Challenging stereotypes & racism – the Desi Vloggers

If you haven’t heard of the likes of Parle Patel, Lilly IISuperwomanII Singh or Humza ‘Badman’ Arshad, you’d be forgiven. They’re not quite household names – yet.

But these young Asian vloggers are taking You Tube by storm. With some of the most popular videos getting around 13million views, they are serious players.

More than a cheap laugh

I must admit that when I first started researching the ‘Desi Vloggers’ as they are becoming known I was slightly put off. Their YouTube parodies of the Asian culture at first, made me cringe. A lot of them use Eddie Murphy-style comedy with the star dressed up to play all the roles of the typical Indian parents and any other family members. It felt like they were rolling out the same tired old stereotypes of the Asian family for the sake of a cheap laugh. But if you keep watching you do see how these youngsters are exposing stereotypes and challenging the double standards that they face growing up- both within the Asian community and society at large.

So when we see Parle Patel parodying the Gujarati mum gossiping and bitching about the wedding they just went to, only to turn on the charm when the mother of the bride calls, viewers can instantly relate. When Lilly Singh laments over having to watch ‘another’ Bollywood movie with her parents, they can relate.

Similarly, any Asian can identify with Jus Reign’s “Shit White guys Say to Brown guys”:

“Teach me how to say ‘what’s up’ in your language”

“Yo Bollywood chicks yo, you gotta hook me up”

“There’s this one brown guy in my high school. Do you like, know him?”

 

Authentic 

YouTube vloggers are gaining success largely with the 15-24 demographic because they are so authentic. It’s one young person talking to another on issues that they recognise. These are not Hollywood stars with a slick post-production crew and an army of PR people; these are real people talking their language.

What’s also impressive to see is the increasing influence they’re having. Humza Arshad teamed up with the Met Police earlier this year to produce a short film aiming to tackle extremism amongst young British Muslims.

Lilly Singh- the only female and arguably the most successful of the pack, has had some notable cameo appearances in her videos. Bollywood legend Madhuri Dixit appears in one of her most popular videos; while Jay Sean, James Franco and The Rock have also starred with her.

I’ve heard some critics say that by parodying the Asian culture, the Desi Vloggers are actually doing more harm than good; that they’re tearing down what the generation before us fought for.

Personally I like the way they challenge the hypocrisy in the South Asian culture. In many of the videos they are holding their elders and others in their community to account. And you can’t help but nod and laugh at the Indian mum laying into her son calling him a bloody idiot every few sentences!

Plus we need to be a people that can laugh at ourselves! Every culture and race has its flaws, and humour is a great way to accept our weaknesses.

So here are some of my favourite Desi Vloggers:

Jus Reign

I love this guy. Canadian Jasmeet Singh started vlogging because he was “bored one summer at college,”  His “Hand Clap Dance” went viral and pretty soon he was being recognised in the streets. He currently has 530k subscribers. I love love love how his comedy exposes the stupidity of so many double standards, both within our culture and from Western society. Poonjabby!

 

Humza ‘Badman’ Arshad

Humza Arshad is from Streatham in London. In 2010 he started Diary of a Badman. By the following year, it was one of the most viewed videos on YouTube in the UK and currently gets around 4.7million views. Since then he has made numerous public appearances including his Badman Comedy Tour across the UK, and his work with the police and young people dealing with extremism.

 

Lilly IISuperwomanII Singh

Another Canadian and the only woman of the comedy genre (I could be wrong- if you know of any other female Desi comedy vloggers, drop me a comment below). Ironically she started vlogging to challenge the lack of desi female representation in the media. She is undoubtedly the most successful of all the vloggers, with her 5million subscribers. She has since branched into motivational speaking, rapping, acting and stand up. She also has a clothing line. (Go Lilly!)

 

Parle Patel

UK born Parle Patel started his YouTube channel Planet Parle just two years ago. In that time he has amassed a 30,000 strong following, thanks to his satirical take on Gujarati life (“I’m An Indian Gujarati, we like garba and eat dhokra”) In fact his niche, he claims, is being the only young Asian vlogging about Gujarati life. Parle appeared at Southbank’s Alchemy festival this year.

 

AK aka Amazing

Amandeep Kang’s “Life in a Brown Fam” gets around 1 million views per video. Another Canadian, AK parodies South Asian family life. In his videos, he plays The Kid, which he claims was himself growing up. And there are the recognisable Indian family members, in particular The Auntie That Everyone Knows.

 

An Interview with Gurinder Chada

Desi Rascals

Don’t miss the new series of Desi Rascals on Sky Living HD from Tuesday January 20th at 8pm.

When I first heard about Desi Rascals, I must admit I was mildly sceptical. I’ve spoken before about the limited, usually stereotyped media representation of British Asians and the disappointing lack of positive roles we have. And with this show, I was really expecting more of the same. What I wasn’t counting on, was that with award-winning director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice) behind it, Desi Rascals isn’t going to be anything like we’ve seen before. This non-scripted, reality TV show featuring British Asians, shot in real time is going to be ground-breaking for the Asian community.

I talked to Gurinder about what we can expect from the show, how it reflects the diversity in today’s British Asian community and some of it’s boundary pushing characters.

“I am supremely confident that it will fit the bill in terms of showcasing the diversity in the British Asian community,” Gurinder told me. “The characters we have gives it a very multi-dimensional view.

There’s a great mix within the cast: Gujaratis, Punjabis, Bangladeshis- amongst others. There’s different social stratas represented, from small business owners to one very wealthy family who own a chain of luxury hotels.

It’s multi-generational too, which is a really important element. Having the older generations in our show allows us to show how the pressures on that generation are as important as those of the younger people. Parents sometimes put pressure on their kids, but there’s also pressure on them because they want to do the best for their kids as well as upholding certain traditions and values, which is where the tension and drama really comes from.

Ultimately, a more three-dimensional portrayal of the British Asian community will come from the fact that it’s non-scripted drama, that allows for spontaneous and real exchanges between the characters- you couldn’t write drama like this! And what’s also great is that we are not limited to any one person’s vision of the Asian community. Desi Rascals shows you how English we are as well as how British Asian we are.”

“I think you can safely say you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this” Gurinder Chadha

Tell me a bit about the cast members?

“Well there’s Owais who is a property developer. He spent a lot of his youth trying to overcome a stutter. Then there’s Amita who runs her own business- she’s a beautician and is also a single mum. There are the boys Anj and Nurat- a uncle and nephew team who own their own gym.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Amita Patel from the cast of Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

One of my favourite characters on the show is Naman who is an openly gay Muslim. He’s extremely family orientated and very sweet, very warm; and very close to our single mother Amita. He’s not just a gay guy, he’s very much part of our world. I think his journey is going to be hard, as an ‘out’ gay guy.

And he has been very supported by everyone on the show, including Owais, who has said “as a fellow Muslim, I’m extremely proud of you.”

“It really is the people that are going to take this into different areas-the types of people that have come forward to be a part of the show are what’s really going to drive it- who knows where they will take it- and there will be lots of surprises! The main thing that you’re going to see is not what you’re going to be expecting. I think you can safely say that you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this.”

As the show features a beautician, a Bollywood dancer and a makeup artist I shared my concern with Gurinder that her portrayal of Desi women was limited to rather, shall we say, girly pursuits.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Expect to see some strong desi women in Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

“Well what do think?! With my name attached, what do you think?! Anything that I do is not going to be namby-pamby you can safely assume, when it comes to women!” 

I think we can safely assume that anything Gurinder puts her name to will not be ‘namby pamby’ as she put it. And that’s what makes her such an important British Asian figure and such a hugely influential person in her field. Her contribution to positively shaping how the world sees British Asians has been really important- think of how Bend It Like Beckham brought the richness of Asian family, community and tradition onto our screens 12 years ago.

I’ve no doubt that Desi Rascals will do the same for us, 10 or so years on. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to see this happen. In our current news climate, where sections of the Asian community take a constant battering, it’s really time we see something else of who our community are. And I’m hopeful Gurinder’s Desi Rascals will do this for us- and perhaps give us some really positive role models to boot.

‘Desi Rascals’ premieres on Tuesday 20 January at 8pm on Sky Living. Watch the trailer below

You might also like “Where do we look for positive British Asian role models?”

Targeting the Asian consumer: L’Oreal think we’re worth it

This week, Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif was announced as the new L’Oreal Paris spokesperson. She joins Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Freida Pinto and Sonam Kapoor to become the 4th Indian brand ambassador for the cosmetics giant. Before we get too excited about the appointment of an Indian actress to the long line of L’Oreal spokespeople (like it’s some kind of victory for Asians everywhere), let’s remember that L’Oreal like most other multinationals have a carefully devised marketing strategy. As India has one of the largest economies in the world, and the Indian people are experiencing high growth rates in their national income, every global company wants a piece of their spending power. Not including the most successful Bollywood actresses (albeit those who have made some cross over into the mainstream) would be missing a trick.

Cynicism aside, I think its fantastic that the likes of L’Oreal are acknowledging South Asian consumers as a serious demographic with money to spend, including us in their product range and subsequently, their marketing campaigns. Anyone remember the days of mismatched foundations that were too chalky, too pink, too ashen for the Asian skin tone? Cosmetic companies simply didn’t make foundation or any makeup specifically for Asian skin. Nowadays, some of the bigger cosmetic brands like Mac and L’Oreal do include shades and products for us. Its fantastic to be able to pick them up on the high street, rather than the few dusty products imported from overseas only found in Indian grocery stores.

And, whether we like it or not, L’Oreal and companies like them are ambassadors for what we accept as standards of beauty today. The diversity that is now reflected in the L’Oreal faces is refreshing and a welcome change from the stereotyped, narrow perceptions of beauty that we have become accustomed to seeing in the media. Having the likes of Kaif on their roster of beautiful people serves to include a broader definition of beauty, one that I would argue is much more relevant in today’s multicultural Britain.

There should be no “Blurred Lines” about this

Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was not only the iTunes best selling single of 2013, it was also one of the most talked about songs around for a long time. Critics have slammed its lyrics for inciting sexual violence towards women. 21 student unions including University College London student union (UCLU) have banned the song. “Feminist in LA” blogger Lisa Huyne called it “Robin Thicke’s rape song” :

“Basically, the majority of the song…has the R&B singer murmuring ‘I know you want it’ over and over into a girl’s ear. Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in sexual activity … Seriously, this song is disgusting — though admittedly very catchy.”

Indeed the song’s title “Blurred Lines” is alleged by critics to be a reference to the supposed ‘mixed signals’ for sexual consent- which takes us to the vile argument that a rape victim is to blame for the attack, that they in any way “asked for it” because they were immodestly dressed or that they behaved in any way suggestively.

I am still often astonished when “Blurred Lines” comes on the radio. Despite all that’s been said in the media about this song’s quite ugly nature, it still gets airtime. Do the radio bosses not have ears?

And then I realise. Its us. The listeners. The music buying public that want this song played.I asked a friend who I knew was a fan of the song, what she thought of “Blurred Lines.” I could see she was struggling to find anything wrong with it. She claims to never have heard any offensive or sexist lyrics. As a fan of both the song and of Robin Thicke she actually defended it by saying “oh its just a song”. I could tell she thought I was taking life all too seriously.

So it seems we simply accept this song, with its catchy melody, its funky “everybody get up” and lets not forget “hey hey hey” and choose to ignore that some victim of domestic or sexual violence somewhere quite possibly had “I know you want it” whispered into their ear before they were attacked.

We have turned a blind eye (or indeed deaf ear) to these offensive and potentially dangerous lyrics simply because we like its melody. Radio bosses keep these awful words “I know you want it” on our airwaves because we want them there. We accept them, but worse still, choose not to hear the message behind them simply because we like the song.

I want to be like Michael Schumacher

On December 29th last year, F1 racing legend Michael Schumacher was skiing off-piste in France when he fell and hit his head. Despite wearing a helmet, Schumacher suffered traumatic brain injury and remains in an induced coma today. There is so far no evidence to show that he was skiing dangerously. Today’s blog post and in particular its headline is not to make light of Michael Schumacher’s accident but to highlight the positive role model he has become to many throughout his racing career.

Growing up, my brother was a huge fan of Schumacher so I have always known him to be a real legend.  According to the official Formula One website, he is “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”. I started to dig around and learnt that Schumacher’s is a  real rags- to- riches story. Starting out with pedal kart racing at the age of six, his father had to take a second job to support his son’s racing. By the time Michael was in his early teens, he had won both the German and European Junior Kart Championships. Though his racing was not without incident and some controversy, he went onto become an F1 driver, and was soon making history and breaking records with his driving achievements.

I heard the news of Schumacher’s skiing accident while I was sat at home, on my couch, probably eating mince pies or chocolate- it was the Christmas holiday period after all. And it really struck me:  to spend his holidays eating his body weight in chocolate like the rest of us just wouldn’t cut it. Like so many sports personalities and generally active people, Michael Schumacher spent his holidays on the slopes. (Its just a shame that it took a tragic accident to make me notice him.)

Schumacher's family have asked for privacy amidst rumours of his ongoing condition

Schumacher’s family have asked for privacy amidst rumours of his ongoing condition

As celebrity status has recently become so devalued, with reality TV shows like the Kardashians or Big Brother making people famous for simply being on TV and nothing more, its refreshing to look to the spotlight and see someone who has built his life on hard work and dedication.

And with January being a time of soul searching and planning for the year ahead, I can’t help but feel inspired by Schumacher’s more healthy, positive example. I’m not going to jump on a plane and go skiing, but I have started making some changes to my routine- like getting to that pilates class, walking instead of driving to places. And with my career, I feel encouraged to step out a bit more and take chances, be more decisive. And its nice to have the example of someone else who’s been there to focus on as I make my way through 2014- that’s what role models are for after all.

So yes, I can honestly say I want to be more like Michael Schumacher. And in the meantime I wish him a speedy recovery and wish his family well during this difficult time.  I’m sure they will be comforted to know that his life’s work and example has made a positive impact- and will be part of his lasting legacy.

Who inspires you? Can you identify a celebrity or someone else in the public eye who has really made you think about making positive changes in your life?

Keeping up with the Kardashian appeal

Now I enjoy a bit of car-crash TV just as much as the next person. One of my guilty TV pleasures is Fashion Police on E! and I am not ashamed to admit it!  But the Kardashian reality TV shows I cannot get on-board with, and I have tried. The swearing, the whining, it all just comes across as crass and childish to me. But clearly not to the millions of global viewers that have made this family a reality-TV hit. Furthermore, I am increasingly hearing other British Asian women talk about them with interest. And this got me wondering: what is their appeal? Why are a growing number of us tuning in to watch them?

We all know that celebrity culture has a huge draw in this day and age. Lady Gaga continues to have the biggest Twitter following with over 33 million followers, outranking politicians, sports personalities or any bigger thinkers of today. (Incidentally, Kim Kardashian is number ten in the list of most followed on Twitter, with over 17 million followers).

At the core of the Kardashian shows is family. From “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” to “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami”, the drama focuses on the relationships between sisters, parents, husbands, children, step parents and step siblings. And isn’t family at the core of Asian life too? Could this be the allure of this clan, and perhaps why some of my Asian girlfriends watch their shows and love them?

Family is a very big deal to us Asians. Unlike some of our Western counterparts, we don’t just see our brothers and sisters on special occasions like Christmas and birthdays; they are a part of our daily lives, as are our parents and a large part of our extended families. I think its fair to say that our families shape our identities too, and certainly our choices- think of the weight of expectation many of us had to consider when choosing a marriage partner or even what subject to study at university.In that respect, family can become suffocating- when we are not free to make our own choices but have to consider what every uncle, aunty and cousin will think of us. Boundaries are very important in every relationship and no more so with family where we often try hard to please parents and meet their expectations. My husband and I have worked very hard to establish comfortable boundaries with both sets of in-laws and this hasn’t been easy at times. But it’s worth working at, and in my opinion vital to maintaining good relationships. Even through the ups and downs, my family- both immediate and extended, are one of my biggest treasures in my life.  Like the Kardashians, we might not always get along, but what would life be like without each other?

For me personally, the strong sense of family that lies at the heart of Asian culture should be celebrated and treasured; these relationships are worth working hard at. If nothing else, I admire the Kardashians for keeping their family relationships central to their lives and their shows are a reminder of the role family can play. As we continue to see a lot of dysfunction and heartache in the modern family, the Kardashians are a tongue-in-cheek reminder of what a fun place family can actually be.

Or, its just good-bad TV and we like their clothes….

What’s funny about Citizen Khan?

I slept through the first episode of Citizen Khan. (10.20pm is about my bedtime.) But waking up to the furore it caused was completely expected.  The Muslim community anywhere in the world, let alone in Britain is not one to be portrayed lightly without hearing about it afterwards.

The biggest problem I had with Citizen Khan was the poor acting, bad direction and corny jokes. To me it was just not funny. Is it racist to British Asian Muslims? Well, yes, but in the same way that Father Ted is racist towards the Irish. Is it a show that will perpetuate negative stereotypes of the British Muslim community? Perhaps; there will most likely be a section of the audience that sadly will think that Citizen Khan is an actual representation of Muslims in this country. But, frankly how gullible would you have to be to actually think that Citizen Khan accurately represents this community? Probably about as gullible as if you thought that all Irish priests are drunkards that go around saying “fek” all the time.

But you cannot disagree that stereotypes come from somewhere. That’s why in most comedies of this nature they are funny, because the characters are recognisable and real. The penny-pinching dad, the house-proud mum and so on. I would argue that if Muslim parents were offended by the scene where the youngest daughter Alia suddenly puts on her hijab and pretends to be reading the Quran, as if this never ever happens, they should check their own teenage daughters; their little angel is probably doing the same!  Could it be that some of the characters and scenarios we saw were a little too close to home?

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why British Muslims were offended by Citizen Khan and why there were so many complaints. The Muslim community is a proud one, and is working hard to overcome the bigotry that has blighted it since 9/11. So I can see that to them, for the BBC to rehash as well as exploit these cultural stereotypes is very disappointing.

But the very fact that a sitcom about this community has hit our screens obviously means that popular British culture and the media has finally claimed them as their own, enough to satirise them. It’s what British comedy does: ‘lovingly’ take the mickey out of the characters and families that make-up multicultural Britain. At least Citizen Khan doesn’t make any reference to terrorism, forced marriages or any of the other negative stories that always seem to be flying around in the news.

Let’s take this show for what it is: a sitcom. It’s not a fly-on-the-wall documentary about British Muslims, it’s not even reality TV. It’s simply doing what British comedy and British humour loves to do: satirise.

Come on British Asians, all of us, whether Muslim or otherwise, we need to take a step back and show our fellow Brits that we don’t take ourselves quite so seriously. If, like me, you choose not to watch the next episode of Citizen Khan simply because it’s not your cup of tea, that’s one thing. But let’s be good-humoured enough to let other people enjoy it. If you are that worried that your English counterparts are going to think this show perpetuates negative stereotypes about you or your community, then show them otherwise. Invite your neighbours round and show them that you don’t stockpile cheap loo-roll or still have the plastic covers on your sofa (you don’t, do you?!) Let’s show them that we as British Asians, are just as normal, just as British- in our own Asian way, as they are.

And if the characters and the humour offends you so much, perhaps, as I said earlier, it’s because its all a  little too close to the bone. In which case perhaps its time to do some soul-searching. (Or at least find out what your teenage daughter is really up to…)