A woman of many shades

A woman of many shades
She is outspoken and spontaneous. She can tickle your funny bone or put you off with her witty one-liners that highlight stereotypical and misogynist attitude towards women. She is out there, making funny faces and cracking jokes. But behind this affectionate disposition is a woman who has struggled, worked hard to create a niche in the mighty and dominating universe of male stand-up comedians. As her web series Shugs & Fats won the ‘Breakthrough Series — Short Form’ at the recently held Gotham Awards in New York , Radhika Vaz elaborated on the not-so-ordinary journey of her life and her working camaraderie with Brooklyn-based writer-performer Nadia Manzoor, who is of Pakistani origin, and features in the web series.

When the 43-year-old moved to New York to become an actor, she was only offered roles of a grunting mother, crying aunt or a miserable wife of a jihadi. This was post 9/11 and the outlook of looking at Asian actors was to fit into the stereotypical box of their perceptions. “I wasn’t happy auditioning,” she recalls. “So I started writing a sketch about a hijabi woman. When you look at her you have a different opinion about her, but when she opens her mouth you view her differently. There was a perception among people who had started viewing all hijabi women with hysteria. Similarly it is with women who wear saris, it is just presumed she won’t be someone reading Fifty Shades of Grey”.

So when she met Manzoor, they both realised their concerns and observations were similar and decided to start a cultural commentary of self expressions and personal growth in the web series, which is now in its third season. The small capsules highlight issues like “dating among Asian women”, workout and other culturally different topics that are approached in a humorous manner.

“We never wanted to hurt any sentiments and I am glad we have managed to narrate our point of view,” she says. Vaz always wanted to be an actor. With no one in the family or friends in the entertainment business, it has been an excruciatingly lonely journey but her husband has always been a strong support system. The frantic chase to be an actor ended when she accidentally met a woman who was handing over prospectus of an institute and was asking people to drop in for a free class. Vaz wasn’t interested, but that woman persuaded her to take a class of improvisational theatre and when she went, she knew this was something she would love to do.

She found her expression in improvisational theatre and became a performer and a writer. She was catapulted to success with acts like ‘Older. Angrier. Hairier’ that in a lighter vein focussed on women’s challenges of aging in a culture that worships youth, her decision not to have children and the stress that accompanied this choice, as well as her constant struggle to overcome her obsession with housework and “Unladylike” which is an irreverent take on virgin brides, fake orgasms and bisexual fantasies.

“I feel embarrassed when people ask me if I have struggled to reach this particular junction of my career. I know so many people who are good but are still struggling. You can’t discount luck factor in these things. I have worked hard and I also feel being a bit older helped me to take one step at a time and not be overwhelmed by success,” she says.

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