KARACHI: It was a nice little standup act, excerpted from a stage play, that spoke volumes for the talent of American actor, writer and storyteller Fawzia Mirza during a programme titled ‘The craft of breaking conventions’ at T2F on Tuesday evening.
The performance was from the piece titled ‘Me, my mom and Sharmila Tagore’ which Fawzia delivered with a fair amount of candour, giving away her South Asian background and the traditions that people from that part of the world are inextricably attached to. Her opening few lines carrying the phrase ‘brown standard time’ implying arriving late at an event gave away what was to come.
Coming to the gist of the matter, Ms Mirza talked about an event arranged by the Indian Film Society featuring a conversation with the famous actress Sharmila Togore. Showing her excitement for the gig, she said she liked her ‘big brown eyes’; and for those who didn’t know the actress, she threw in the names of Meryl Streep, Olivia Wilde and Beyonce, saying that Sharmila was “all of them rolled into one”.
It led her to mention the film Aradhna in which the actress played the main character and reminisced about the song ‘Merey sapnon ki raani kab aaey gi tu’, calling it her favourite track of all time.
Fawzia said in the United States people thought of Bollywood as being all about colourful dances but it was “one aspect of South Asian movies”. This made her briefly delve into the history of Bollywood, saying that Aamir Khan was like Tom Cruise.
Reverting to Sharmila Tagore, she said the actress was a film star who started her career in Bengali-language films, and the fact that now her son (Saif), daughter (Soha) and daughter-in-law (Kareena) were also in the field of acting had made Sharmila the “matriarch of a film dynasty”.
She argued that people talked about the beauty of the likes of Madhuri Dixit and Kajol, but ‘no one is as beautiful as Sharmila; there’s something about her eyes, I want to know the secret of her eyes’.
Fawzia then recalled an incident when the India media had criticised Sharmila Tagore for being scantily dressed and the film star had handled the issue wisely.
From that point she segued into the next topic, which was how Fawzia’s mother, when the artist was young, used to advise her on losing weight because she walked like an elephant, so that she became the traditional South Asian girl who could tie her long hair into a bun and smile with her mouth closed.
The final part of Fawzia’s act dealt with a lesson in the way the British colonised the subcontinent and created a ‘skin colour hierarchy’ by bringing the brown (people) down. Subsequently, we colonised ourselves, she concluded, by having an obsession with the white colour as ‘some genius’ came up with the idea of a skin-whitening cream.
The standup act was followed by the screening of short films or sketches Fawzia had made over the years, highlighting problems faced by brown girls. They were satirical in essence confronting issues pertaining to sexuality and stereotypes.
The final segment of the programme was the question and answer session. Replying to a question, Fawzia said the reason she did not practise law, despite having studied it, was her love of acting. Expanding on the play ‘Me, my mom and Sharmila Tagore’, she said it’s a one-person show which spanned more than 60 minutes.
She said we’re affected by the media, by movies, as in life we had our role models and dreams. The play was an attempt at reconciling all those things that diverged and then came back together at some point.
Speaking on the mother-daughter equation, she remarked that it was a relatable relationship and had shaped her. However, when someone asked her about her mother’s opinion of her work since a lot of it revolved around her mother, she said it was a hard question to respond to.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2015