Murdered by my Father’s Kiran Sonia Sawar: “Honour killings is an issue that needs to be dealt with”

Honour killings are confronted head on in BBC Three drama Murdered by my Father. Actress Kiran Sonia Sawar talks to me about ensuring Asian women are respected.

There is a moment in BBC Three drama Murdered by my Father where London teen Salma, played by Kiran Sonia Sawar, flees from her father’s imprisonment and jumps over the nearest balcony in her block of flats. While this happens, the camera pans to an Asian neighbour opposite who sees Salma escaping and in response, speedily closes the curtains. It’s a moment that is small, but extremely significant.

“Any close-knit communities will shut themselves out from directly addressing problems, but instead gossip about them, and I think that’s the problem”, says Sawar. “They’re more than happy to have a conversation with someone else about it, but they’re never going to hit it head-on. And I think that’s what that scene really effectively represents, it’s that problem of ignorance.”

Murdered by my Father focuses on honour killings and the plight of Salma, who becomes victim to her father’s rage after falling in love with cheeky charmer Imi (Mawaan Rizwan). As the title suggests, it ends with disastrous consequences.

Rather than feeling angry or upset about the family dynamic however, Sawar empathised with Salma’s father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar): “I think it’s a gorgeous relationship, I think Salma really, really loves her dad and brother, and obviously Salma doesn’t see her dad’s demise, she doesn’t see that side of it until it’s too late, but her relationship with her dad is completely one of love.”

Having grown up in a Pakistani family herself, Sawar’s desire for discussions surrounding honour-based violence to be more prominent is palpable. While she has received incredible support from her liberal Asian parents – they have always encouraged her to pursue a career as an actress – Sawar feels a deep connection with Salma “in terms of love, intelligence, a passion for wanting to live your own life and make your own choices and deal with those consequences”. She adds: “That’s how you learn, that’s how you grow.”

But in trying to understand the mind-set of girls and women like Salma, portrayals of honour-based violence can often be inaccurate, dismissing the individual’s internal struggle to make life-defining decisions. “The media can describe it from a westernised point of view,” she says. Sawar understands the misconceptions attached to this issue and when discussing victim-blaming, her objection towards such attitudes is clear.

“It doesn’t make any sense in my mind. How can anyone dare to blame the victim in any situation where somebody is being attacked? Salma goes back [to her family] out of love, out of duty, out of care, out of passion, out of honesty, out of who she is as a person. For someone to want to walk away from their whole lives, from everything that they’ve built, and all their relationships and their parents, it’s a massive, massive, massive deal,” she says.

Sawar’s appearance in Murdered by my Father also comes at a crucial time for BBC Three. The broadcaster is redefining itself as a front runner in producing compelling documentaries and drama, while offering a platform for young emerging talent. And Sawar is no stranger to working with the BBC, having appeared in an episode of BBC One’s Holby City. More recently, she has also starred in the US TV series Legends, which aired on American TV channel TNT.

“My first TV job was only last year in June, which was ‘Legends’, and all three of my TV jobs have been based completely on the fact that I’m Asian. But I think that I’m not somebody who shies away from my culture and who I am, and should the story need to be told, I’m more than happy to comply and tell the story from an Asian perspective. That’s not an issue, but it would be lovely if there were more opportunities to play characters that are a bit different, a bit more daring, definitely.”

She is currently rehearsing for her next role in the world premiere of Brideshead Revisited. Sawar will play youngest daughter of the aristocratic Brideshead family in the adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, set in 1943.

“I find that theatre is much more open to colour-blind casting and to casting based on what somebody can bring to a role rather than their appearance,” says Sawar.

For Sawar, Murdered by my Father is not just about using ground-breaking TV to educate girls. She wants to use this medium to change the mind-set of her male audience too.

“I’ve had lots of lovely messages from young Asian men. They’re going to grow up to be the next dads and uncles and grandads, and they’re just as important in this storyline,” explains Sawar. “If this is being taught to men from a younger age, about their treatment of women and their respect for women and how women are entitled to their own choice of freedom, then I feel like that’s my job being done.

“This is a human issue, it needs to be dealt with,” continues Sawar. “I don’t want honour killings to be another thing that people see and think: ‘oh, that’s not our problem, that’s this problem or that’s somebody else’s problem’, because it doesn’t just happen in Asian communities.”

Published also in The Asian Today:

http://www.theasiantoday.com/index.php/2016/04/22/murdered-by-my-fathers-kiran-sonia-sawar-honour-killings-is-an-issue-that-needs-to-be-dealt-with/

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Book review: ‘My Map of You’ by Isabelle Broom 

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Holly Wright has had a difficult few years. After her mother’s death, she’s become expert at keeping people at a distance – including her boyfriend, Rupert.

But when Holly receives an unexpected letter explaining that an aunt she never met has left her a house on the Greek island of Zakynthos, the walls she has built begin to crumble. Arriving on the island, Holly meets the handsome Aidan and slowly begins to uncover the truth about the secret which tore her family apart.

But is the island where Holly really belongs? Or will her real life catch up with her first?

There is nothing more I love than a book that whisks you away to another part of the world in an instant. While it’s all well and good reading travel blogs and articles that highlight the best parts of a holiday destination, a book which can take you around the world immerses you in a way that no other piece of writing can. Especially when you’re surrounded by the dreariness of London on your commute to work.

Isabelle Broom’s evocative debut My Map of You does exactly that, simply by littering the story with delightful, sensory descriptions of Zakynthos in Greece. The story is very simple yet heart-warming. It follows the protagonist Holly’s journey to better understanding a fragmented past, which includes coming to terms with the death of her mum and the estrangement of her family. Her life is turned upside down upon discovering that her deceased aunt has left her both a home on Greek island Zakynthos, along with a few eye-opening secrets to unravel. Jetting off determined to sell the house but also satisfy her curiosity and intrigue, the story tracks Holly’s route to discovering the truth about herself, all the while trying to negotiate the present with the past and her future.

Broom has the unique ability of transporting readers to Greece from the comfort of their seats in her gorgeous, compelling descriptions of the captivating Greek landscape. At times, it is almost as though she is presenting us with a blank canvas and very carefully painting us an image using masterful brush strokes. What really wins me over is the emphasis on eating, and how food becomes a sensory treat awakening pleasure and delight in both Holly and the reader: “she loved the way the oozyy honey lifted the sweetness of the plump fruit and the sharp pepper kept the whole combination from becoming too much.”

It’s also very easy to fall in love with Holly as she represents the conflict that many of us have in our lives too: not feeling quite at home, a restlessness that comes with living regular 9-5 lives, unfulfilled careers and relationships and the incessant, burning need to break the monotony and live for one’s self. Holly’s path to becoming a better version of herself is therefore easy to follow and relate to, making the story an emotional yet enjoyable read.

Throw in a complicated romance back home in London with boyfriend Rupert and the alluring Irish vet Aidan in Greece and you’ve got Holly embroiled in a perfect yet messy romance, one which not only complicates the process of discovering the self but adds another exciting layer to an already touching storyline. Broom cleverly introduces Aidan to highlight the constant struggle of Holly, but in a way that highlights him as the perfect romantic counterpart; he is another broken character trying to fix things. Their cheeky yet intense romance offers a buoyancy to the novel that firstly, feels incredibly real but more importantly, compliments the protagonist’s own battle with herself.

My Map of You is due for release on 21st April. If you’re looking for a novel that satisfies your wonderlust but throws in just the right amount of drama, curl up on the sofa (or the tube!) and give Broom’s debut novel a read.

Rating: 8/10

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts at the University of West London before starting a career first in local newspapers and then as a junior sub-editor at heat magazine. She travelled through Europe during her gap year and went to live on the Greek island of Zakynthos for an unforgettable and life-shaping six months after completing her degree. Since then, she has travelled to Canada, Sri Lanka, Sicily, New York, LA, the Canary Islands, Spain and lots more of Greece, but her wanderlust was reined in when she met Max, a fluffy little Bolognese puppy desperate for a home. When she’s not writing novels set in far-flung locations, Isabelle spends her time being the Book Reviews Editor at heatmagazine and walking her beloved dog round the parks of north London.

You can follow Isabelle Broom on Twitter @Isabelle_Broom or find her on Facebook under Isabelle Broom Author.

My Map of You is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

Haters gonna hate: Kanye West’s lyrics on Taylor Swift are way off the mark

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Best friends for life? Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards last year. [Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS]

“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that b***h famous”.

This gem is a line rapped by Kanye West in his new song ‘Famous’, taken from his brand new (and unexpectedly dropped) album The Life of Pablo. Since it reached our previously unperturbed ears, it has received widespread criticism from the likes of Ruby Rose, Gigi Hadid and more poignantly, in a video posted by Swift’s brother Austin.

Whether you like her or not, Swift is a superstar, and that is something no one can contest. She has amassed a horde of fans all over the world since transforming from a shy and meek country star to an animated force of pop stardom. Collectively, she has won 11 American Music Awards, 7 Grammy Awards, and 6 Country Music Association Awards, and was the first ever country singer to win Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009.

This year, she has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including Album of The Year as well as Best Pop Vocal Album for 1989. One of her singles ‘Blank Space’ is nominated for both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.

…and really, at this point, the list could go on.

So with that in mind, West’s lyrics seem unfounded, clumsy and exceptionally misogynistic. What they reflect is an otherwise talented musician and artist who has scraped the bottom of the barrel in order to find put-downs that will make him feel somewhat successful and well-received.

But I don’t think anybody’s received him well. I also don’t think that his lyrics are funny. If anything, it seems that West is helplessly clinging onto the one incident that defines his relationship with Swift – one in which he harangued and shamed her for winning the Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs, claiming that it should in fact have gone to Beyonce.

In these lyrics, talking about her as simply someone he could potentially have sex with diminishes any of her success and reduces her to the role that culture has assigned to women for centuries: a female who can sexually gratify. It suggests that West has some form of power over her – that he’s almost entitled to think that sex between the two and  publicly rapping about it is okay, whether Swift agrees or not. Some may brush this off as musical creativity, but I’d say it’s an odd lyric for a married man and father of two to rap about. And it’s exactly this kind of sexual intention which, once unleashed into the public domain, reinforces how men in the music industry seem almost thrown off and emasculated by their female counterparts.

Not only this, but West strips Swift of her accolades and the triumph that she has at times had over him in the music industry. Through saying that the incident between West and Swift at the VMAs may have propelled Swift’s fame, he is taking ownership of a success and triumph that simply does not belong to him. Let’s not forget that Swift has achieved a lot before her encounter with West. And by referring to her as a ‘bitch’ is degrading enough, but also reeks of a desire to kick Swift to the curb and almost ‘show her what her place really is.’ We can all guess what West really wants to say here.

West has certainly not made Swift famous, and his inability to make the lyrics clear to Swift before the single was released suggests he knew it would be met with disdain. It’s this undercover nature that frames him as both a talented yet incompetent artist, unable to appreciate the music, stardom and success of another, and drowning in easy, misplaced put-downs designed to cause a quick stir and get his audiences laughing.

The joke is on you, Kanye.

 

Sunny Leone produces hostility because India still fears female sexuality

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Bollywood actress Sunny Leone was in the firing line this week when journalist Bhupendra Chauby chastised her for being a ‘porn queen’. (Photo credit: Getty)

The internet certainly does not forget. Google Indian-Canadian Bollywood actress ‘Sunny Leone’ and beneath the most recent news articles, her previous profession defines her almost instantly – she is a household name for once being a porn star.

Earlier this week, Leone faced journalist Bhupendra Chauby in a scathing interview where he claimed the actress was “lowering the level of the fine art of cinema” as she promoted her new movie Mastizaade. 

Support flooded in for Leone as viewers were left outraged by the journalist’s line of questioning, as well as his undeniable sexist and misogynist stance. After hearing about the uncomfortable interview and reading Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s display of support for Leone over social media, the issue felt incredibly important to discuss and naturally, I wanted to weigh in.

Porn is a complex issue to discuss not just in India, but globally. We are sold videos and images of sex through a guarded screen and prefer to keep it that way. Bhupendra Chauby’s interview of Leone reflects a nation’s difficulty to accept when someone – and in particular, a female – transgresses sexual boundaries and then tries to become part of the more ‘normal’ world rather than the sordid, covert and titillating world of porn.

If we attach ‘porn’ to Leone, India and its more conservative citizens are okay with it. Attach ‘Bollywood’ to her and suddenly, we’re in a very, very dangerous territory. Bollywood is sacred to nearly everyone all over India. It is a world that promises action: good versus evil, men fighting for their wives and daughters, women who are usually subservient and sometimes scantily clad and raunchy ‘item girls’ who dance provocatively, often enticing many male cinema-goers. Bollywood is a world of national pride and a place for romantic heroes saving the day. While it is rapidly evolving and producing more edgier stories, Indian audiences leave the cinema after watching a typical Bollywood movie and still feel their morality is intact, their pride in place and their Indian identity reinforced. It is simply not a place for an ex-porn star like Leone to make her mark.

But how can we forget the recent upsurge in sex scenes within Bollywood movies, as well as those Bollywood actresses who happily film them? What do we say about bold actresses like Rekha (who is deemed legendary), Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu, Vidya Balan, Alia Bhatt and Anushka Sharma – all of whom have filmed sex scenes for Bollywood movies? If leading female actresses are already doing sex scenes anyway, how can a journalist stigmatize and dismiss Leone, but not act the same way towards say Alia Bhatt or Anushka Sharma? Is it because they are only marginally naked while she goes all out? While pornography is traditionally said to be more sexually explicit, I fail to see how someone ferociously riding a man in bed as Zareen Khan recently did in erotic thriller Hate Story 2 is considered more acceptable. For some viewers, this could also be sexually explicit and therefore almost pornographic, so where exactly does India draw the line when it comes to chastising someone for their on-screen past?

Equally, this isn’t just a problem in India. As humans, we inherently seem to define and judge people on their past. We define them by the ‘mistakes’ we think they have made. However, in some way, should Leone have expected that someone would inevitably interview her in this way? Surely, if she is going to try and break the Bollywood industry, she should have prepared herself for taunts and judgement about her character considering how conservative and worried the entire nation is about sex – a subject which is taboo, delicate and still associated with shame and weakness.

My answer to that is no. She should not expect or prepare for it. Yes, Leone has starred in many porn films, but we – or Bhupendra Chauby – cannot decide whether it is wrong or right. A problem exists with women like Leone because when consuming her in secret, people have no worries as she is a woman in their control – you can press play, pause, rewind, forward and watch her how you please through that guarded screen. But when she decides she wants to take more control and redefine herself in a more ‘prestigious’ domain, it is not allowed.  Leone is not asking for people to forgive her. She is not ashamed – but what Bhupendra Chauby did was tell her that she should be.

India is morally bankrupt – but so is the entire world. Sunny Leone isn’t someone to blame for increasing rates of porn consumption in the country, and she is certainly not someone who needs to be called out for anything.

We can’t label someone for one thing their whole life. Give her a break.

 

Reflections on 2015

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Every year brings with it a range of triumphs and hurdles, and for me, looking back is equally as important as looking ahead.

2015 began with me knee-deep in stress as I approached graduation. Since I was little, I have been filled with a desire to have a degree in my possession. I’ve always believed it to be the highest form of educational achievement, and as only a few people in my family went to university, it was important for me to also come out the other side and be successful in that way. I worked harder than I could have possibly imagined right until I handed in my dissertation in April, and put my all into my final year in academia.

What propelled me to work so hard was an itch to triumph and be someone. I don’t know whether anyone reading this feels the same, but I have always felt I am extraordinary. During school, I suffered a lot of taunts for being somewhat intelligent. From being labelled a ‘boffin’ to a ‘teacher’s pet’, I was never allowed to rest just because I had a few brain cells. Graduating from university was therefore the final educational hurdle I wanted to conquer in order to prove to myself that I had beat the bullies, and had ended up in a strong position because of the qualities others labelled ‘weird’. I wanted to feel satisfied that despite encountering people who wanted me to stifle who I was, I kept on using my intellect to advance myself. And now, I can proudly say that my hard work paid off and I have a First Class degree in English Literature. My three years at Brunel flew by, but I will never forget everything I learned and experienced there. It was a life-changing time.

I’m sure many of you can agree that life is never smooth. It brings with it ebbs and flows that are often unexpected and can rock our world. We plaster smiles on our faces but so many of us are walking around with deep pain and sorrow buried somewhere underneath us. It can eat away at us and can often make us feel incredibly low and upset. This is a good time for me to thank those who have seen me through any hardships this year. Sometimes, it’s easy to let what others say about us overrule our own rationale. It’s even easier to let this consume us to the point where we no longer see ourselves as someone who is strong, brave and brilliant. I would urge anyone who has experienced any kind of low this year not to run, but to embrace what has happened and accept that you will become a better person from it. Turn to people who would do anything to see a smile on your face and spend time with them. More than anything, never stop loving yourself and always move forward at your own pace. We spend so much time living in yesterdays that we can forget that our now is more far more important. Just be kind to yourself.

Shortly after graduating, I also spent 3 months interning at Harrods and had the best time learning about the world of work. I never pegged myself as someone who would ever be interested in fashion, but I came out infected by the magic of Harrods and would definitely love to be back there someday. Scratch that – I never even thought someone like me could work somewhere like Harrods, so all I’ll say to everyone is believe you can do it. Never let yourself feel that you are not capable or that an opportunity given to you is not right for you: take a chance. Despite having other ideas about where I wanted my career to take me at that point, I gave the internship a shot and came out more refined than I would have elsewhere. I am extremely fortunate as just a week or so later, I landed my dream first job working as an Editorial Assistant at Comic Relief. It has been a steep learning curve so far, but in terms of my career, I feel extremely blessed and happy to be in such a position so soon after graduating. I can only hope 2016 takes me somewhere similar.

This year I also had tonnes of fun with all the right people: I tried a lot of different foods, saw some amazing plays and musicals at the theatre such as Othello, Wicked, hang and Hamlet. I also went to my first gig and saw Hozier play a beautiful set. I have taken up light reading again after letting my brain linger far too much on more ‘difficult’ and ‘heavier’ reads and  I am so happy to be rekindled with creativity. Books for me are so special and take me somewhere far away. I hope I can continue reading this way from here on now. For a lot of people, doing things like going to the theatre or a gig has been the norm since their teens, but I have been a slow bloomer, and I am proud of my small but slow steps to achieving things that stimulate and have made me happy. For me, these things have all been a highlight this year, and I am not ashamed that it took me this long to get where I am today.

For anyone reading, as you head into 2016, don’t let anyone steal your sunshine. Happy New Year everyone, and thank you, as always, for reading my blog this year.

Billboard magazine’s tweet about North West just revealed how the media still sexualises famous children

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This tweet from Billboard magazine earlier today sent shock waves across the internet, sparking anger about the sexualisation of North West. (Photo credit: Twitter)

The internet is furious today as Billboard magazine committed a social media blunder of epic proportions, likening a picture of 2-year-old North West licking a lollipop to her mother and reality TV persona Kim Kardashian West giving oral sex to Ray J, recalling the sex tape which initially threw her into the spotlight.

Earlier this week came news that Tatler had also branded David Beckham’s son Brooklyn “hot, ready and legal”, despite him just turning 16 years old. And this isn’t the first time that the media has speedily jumped onto the child-sexualisation bandwagon, with the likes of Britney Spears, Charlotte Church, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez having been sexualised very early on in their careers.

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David Beckham’s son Brooklyn Beckham was labelled ‘hot, ready and legal earlier this week by a Tatler journalist. (Photo credit: The Telegraph)

Viewing children in this sexual way is simply wrong – when journalists publish this type of article, everyone who gives it the green light very forcefully takes famous children’s innocence away from them and places a completely different, more damaging kind of pressure on them, and one which they may not necessarily understand or want. Making a teenager like Brookyln Beckham into a sex symbol, and worse, painting a 2 year old like North West in the same light, is damaging for them and other teenagers and children too, who may feel they also need to aspire to an image that is sexual and appealing in only physical terms.

It would horrify any parent if someone approached them and said that their child was looking ‘hot, ready and legal’, or that their child reminded them of the parent in an intimate and sexual act. So why does a renowned publication like Billboard think it is okay to unleash such a warped view into the public domain? What makes the media different from child groomers? If our media organisations are the one leading these kind of labels on the children that either find or fall into fame, then who the hell can we look to as a source of justice or righteousness? Publications like Billboard and Tatler are letting everyone else say what they are saying too, making it easier to create a culture of child sexualisation that simply shouldn’t exist.

1999 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which saw a 17-year-old Britney Spears pose in her underwear. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)
1999 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which saw a 17-year-old Britney Spears pose in her underwear. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)

Tatler and Billboard shouldn’t get away with it. If our media organisations are the ones leading the perception of famous children in this uncomfortable and overtly sexual way, then who can we look to as a source of morality or righteousness? Publications like these allow everyone else to follow suit, making it easier to create a worrying culture of media-induced child grooming.

Today’s tweet about North West was especially disturbing as it suggested that a 2-year-old had the sexual potential to imitate the actions of her mother in a moment of childish innocence. North West’s portrayal in this way is disgraceful, giving the impression that a child can only be the bearer of her mother’s lucratively sexual past, and that North West can and will be included into Kim Kardashian West’s slut-shaming by Billboard magazine.

After all of this, who can blame Britney Spears for shaving off all her hair and breaking down back in 2007? No one at all.

Putting Sri Lanka on the map: Asian Provocateur

Romesh Ranganathan goes back to his Sri Lankan roots in Asian Provocateur (Photo credit: BBC)
Romesh Ranganathan goes back to his Sri Lankan roots in BBC Three documentary Asian Provocateur (Photo credit: BBC)

He’s the straight-faced comedian who has quickly amassed a large number of fans, becoming one of the most popular faces on TV and in the comedy circuit. For the last few weeks, Romesh Ranganathan has been entertaining us in his new BBC Three documentary Asian Provocateur, which has seen him exploring his Sri Lankan heritage and reconnecting with his familial roots.

Romesh has experienced a chicken being rubbed on his head, participated in Sri Lankan martial arts, had weight-loss medicine inserted through his rear-end and given a frankly phenomenal performance in a Sri Lankan MC battle. With his fresh gags and witty comments in stow, viewers have been following his quest to learn more about his ethnic background with the added help of mum Shanthi, who has masterfully planned activities for Romesh’s unconventional voyage of self-discovery.

As well as the show offering Romesh’s trademark sarcasm and angst, it has also alerted audiences to problems that children with immigrant parent’s face when growing up in modern Britain. “I know absolutely nothing about the culture of where my family are from. I know more about Horsham. That’s sad isn’t it?”, says Romesh in the opening episode. The series is not only hilarious and often bonkers, it also manages to explore Romesh’s disconnect from a family and heritage left waiting on the sidelines – but without this becoming the focus of the show. It is also fittingly representative of the way in which second-generation children of immigrant parents can become confused and conflicted when negotiating their identity and juggling two cultures.

Tuk tuks and displays of dramatic black magic aside, the show has given positive exposure to Sri Lanka and its wonderous ways, while expressing how definitions of ‘British-Asian’ can be problematic for those who are very loosely tied to their Asian roots. Far from being an Eat, Pray, Love-style figure, Romesh is interesting since he represents a British-Asian figure who is very simply unsure about his cultural background and how to approach it, which makes the series all the more funnier. Having successfully soared as an ethnic minority figure in the heavily underrepresented Arts sector in Britain, Asian Provocateur shows that issues of ethnicity and identity are still commercially valuable, and definitely worth making a 6-part series about.

Watch the first 4 episodes of Asian Provocateur here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06fq3x4

Romesh goes fishing, Sri Lankan style. (Photo credit: Radio Times)
Romesh goes fishing, Sri Lankan style. (Photo credit: Radio Times)