Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
Similar to how Hulu’s Ramy and Netflix’s Never Have I Ever have shined a comedic light on the second-generation Muslim and Hindu experience respectively, the British comedy We Are Lady Parts is here to present a fresh new take to the expanding genre – but with a musical twist.
The story centers around 26-year-old Amina Hussain (played by Anjana Vasan), a focused microbiology student who’s simultaneously hellbent on locking down her future husband. Her Muslim immigrant parents have ideas on who this person should be, but Amina’s cut from a different cloth. She’d be perfectly happy marrying 75-year-old singer Don McLean (of American Pie fame) if she could, per the poster of him hanging in her closet.
Then there’s the fact that Amina is a gifted guitar player resigned only to teaching kids since she suffers from paralyzing stage fright and “a nervy disposition” that “induces diarrhea and vomiting.” She has essentially taken a hard pass at the whole audience thing since puking mid-performance in grade school.
But the lead singer of the all-female punk band Lady Parts, Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), is undeterred in her pursuit of Amina – and wants her in the band regardless of her shaky constitution. So much so that Saira and the other bandmates stay hot on Amina’s trail since they’re in dire straits and “super sleuth” her Twitter account to find out she’ll be appearing with her students at a fundraiser for Syrian children. After Amina is forced to step in, her brilliant performance ends up with her throwing up in the donation bucket. But that only leads to further deliberations and Amina’s inevitable arrival as the newest band member of Lady Parts.
Throughout it all, Vasan is infinitely fun to watch as Amina. The tension between what she wants and what she thinks she should do is palpable for a character torn between traditional values and modern desires. Vasan straddles this fine line rather entertainingly; these conflicting notions are especially present in a scene where Amina recommends more wholesome song lyrics at band practice for the Lady Parts’ song “Voldemort Under My Head Scarf.” Amina suggests renaming the song to: “I Love to Wear My Head Scarf,” which as she puts it, would add: “Less grrrrr, more yay.” Let’s just say it does not go over well with Lady Parts’ drummer and song author, Ayesha (Juliette Motamed), who has just a few things to say about it.
Other endearing moments for Vasan as Amina include her desperation to turn Ahsan (Zaqi Ismail), brother of Ayesha, into future husband material at an awkward lunch that gets played to comical ends. It all ends in a rather uncomfortable handshake from a botched hug. Ouch.
Though Vasan’s character is perpetually in her headscarf, it’s only when her character lets her hair down in this role when her darting eyes, dreams and double life as a drummer and Muslim “good girl” take this character to even greater heights. It’s all drawn up with skill by show creator Nida Manzoor and reminds us that nothing is cut and dry when it comes to honoring who you are, especially when it comes to embracing your individuality and God-given gifts.
Like any well-written series, We Are Lady Parts benefits from not just Vasan’s performance but the sum of its parts. To that end, it’s an entertaining ensemble that deserves an encore. Given its 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing), a season two seems inevitable.
The 26-year-old Vasan was born in Chennai, India, and moved to Singapore when she was four – where theater almost immediately became part of her daily existence. She eventually moved to London and attended the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, where she performed in many theater productions, eventually going on to gain prominence for her stage work in plays such Rutherford and Son (National Theatre) and A Doll’s House (Lyric Hammersmith), which earned her an Evening Standard Theatre Award Best Actress nomination (2019), though she didn’t win.
Upon graduating with an M.A. in Acting in 2012, Vasan had already nailed her first acting role in the Channel 4 TV series Fresh Meat (2011). Over the years, Vasan would go on to appear in other series such as Netflix’s Black Mirror (2016) and did a five-episode arc in the comedy series Hang-Ups (2018), starring Stephen Mangan amongst other notable roles. Worth noting: Vasan had a pretty busy year in 2019, where she was seen in Netflix’s Sex Education, Brexit: The Uncivil War, Temple and Spider-Man: Far From Home, where she played a reporter.
In related news, Vasan is also a professional singer, who released her first album in 2017, a fact that no doubt played into her pursuit (and procuring) of the role of Amina. Interestingly enough, Lady Parts was produced as a 14-minute short back in 2018 starring Vasan (and others who eventually reprised their roles in the series) – in what eventually helped show proof of concept.
To how she landed in the role of Amina in the series, in this interview with Buzzfeed, Vasan gave an insightful glimpse into her thinking while submitting for the role of Amina: Anjana: It’s strange because I’m usually in the casting room thinking, I’m never gonna get this – I guess that actor’s cynicism is always there. But I really resonated with the part, and I just thought there was a potential for Amina to be really funny. I remember doing a tape – I hope these tapes never see the light of day – and there was one component where…I think I did something really ridiculous. I think was eating a flower at one point or something… It was one of those things where you had to let loose and I was like, how do I do this in a way that feels [like] Amina’s version of rocking out? Actually, that was the most difficult part of the casting.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.