And today we chat up with lawyer turned actor-writer, Fawzia Mirza and her one woman show, “Me, My Mom and Sharmila Tagore”.
Q. ‘Me, My Mom and Sharmila Tagore’ – You probably get this a lot but why Sharmila Tagore? How does she tie your story together?
One of my favorite Indian movie love songs of all time growing up was “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani”, from the film “Aradhana”. That song for years, to me, epitomized love, romance and finding your soulmate. The film starred Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore. Sharmila Tagore was a groundbreaking actress of her time and, well, in some ways reminds me of my mother.
Q. You have Pakistani roots – made your way from Canada – through Indiana – to Chicago – are a lawyer – and an actress – who identifies as Queer….Phew! Tell us a bit about how you went through the process of transforming your personal journey into a solo performance? When was your “Damn, I’m hella interesting” moment that got you putting this together?
I think we’re all ‘hella interesting’! One of the beauties of meeting someone new is what we can learn from them. And there are many experiences we share, but the WAY we experience them can be so unique. We do not tire of watching or listening to or understanding the human experience. As far as my story, I felt that I never saw anyone who looked like me, who shared my identities, on stage. We need more South Asian voices, more Muslim voices, more queer voices out there.
Q. Being Queer, Muslim and a Woman in India probably means you struck the Minority jackpot! How do you think stereotypes about gender and ethnicity weigh up against those of sexuality? Does your performance speak to how blurred they are or does it tease them apart?
I think my jackpot is full of misunderstood identities! I think people often want to stereotype you regardless of your identity, whether it be ethnic, gender or orientation. Sure, some people may find it easier to see ethnic or gender stereotyping because they can visually “see” these identities, whereas they may not “see” orientation in the same way. But, ultimately, I think the show is about relating to the character, regardless of these identities, relating even if you are not Muslim or queer or a woman.
Q. We’re curious… Practically – what’s it like doing a One Woman Show where you are the cynosure of all eyes on the stage, all of the time? …like, when do you drink water?
Doing a one person show can be both terrifying and exhilarating. It’s just you, but then…it’s just you. Everyone is watching your every move, but they are also connecting to you. It’s kind of just like telling a long story…to a room full of people. And I built the water in as a prop. So if I need it, it’s conveniently in my bag. 🙂
Q. There’s an odd but striking resonance between Bollywood and the Queer community. How, if at all, does Cinema influence your storytelling?
Indian movies were a great influence on me and what I thought of love and romance. And meeting one of the great Indian actresses of all time, Sharmila Tagore, is the backdrop for why I am telling this story in the play in the first place.
Q. Can you share with us a couple of the reactions you have gotten to ‘Me, My Mom and Sharmila Tagore’ ?
After watching the show, one woman said she was glad to know she wasn’t alone in this world. Others have commented on how much they relate to the relationship between mother and child. I heard someone say she wanted to bring her mother to see the show. Everything thus far has been really positive and inspiring and I can’t wait to perform the show again during a 3 week theatrical run in Chicago in July.
- “Handsome Indian Man sings about his search for the queen of his dreams, the love of his life, as they drive through the ominously beautiful Kashmiri mountains. Suddenly, a train appears, snaking its way across the majestic plain. The jeep drives alongside. Handsome Indian Man looks in the window of the train car and spies our Heroine, a flawless beauty, played by Sharmila Tagore. She looks up. Their brown eyes lock. Instant Romance. When I first heard this song as a kid, I was obsessed. I COULDN’T WAIT to be found, to be like Sharmila, to be someone’s Queen. “
- “I sat on the couch, watching every other girl dance. I wanted to dance. I had never danced like that. But I desperately wanted to, because if you danced with a boy, or made out with a boy, it meant you were pretty. And I wanted to be pretty. I wanted to be someone’s Queen.”
- “God, my mom really loved Sharmila. After she saw this movie, she started emulating Sharmila: dressing like her, doing her hair like her, even doing her eyes charcoal black like Sharmila’s.”
- “I remember sitting on my mother’s bed, watching her in the mirror as she adorned herself for a party, like a queen. She’d delicately slip long, solid gold chandelier earrings into each ear. She’d place necklaces around her neck that cascaded down her chest. She’d slip three or four or more gold, ruby & diamond rings on her fingers. She’d even wear a crown. Ok, not really. It was a hair piece. But she’d place it on the crown of her head, pin it perfectly and then Aquanet the shit out of it. My mother was so beautiful. Like Sharmila Tagore beautiful.”