nice view of Camelback Mountain and it’s something I look at every day, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed. It has a very calming and grounding presence.

To me the mountains signify being grounded and not being able to be moved by external factors. That’s what I want this production company to be!

What would you advise people interested in entering the entertainment industry?

The best advice I would give someone is to align yourself with people that you know are experts in the industry; that have a good track record. Learn from as many people as you can. I learn as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and I study different things to understand what was and wasn’t successful.

Photo Credit: Claudia Johnstone

By Rasha Goel

Rasha Goel is a 2X Emmy-nominated television host/producer and international correspondent. Her talent has led to opportunities such as giving … Read more ›

How ‘RRR’ Changed the American Perception of the Indian Film Industry

As a South Indian American, I am aware of how non-brown Americans view the Indian film industry. One word: Bollywood. Bollywood and the South Indian film industry has always been lumped into the same category as Bollywood, despite the diversity. For Indians, South India is obviously different from North India, but non-brown people assume it would all be the same. This extends beyond Indian cinema; feeding into assumptions regarding other aspects of culture like language, food, and so on. People tend to assume all Indians speak Hindi or eat tikka masala at home rather than trying to understand the diversity of Indian culture. With time, especially with the help of social media, there was more accessibility to understanding the differences among these cultures, yet nothing truly spread across the globe. Then came “RRR.”

[Read Related: On the Road to the Oscars: M.M. Keeravani and Chandrabose’s ‘Naatu Naatu’ Redefines the World’s View of Indian Music]

RRR” is a Telugu film from Tollywood. This South Indian film has become a worldwide sensation with its incredible visual effects, captivating plot, and catchy music. I was blown away by the reception this film got in the United States, especially from American film critics who were all praise. What impressed me the most was how more Americans clarified it was not a Bollywood film, and differentiated it as a Tollywood film. The number of people taking the time to learn the difference between Tollywood and Bollywood might seem simple, yet meaningful, nonetheless. South Indian films are incredibly underrated and are finally getting the attention they deserved. It is incredible to see the celebration surrounding the film and what it represents and means to this community and how we get to share it with the world. The hype was real, and then the awards season began.


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The Golden Globes top the list of some of the major awards for television and film and it was amazing to hear that “RRR” had been nominated in two categories for this award. Funnily enough in my own world, it aired on my birthday. Then came the moment when Jenna Ortega said “Naatu Naatu, RRR” and the song played as M.M. Keeravani approached the stage to accept his award. This song became the first Asian, not only Indian, song to win the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The 80th Golden Globes saw many wins for the Asian community with films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “RRR.” There is something beautiful about being South Indian in America and watching a South Indian song win an award in America on one’s birthday. There is a joy in getting to tell my friends, both brown and non-brown, about it and share the song, “Naatu Naatu,” with them. Sure it is Indian, but it is just a bit closer to home, and that closeness stands with a beautiful meaning. When it came to the Critics’ Choice Awards, it was touching to hear about how S.S. Rajamouli grew up with the encouragement of creativity and storytelling. It honestly inspired me to continue my own projects; I hope to see them prosper as well. 

[Read Related: Sri Rao and the Future of South Asian Diasporic Cinema]

After the win at the Golden Globes, the Oscars became highly anticipated for the Indian community, especially when the nominations for Best Original Song were announced. Of course, when the familiar title appeared once again, a victory felt within grasp. “Naatu Naatu” had a couple of big moments at the Academy Awards ceremony: the performance and the win itself. The performance was introduced by the absolutely phenomenal actress, Deepika Padukone, who, too, is s South Indian. Her introduction of the song brought forward the context in which the tune takes place, that is during 1920 under the British colonization of India. She reminded all of us of how significant the song was along with its catchy beat. When it came to the announcement of who won Best Original Song, it was a first-of-its-kind victory given that it was the first time an Indian film won in this category. The speech made by M. M. Keeravani was beautiful as he sang to the tune of “Top of the World” with his own lyrics to take in the moment. It was certainly an extremely proud day to be Indian anywhere in the world, and especially to be a South Indian.

Seeing non-brown folks acknowledging the diversity of Indian culture has been beautiful to witness. The cultural pride of saying an Indian film, specifically a South Indian film, won the Oscar, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and two Critics’ Choice Awards so far is an absolute joy. Seeing South Indian representation, especially during the awards season, is inspiring for brown creatives. This has been a time of great cultural pride in the South Indian community, and as a South Indian creative myself, I am honored to see it.

Photo Courtesy: Netflix

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By S. Kavi

S. Kavi is a South Indian American writer, poet, and artist. Her work involves the exploration of South Indian culture, … Read more ›