This Toronto love story has Farah the Jatti yearning for her Jatt

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This blog post has two stories of exceptional Toronto desis.

A snow-woman created to look like a South-Asian bride

This desi snow-woman created by Jassu Kingra, 19, Daljit Warraich, Navi, 15, and Bini, 9, created quite a stir on social media on account of the unorthodox take on Frosty the Snowman. Photo: Jassu Kingra (@jamsbyjassuk)

It’s winter and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has had some snow activity, including one a few weeks ago when Ma Nature dumped several centimetres of white stuff on unsuspecting folks, Remember that one? Creativity is when you take the raw ingredients nature throws at you and you turn it into a viral work of art.

Everyone, meet, Farah the Jatti aka Saddi Juliet, snowwoman extraordinaire.

Rotund Saddi Juliet was decked in wedding finery. She wore an eye-catching crimson dupatta, accessorized with heavy gold (fake, obviously) jewelry, including a necklace, earrings, and maang (forehead) tikka and even fake eyelashes.

Her creators? A couple of enterprising Brampton teens– Jassu Kingra, 19, Daljit Warraich Navi, 15, and Bini, 9.

It was Daljit’s first winter in Canada. She wanted to stack the packed snow into a winter-tradition—a snowman so that she could show off to her relatives in India. Except, the empowered girls decided Frosty the Snowman was passé.

There’s a hint of mystery to the whole exercise that will only likely be revealed when Brampton gets another substantial showering of snow (at least enough to build, I presume a desi “Jatti” a male counterpart). We can’t wait.

The desi snow-woman literally broke Twitter (84,000 tweeps “liked” her and hundreds of others showed love on Instagram and Reddit).

Art is art, even when it’s fleeting.

Here’s to the girls who warmed the hearts of everyone with their cool creation.

                                              ****

A Mother’s Love: This cookbook has South Asian recipes with a flavourful twist

Jasmine Dayal, Toronto lawyer and cookbook author

Jasmine Dayal, a Toronto lawyer’s recently published a cookbook, JD In the Kitchen: Indian Appetizers and Chutneys features several South Asian recipes with East African flavours.
Photo submitted by Jasmine Dayal

Jasmine Dayal, I imagine, is always happy to swap the black robes—she wears to court as a lawyer— for an apron.

In her book, JD In the Kitchen: Indian Appetizers and Chutneys, released some months ago, Jasmine shares Indian appetizers with East African influences.

There are several familiar and some unfamiliar starters and entrees such as samosas, spicy crepes, beet and arvi bhajias, and others.

“As an experienced home cook, I have always loved collaborating in the kitchen with my mother, Shan,” Jasmine admits. “My mother is a creative and inspiring cook
and I learned my way around the kitchen by looking over her shoulder. It was a no-brainer to join forces with her to produce my first cookbook that reveals many of our family recipes. I cannot wait for everyone to get a taste of all the flavourful and delectable meals I grew up eating.”

Jasmine is also the founder of a lifestyle website JD in the Kitchen. Here you can check out recipes, learn about the spices that make Indian cooking bold and flavourful, and browse through an online store where you can buy her three books, yes, she has three of them, and some of the fresh spices she uses in her recipes.

A photo of skewer of kababs.

Jasmine Dayal’s cookbook: JD In the Kitchen: Indian Appetizers and Chutneys, features several appetizers and starters with East African flavours. These skewers of Ismaili Bhajia made with chickpea flour, potatoes, and other spices are a true definition of comfort food. Photo supplied by Jasmine Dayal.

JD in the Kitchen: Indian Appetizers and Chutneys, is a slim 81-page cookbook with recipes that are not elaborate. They are ideal for both novices as well as aspiring cooks.

Jasmine started JD In the Kitchen website, as a portal to shares her love for cooking. Despite juggling a hectic schedule, it appears Jasmine carves time to make meals for her family. What’s more, she’s generous enough to share the recipes.

Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Jasmine’s career as an articling student started in 2005 at Fireman Wolfe LLP. She became an associate at the same firm and is now a partner in the firm that now carries her name – Jasmine Daya & Co., Impressive no?

JD In the Kitchen: Indian Appetizers and Chutneys is now available on Amazon and on her website.

A bowl of green chutney

This green chutney prepared with cilantro and green chilies is a perfect dance partner to almost all appetizers. Toronto lawyer, mom, and cooking enthusiast Jasmine Dayal creates several recipes in her just-published cookbook, JD In the Kitchen: Indian Appetizers and Chutneys. Photo supplied by Jasmine Dayal.

Here’s the recipe for the Ismaili Bhajia (featured above)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup gram flour (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (coriander leaves)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2-3 teaspoons of green chili puree
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch round slices
  • Oil for deep frying

Method

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the potatoes and oil to create a smooth batter.
  2. In a frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Note: There should be enough oil for the potato slice to sink to the bottom and become submerged.
  3. Take one potato slice at a time, dip it into the chickpea batter, coat well and then place it gently into the oil. Cook for about a minute and then flip it to cook the other side.
  4. Remove, place the Bhajia on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
  5. Enjoy it with green chutney (recipe in Jasmine’s book).
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June is when all music moves outdoors and Toronto desis finally ditch their toques

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Haviah Mighty performing

The 2018 MonsterWorldMashup is a two-day festival of music, comedy, and art happening in Brampton June 1-2. Hip-Hop artist Haviah Mighty is one of the performers at the concert taking place June 2 at the Garden Square in Brampton.

Friday, June 1-2

Event: MonsterWorld Mashup

Details: The folks that bring the #Bollywood Monster Mashup each year are offering a two-day festival of music, art, spoken word and more in Brampton. The MonsterWorld Mashup runs Friday, June 1, an exclusive ticketed event will feature series of comedy acts, an art show and yes, a secret concert. The action takes place at The Den, Sheridan College, Davis Campus, 7899 McLaughlin Rd. Brampton at 6 p.m.

Saturday, June 2 has the heavyweights such as Movin’ Cool, Stay Out Late, Los Poetas and HANHAN performing on stage at the Garden Square (outside Rose Theatre) at 5 p.m.

“We’re presenting unique acts who represent the changing voices and faces of the GTA,” says Vikas Kohli, executive director, MonstrARTity. “The June 1 launch party will be a unique experience for the audience with Brampton’s first-ever sofar secret concert and side-splitting comedy acts with comedians like Amish Patel, Keesha Brownie, Nitish Sakhuja, Crystal Ferrier, Chris Robinson and Paul Thompson. Most of all, it will be a great time, so join us.”

Contact: MonsterWorldMashup

Saturday, June 2

Event: desiFEST

Details: Now in its 12th year, desiFEST is a free event and is the largest South Asian Music Concert, taking place on Saturday, June 2 at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Contact: 2018 desiFest

Event: Vande Janani (A Tribute to Motherhood)

Details: Keralite Art Lovers Association (KALA) is hosting this dance concert by Divya Unni at the Erindale Secondary School, 2021 Dundas St. W. at 5:30 p.m.
Contact: Keralite Art Lovers Association

Saturday, June 9

Event: EID bazaar

Details: PGA International will be putting together its annual Eid Bazaar June 9 – 14 at the Swagat Banquet Hall, 6991 Millcreek Dr. Mississauga from 1 p.m. to midnight.
Contact: PGA’s EID bazaar

Thursday, June 14

Event: Through Her Lens

Details: A photo exhibit celebrating women of colour will take place at the Chinguacousy Library and Civic Centre, 150 Central Park Dr. in Brampton at 8:30 p.m.
Contact: Through Her Lens

Sunday, June 17

Event: SOCH workshop on coping with anxiety

Details: Supporting Our Community Health (SOCH), an organization host a series of mental health workshops, Sunday, June 17, at Chinguacousy Library and Civic Centre, 150 Central Park Dr. in Brampton from 1 to 3 p.m.

The idea is to increase awareness and education about anxiety and how it can be treated. These interactive workshops will take place in both English and Punjabi.

Contact: Supporting Our Community Health (SOCH) 

Tuesday, June 26

Event: Speed Dating

Details: This Mississauga speed-dating event for South Asians will take place 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Port House Social Bar & Kitchen, 139 Lakeshore Rd. E. Mississauga, ON L5G 1E5.
Contact: Mississauga Speed Dating

Event: Toronto Curry Awards

Details: Pukaar News UK will be hosting the first-ever Toronto Curry Awards from 6 p.m. until midnight at the Holiday Inn Toronto International Airport, 970 Dixon Rd., Toronto, ON M9W 1J9.
The awards will celebrate this rich heritage of curries to highlight the finest examples of South Asian cuisine and praising the restaurateurs dedicated to serving up our beloved curries.
Contact: Toronto Curry Awards

10 things you should know about the 2018 International Film Festival of South Asia (IIFSA) Toronto, May 10-21

A booklet featuring IFFSA Toronto schedule
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The 2018 IIFSA Toronto taking place has a mix of commercial as well as arthouse films.

This year’s festival will include some 150 films in 15 languages, 50+ events across the 7 cities in the GTA over 12 days. Whew! That’s something.

Did you know?

Sunny Gill, the founder/president of International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) Toronto was not an avid fan of films or music until five years ago?

Fate—and opportunity—threw Gill into taking on the helm at what he says is “one of the biggest film festivals in North America and the “voice of South Asians in Toronto.”

“I have always considered myself as a non-filmi person,” said Gill, an engineer/MBA professional. “I had not attended any film festival anywhere when we launched the IIFSA. So, when drew the blueprint, we did it from an audience perspective, but over the years now, we have learned that festivals are not just about a song and dance but they have to give certain values to the stakeholders and so that’s why we have the ‘seriousness’ of a festival.”

Here’s a curated list of 10 things from the 2018 IFSSA that will likely appeal to the desi audience here in the GTA

    1. Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, The Lunchbox) starrer the Song of Scorpions will have its North American premiere in Toronto. The film also stars Waheeda Rahman (Guide, Pyaasa, and others) as well as Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Patterson). The film directed by Anup Singh will make its North American premiere at IIFSA Toronto. Screening happening on Thursday, May 10, at Cineplex Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas, 20 Biscayne Ave. Brampton at 6:30 p.m.
      Film poster of the movie The Song of Scorpions showing the faces of a man and a woman across a dessert.

      Anup Singh directed film starring Irrfan Khan, Waheeda Rahman and Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani will have its North American premiere at the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) Toronto, May 10 at the Cineplex Orion Odeon Cinemas at 6:30 p.m.

    2. A Letter to the President: Screening on Saturday, May 12 at the Cineplex Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas at 1 p.m. is Soraya’s story. She’s a low-ranking government official, is imprisoned when she defends a woman from village lords. She writes a letter to the Afghan president asking for help from behind bars.
      A silhouette of a woman in profile

      Afghani film A Letter to the President by Roya Sadat will have its North Amerian premiere at the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) Toronto May 12 at the Cineplex Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas at 1 p.m.

    3. The Hungry: Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra play central roles in this film that follows Tulsi Joshi, a single mother and bride-to-be who comes to her own wedding seeking revenge for the brutal murder of her first-born son. The film is “a macabre fairytale set in the elite circles of north India.” It runs May 12 at 3 p.m. at Cineplex Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas.
      A woman wearing a blue veil

      Naseeruddin and Tisca Chopra star in this thought-provoking film screening as part of the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA)Toronto May 12 at 3 p.m. at Cineplex Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas.

    4. Ajji: Sushma Deshpande, Sharvani Suryavanshi, and others are part of this acclaimed film by Devashish Makhija. Screens, Saturday, May 12 at 5 p.m. at Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas.
      A painting of a woman or mother staring sadly

      This acclaimed film by Devashish Makhija. Screens during the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA), Saturday, May 12 at 5 p.m. at Odeon Orion Gates Cinemas.

Events, masterclass, and workshops

  1. Masterclass: Anurag Kashyap (Dev D, Bombay Velvet) and Hansal Mehta (Shahid, Simran, Omerta) two renowned filmmakers are hosting a masterclass at the Courtyard Mariott Brampton, 90 Biscayne Ave. Tickets cost $50/person
  2. Director’s Workshop: Anup Singh will lead this workshop aimed at young filmmakers taking place at the Courtyard Mariott Brampton, 90 Biscayne Ave. at 10 p.m. on Sunday, May 13.
  3. Fest in the Park: A lively outdoor concert happening at the Sheridan College, Davis Campus, May 19 at 3 p.m.
    A young Sikh boy wearing a turban has his face painted.

    The International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) Toronto will host a Fest in the Park, an outdoor concert at the Sheridan College, Davis Campus, May 19 at 3 p.m.

  4. Sounds of South Asia Concert will kick off at the Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. in Brampton at 5:30 p.m. on May 21 with a live concert by Bilal Saeed, a Pakistani singer/songwriter
  5. There are several after-parties in and around Brampton. Check out the IFFSA Toronto Schedule
  6. The IFFSA Toronto Gala is happening at Mississauga Convention Centre,
    75 Derry Road West, Mississauga, Ont. On Friday, May 11 (invitation only).
A booklet featuring IFFSA Toronto schedule

IFFSA Toronto runs May 10 to 21 across the GTA and celebrates more than 150 films in 15 languages.

For schedules, venues and ticket prices, visit the IFFSA Toronto website.

YouTwoTV creators on cloud 9 as channel hits 1 million subscribers

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YouTwoTV's Jaz and Harjit pose in a goofy shot.

YouTwoTV creators Harjit (top) and Jaz have a million reasons to celebrate. The talented and funny YouTube creators have more than 1 million subscribers to their channel. Photo by YouTwoTV.

It’s Toronto Desi Diaries’ 100th blog and it’s fitting we commemorate our centennial blog post with two high-flying, super famous YouTubers—Jaz Saini and Harjit Bhandal (drumroll, please).

These YouTwoTV creators, it so happens, have a million reasons to rejoice. Their channel, launched two years ago, recently blew past 1 million subscribers. Wow! Congrats guys. Not surprising then that Jaz and Harjit’s careers have taken off like Elon Musk’s rocket launches.

“We’re really lucky that we have each other,” said Jaz. “I am grateful that I don’t have to do this alone. It’s a lot of work, it’s not easy, but it’s so worth it…”

The talented duo has fashioned a neat niche in the highly competitive YouTube space, a commendable feat, considering how many wannabes are jostling for attention in the crammed social-media platform.

No wonder then their fans break the Internet every time they drop a new video (weekly).

How’s it that these two desis from Toronto (Brampton) are able to deliver hit after hit? Their video, Back to School: Types of Students boasts 33 million views. Ditto, Types of girlfriends guys hate. Their lifetime YouTube views so far? 265.7 million. These numbers are jaw-dropping.

So, what’s the secret sauce?

It’s easy. Jaz and Harjit are a couple and the camera captures their sizzling chemistry, easy camaraderie, mutual affection and respect. Now to add to this potent mix some witty banter, a topic every individual between 18 to 34 years can relate to, voila! You have an award-winning team.

I met the superstars during their “giddy with success” phase. They had just won the iHeartRadio MMVA “Fan Fave Much Creator” award; had their names and faces splashed across various media platforms and were being courted as brand ambassadors for several well-known companies.

And yet, they were humble and untouched by the noise. It was so easy to love these two.

“I still feel like we’re just regular people, just living our dreams,” Jazz says. “It is a little hard having your whole life on the internet and people commenting about every little thing you do. We’re lucky to have a really awesome family of viewers that support what we do. It’s cool knowing what we’re doing is impacting all of these people.”

Harjit: “I feel like nothing really has changed, my views and the way I handle things are relatively the same.”

Papa kahte hai…

Initially, both their families did not understand how the whole YouTube phenomenon could be a viable career. Jaz had a diploma in marketing and her parents wanted her to opt for a 9 to 5 job, one that came with a consistent paycheck.

“There was no way to talk to them about it, but show them,” Jaz said. “When we launched our YouTwoTV, we never told our parents and cousins that this could blow up, instead we decided we would tell them of our success through articles in the newspaper, interviews on TV…”

Harjit’s parents too were clueless and questioned his decision.

“It makes sense our parents wanted us to be successful and not go through the struggles they did when they immigrated to Canada,” he said. “I think they became comfortable when they saw us becoming successful.”

Winning the coveted iHeartRadio MMVA was a turning point for these two Bramptonians whose talents came into sharp focus in the mainstream media. It was surreal.

“I see ourselves in L.A, in TV shows and movies,” Harjit said when asked about the path ahead. “We have big dreams and it’s not about ‘what-if-we-fail’ instead, we’re always thinking of what we can do next to make it even bigger.”

The pit of despair:

Last year, Jaz filmed a video, “Dear Mom” in which she talked about her mother’s struggle with depression and her death by suicide. It was a raw and poignant conversation that underscores the fragile mother-daughter relationship, the unanswered questions, the pregnant pauses and the shadow of darkness.

Jaz, like her mother, lives with a depression and is struggling to find answers about the darkness that occasionally envelopes her.

The video ( below) is a brave voice of a woman who in telling her story has made it easy for others in the South Asian community to do so.

Here’s a conversation Toronto Desi Diaries had with the YouTwoTV couple.

TDD: YouTwoTV has crossed the 1-million subscriber mark, how does this make you feel?

Jazz: It’s actually so surreal that in less than two years, we’ve somehow managed to convince 1 million people that we’re entertaining. It feels awesome to know that our hard work is paying off!

TDD: How many videos do you post per week and what’s the creative process? Do you write down the sketches, dialogues, decide location…?

Harjit: We make one video a week on YouTube and try to make 2 to 3 small skits on Instagram a week.

Jazz: As for the creative process, it’s different every week, sometimes we have an idea in our head and we spend a full day scripting and two days filming.

Harjit: Sometimes, we have no idea and spend 2-3 days thinking of a topic and have to cram filming into one day.

Jazz: We take an approach to every video differently, which keeps us on our toes.

TDD: “YouTube Stardom” is a millennial/ “Gen Z concept, how did your parents reconcile that neither of you were going to end up in a conventional profession?

Jazz: I’ve always been super independent and have done things differently than anyone else in my family, or just in the Indian culture and what my parents were used to. My Dad wasn’t really surprised when I went this route, he trusted that I knew what I was doing, but kept his distance and watched from afar.

Harjit: Up until last year, my parents were still telling me to “get a real job.” It wasn’t until I started getting awards and I was in the news that they finally supported my dreams. Now they know how many subscribers we’re at before I even do!

TDD: What topics do you avoid when it comes to the content you produce?

Jazz: We try not to limit ourselves or even censor ourselves. I feel like people can tell when you’re not being genuine or when you’re trying to be someone you’re not. We try to avoid just being fake or even copying someone else’s work. It’s hard to be original with so much content out there, but we try and make sure we’re giving something fresh and new to our viewers every week.

Harjit: That’s the most important thing to us (being ourselves), and we definitely try not to offend anyone, ha,ha.

TDD: Anything in your childhood prepared you for facing the camera so effortlessly?

Jazz: – Nothing at all

Harjit: We don’t belong here, haha!

TDD: Were you a couple when you started the show? Or did love saunter in slowly?

Jazz: –We were already madly in love before we started YouTwoTV.

TDD: Which one of your videos is closest to your heart, and why?

Jazz: “Dear Mom” is a video that we made a few months ago, it’s different than anything we’ve ever done and talks about my relationship with depression and suicide and it was the first time I’ve ever publicly spoken about how my mom passed away.

Harjit: “Dear Mom” lies really close to my heart as well for pretty obvious reasons. I’ve never really seen Jaz let herself be that vulnerable and we focused so much on the videography in that video.

TDD: Who are your role models and why?

Jazz: Harjit! He’s one of the most positive and hardworking individual I know. I’m really lucky to have found him.

Harjit: Besides Jaz, Eminem and Shah Rukh Khan are definitely my biggest role models.

Jaz and Harjit pose in front of a wall.

Super funny and super talented duo Jaz(left) and Harjit of YouTwoTV are enjoying taste of success with one million subscribers. Photo courtesy YouTwoTV.

Merry Christmas, Toronto

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Toronto Desi Diaries wishes everyone a Merry Christmas.

Christmas

Sunday, Dec. 10

Event: SOCH workshop
Details: Supporting Our Community’s Health (SOCH), will be hosting a series of mental health workshops, to increase awareness and education about what depression is and how it can be treated. These interactive workshops will take place in both English and Punjabi at the Chinguacousy Branch Library, 150 Central Park Dr. at 1:30. On the agenda: Kundalini Yoga for Depression by Harvir Grewal.
Contact: Here

Event: SACHHS Gala
Details: South Asian Canadians Health & Social Services (SACHSS), a registered not- for-profit charity offering services that include mental health, addiction, stress management, anger management and more is hosting a fundraising gala at Natraj Banquet Hall, 7275 Torbram Rd., Mississauga at 5 p.m. Dr. Hamid Slimi is the guest speaker.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Dec. 16

Event: Swayamvar Toronto
Details: Desi Dreamz is hosting its singles event for South Asians between 26 to 47 years. The event will take place at Novotel Toronto, 3670 Hurontario St., Mississauga from3 p.m. onward.
Contact: Here

Friday, Dec. 22

Event: Disney on Ice
Details: Enjoy the magic of winter with family at Disney On Ice with Reach For The Stars, a brand new show featuring a host of beloved Disney characters and stories. The shows run until Jan. 1 at Toronto Theatre, 1 Blue Jays Way.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Dec. 31

Event: New Year’s Eve
Details: PGA International will be hosting its annual New Year’s bash at Moonlight Convention Centre, 6835 Professional Crt., Mississauga. Festivities start at 7:30 p.m. and will continue until 2:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Bollywood Hungama
Details: Bollywood Tunes and Kalpesh Patel are hosting NYE 2018 at Chandani Convention Centre, 5 Gateway Blvd. Brampton from 6:30 p.m. onward.
Contact: Here

 

Autumn in Toronto: when leaves are flowers and events are all just as mellow

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fall colours

This file photo by the late Fred Loek, Metroland photographer, captures the surreal beauty of autumn at Erindale Park in Mississauga.

Saturday, Nov. 4

Event: Tribute to Mohammad. Rafi
Details: Mehboob Shaikh will recreate the dulcet tones of one of India’s greatest musicians – Mohammad Rafi. The concert is taking place at Port Credit Secondary School Theatre, 70 Mineola Rd. E. from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Meri Awaz hi pehchan hai
Details: It’s the audition for Mere sung gaa’s 2nd season, Bollywood karaoke singing. Bring your voice and energy to Rehearsal Factory, 1611 Finfar Crt. in Mississauga at noon.
Contact: Here

Event: Flower City Bhangra
Details: Saath Foundation is presenting Canada’s first-ever live-only Bhangra Competition at Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. Brampton at 11 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 18

Event: Grand finale of Meri Awaaz
Details: The final showing of talent of the Mere Sung Gaa is happening at the Chinguacousy Secondary School, 1370 Williams Pkwy. at 5:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Thursday, Nov. 23

Event: Passage to Bollywood
Details: A Passage to Bollywood is a vibrant show with foot-tapping music, colourful costumes and a gripping plot. Show happening at the Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. at 8 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 25

Event: Parampara
Details: Toronto Tabla Ensemble is presenting a concert, Parampara at the Harbourfront Theatre Centre, 235 Queens Quay, Toronto at 7 p.m. The tabla concert will feature Sare Nau, a composition in a 9 1/2 beat rhythmic cycle, Bhumika (birthplace or grounding) and other select pieces from Ritesh Das’ upcoming TTE CD, Bhumika.
Contact: Here

Events: Swayamvar 2017
Details: Desi events is hosting a singles event for South Asians between the ages of 26 to 47 at the Novotel Toronto, 3670 Hurontario St. Mississauga at 1 p.m. There’s a similar Swayamvar happening Dec. 23 as well.
Contact: Here

Toronto filmmaker salutes sisterhood in Anarkali

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This is part one of a two-part blog series.

Anarkali

The cast and crew of hit web series Anarkali

Off the bat, I can guarantee one thing.

Watching one episode of the hugely successful web series Anarkali won’t do it. You’ll likely end up binge watching the entire two seasons.

The show will also stir a longing for your squad (if you’re caught in motherhood/career and your teenage years are a hazy blur).

The web-series created by the immensely talented Rakhi Mutta and edited by an equally competent Kiran Rai (lead actor/Anarkali) presents a vignette of a young desi woman’s life in North America. It’s told with humour, sensitivity, drama and melodrama.

The YouTube series is about  a devastated Anarkali (Kiran) who gets dumped by her fiancée Prince (Gavan Anand). The slow unraveling of her life and identity post-breakup, is the premise of the show.

So far, Anarkali has become an Internet hit in over half-a-dozen countries around the world with some 20,000 YouTube subscribers and 650,000 views.

“A lot of people think Anarkali is the story of South Asian girls dating because of the way it’s branded,” Rakhi said. “For me, it’s much more than that. It’s one woman’s journey to finding more about her self.”

Mainstream and ethnic media, Rakhi said, do not reflect the truth of brown women’s  lives when it comes to dating. This may be the reason Anarkli has wowed audiences world wide.

“I want to tell stories that people in my community, my family and my friends can relate to,” Rakhi said. “Stories that I never witnessed growing up, but I thought were critical.”

A handycam masterpiece

What’s worth underscoring here is that the cast and crew have produced a stellar product on a shoestring budget. Calling it a budget is bit ambitious. I am told, it’s a bartering system (pizza, as form of payment, as well as sustenance) .

Delivering a hit show with slow and clunky hardware and out dated software to me demonstrates class, substance and style. Just like athletes from third-world countries that win gold medals in Olympics wearing ratty shoes, Anarkali connects with the audience through pure storytelling.

“The way I portray certain characters, the lines I use and the conversations I include about stereotypes are all important to me as a woman of colour,” said Rakhi, who not only directs but writes the script. “For instance, in one of the episodes we had Anarkali and her friends dissecting Bollywood. Through that they talked about the feminist thought and what makes a feminist.”

In another scene, Roop’s (Amrit Kaur) boyfriend proposes to her and tells her to quit her job because he wants to take care of her. That gave Rakhi the perfect segue into discussing the independent woman (cough, cough, it’s Rakhi) who wants to make it on her own.

The complexities of desi women growing up in the diaspora are fodder for Rakhi’s pen. Each 10-minute episode tackles parental and societal pressures, boyfriends that come across as unqualified jerks, and a band of super crazy, loyal and fearless friends whose antics are never boring.

Rakhi Mutta, a filmmaker/photographer has been enjoying the spotlight after her web series Anarkali proved to be a huge hit. Photo by Bryon Johnson/The Brampton Guardian

Rakhi Mutta, a filmmaker/photographer has been enjoying the spotlight after the success of her web series Anarkali. Photo by Bryon Johnson/The Brampton Guardian

Three women and a road trip

In Nov. 2014, Rakhi had plans to attend a Sikh feminist conference in Detroit. The organizers asked her to collect two other delegates from Brampton. The two turned out to be: Rupi Kaur and Kiran.

The radio lay silent and as the car ate up the miles, the three women forged a solid camaraderie. Once they returned home, they kept in touch.

Watching Kiran’s mannerism reminded Rakhi about something or rather someone.

“You’re Anarkali!” Rakhi told Kiran one day.

The rest as they say

Rakhi shot the pilot episode of Anarkali in Feb. 2015 and then promptly sat on it for months because she was afraid it would bomb. Then, on Kiran’s insistence, she uploaded the episode to YouTube and waited.

To save face, Rakhi prayed for a minimum of 5,000 hits, but she was taken aback because the views exceeded her initial estimates.

Celebrations turned sour soon. An unscrupulous Facebook user scrubbed the credits from the pilot episode and uploaded the film through his Facebook account and disseminated it. The film spread like wildfire garnering some 32,000 hits, but no one on earth knew who had come up with the brilliant idea and the credit for the film becoming viral went to the thief.

The feminist in me salutes you

Rakhi, 35, created Anarkali when she was 19.

The well-fleshed and complex character was Rakhi’s own creativity at work. She detailed the life of every 20 or 30-something brown woman finding her way. The script caught dust as the filmmaker pursued a career in development.

“When I started travelling (for my development work), I wondered why the media did not tell me about these communities and their struggles,” Rakhi questioned. “Whose history is told? We know history is about ‘his’ story, so what does it say about ‘her’ story or ‘our’ story? The stories that were being told were often about the victor and oppressor, what about the other?”

This line of introspection led Rakhi to learn the nuances of photography. Shout out to her friend Natasha Daniel, who schooled her in the basics. Once she understood the lens, Rakhi found her calling. Her repertoire of works includes: Haneri, a film on mental health, an educational video on honour killings, Silent Struggles, that looks at elder abuse in the Punjabi Community and  of course, the fictional (Anarkali).

You can watch two seasons of the show on YouTube. Shooting for Season 3 will start soon.

Next time, we will profile the show’s heart and soul, Anarkali aka Kiran Rai. Stay tuned.