We Spoke To "We Are Lady Parts" Creator Nida Manzoor And Star Anjana Vasan About The Importance Of Being Yourself
The series drops this week, people!
Channel 4 and Peacock are finally unveiling their brand new sitcom We Are Lady Parts this week, and I'm so excited!! To celebrate the arrival of the first season, I spoke to series creator Nida Manzoor and actor Anjana Vasan, all about the highly anticipated show.
BuzzFeed: Hi guys! I wanted to start off by asking you to summarise the series in your own words for our readers.
Nida: Of course! The show follows Amina Hussain, a geeky PhD student. When we meet her she's looking for love and wanting to settle down with a husband. But then her world is turned upside down when she collides with this punk band called Lady Parts who want to recruit her as their unlikely lead guitarist. The series shows the band's journey to try and find a proper gig, alongside Amina's journey of self-discovery and finding her voice.
BuzzFeed: And where did the name of the band, and by extension the series, come from? Because it's quite an interesting name!
Nida: I was just sitting down one day... and, I don't know! I think I wanted to call it something that had a strong feminist heart, but also something kind of fun and silly. I don't want the show to take itself too seriously, and that's why I thought "Lady Parts" kind of does that.
BuzzFeed: The series started out as a "Blap" (Blap = Channel 4's online platform for comedy shorts). What is different about the series?
Nida: I think the series is an elevation of the Blap. Stylistically, I really liked what we set up in terms of the visual style, so I wanted to bring that in. But as you'll see there's a whole new world that we open up to, which is Amina's university friends. They're a different kind of look and feel to Lady Parts, and they act as a nice kind of counterpoint to the band. We also have a couple of new cast members who are just incredible and have brought a refreshing energy to the series. I mean, the series has more original music – some really awesome covers that I can't wait for everyone to see because I can't believe we got them cleared! So those are the main things.
Anjana: I think what surprised me about the series is how much bolder it is. You watch the first few episodes and you think, this is my new favourite comedy – it's so fun, it's chaotic. But there are also a lot of emotional beats in the show, and there's a lot of heart and vulnerability. For a comedy that feels quite surprising, and it's a gift to have been able to be a part of it.
BuzzFeed: How did you find your main cast?
Nida: It was a very extensive casting process but very rewarding. The first person to be cast was Anjana, and when she came in, we all realised quickly that she was Amina. She can do the comedy, she can do the drama, and Anjana's an incredible singer-songwriter in her own right! She was honestly the heart of the show, and when that piece was there, the other band members came in quite an organic way around her. For me, it was about trying to find people who could not only do the comedy, but also be believably "punk". You get actors who sort of "perform" punk, but that doesn't feel authentic, so the authenticity of punk was a big thing. And it's an ensemble piece, so there were some group casting sessions to see if the dynamics were right. We also had a music component to see if the actors could play the music. Not all the actors could, but the ones we cast are all incredibly musically gifted and could pick up the instruments. So it was very extensive, but I'm just so pleased with who we found.
"You get actors who sort of 'perform' punk, but that doesn't feel authentic, so the authenticity of punk was a big thing."
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 don't know if you remember Nida, you asked people to sing and dance along to a track?
Nida: To rock out?
Anjana: I was like, oh I can't do this, what do I do? And I think I did something really ridiculous. I think was eating a flower at one point or something, I don't know! 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 Amina's version of rocking out? Actually that was the most difficult part of the casting.
Nida: I remember thinking during that video when you were biting those flowers, oh my god, she's a genius!
Anjana: But then the meeting was great! I feel like we're quite similar – Nida and I – and I think we really bonded, so that was really fun.
BuzzFeed: So who is Amina, and what kind of journey does she go in during the show?
Anjana: At the beginning, she's quite strait-laced and conventional – and she gives herself a tough time. The things she's obsessing over, particularly when we first meet her determined to find somebody, are because she's feeling a bit lonely. But you soon realise she's a bit more interesting than we thought she was, because she also has a secret love affair with music.
Nida: We see this character who thinks that she can't be an acceptable woman in the world and also be a punk. She has to hide those two sides of herself. That's a frustration I've sometimes felt – having all these different strands of my identity and being told that they're in conflict when actually they're not. Sometimes we have shame around certain aspects of ourselves, and that was really at the heart of Amina's journey – to overcome the feeling that she needed to hide certain parts of herself and to find a way to fully express herself in all the things she is.
BuzzFeed: How important is Muslim representation on TV right now?
Nida: It feels like such an exciting time to be making TV. We're getting different voices, like say Michaela Coel, taking up different spaces. I feel like it's an exciting time to have more Muslim representation coming through and I feel very lucky to be one of the voices. We got to make a show like We Are Lady Parts and I'm hoping that commissioners will now commission more shows that are in that space – series which show different ways of being a Muslim woman or a Muslim man, a brown person, or a Black person. Just to add richness! Because when there's real richness, that's when we can get real representation.
BuzzFeed: Nida, you've worked on shows like Doctor Who and Enterprice. How is We Are Lady Parts different to your previous projects?
Nida: We Are Lady Parts is my first work as a writer as well as a director, so it allowed me to form my own visual style and my own kind of tone of comedy. I learned a lot from Enterprice, and Doctor Who was an incredible opportunity – having all that go into Lady Parts was just really lucky. But in terms of similarity, I wouldn't say that there is any.
BuzzFeed: Anjana, did you learn to play guitar for the show?
Anjana: I play acoustic guitar, but I'd never played electric before so that was something that I had to learn.
Nida: But Anjana's incredible! I was working on the guitar solos with my brother and I was like, we shouldn't pitch it too hard because it's got to look impressive. And then my brother was like, no we can pitch it really hard because she can handle it.
Anjana: I think all of us started taking music lessons way before we even saw the final scripts. We put a lot of time in, which is great because I think that translates to what you see on screen.
BuzzFeed: And how did you find working with Zaqi? You guys have really great chemistry!
Anjana: Yay! He's amazing. When we did recall auditions for Ahsan, Nida wanted me there to read with everyone. Everyone was brilliant, but I just thought there was something about Zaqi. He's so generous and very open. I immediately felt comfortable when I read the scene with him. He's a very sweet and lovely person, and I think one of my favourite scenes in the whole series is Amina and Ahsan on a date. It's some of Nida's best writing! That day when we got to do that it was just so much fun.
BuzzFeed: It's my favourite scene too! And speaking of favourites, which of Lady Part's songs do you like the best?
Nida: Well, some of them are spoilers! I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that there are some covers that we've done that are my favourites. I can't wait for you to hear those. But in terms of originals, I don't know. What about you, Anjana?
Anjana: There's a song called "Fish and Chips", which is my favourite. I think that's a single for the Lady Parts album, you know? Strong contender. But also, "Bashir with the Good Beard" is super fun. They're all hits!
BuzzFeed: So if somebody was looking to get into punk music, who should they listen to?
Nida: I recently watched the X-Ray Spex documentary, and I think X-Ray Spex are incredible. It's about Poly Styrene, the lead singer. She really represents punk especially as a female, lead, woman of colour at a time when punk music was very white male. So X-Ray Spex is a great place to start, but I also love Hole, so they would be another good place to go.
BuzzFeed: In what ways do you think punk music and Islam are similar or different?
Nida: You know, what was exciting for me in making this program, was to show that you can have multiple ways of being. Doing a comedy about women who are punk and Muslim was a really fun way for me to show that you don't have to be one thing that's excludes another. I grew up in a Muslim household and my parents were lovers of art, music, and culture, as well as being from that background – and it wasn't a contradiction! So, for me, the show is about being different things and that there's no one right way of being.
"Doing a comedy about women who are punk and Muslim was a really fun way for me to show that you don't have to be one thing that's excludes another."
BuzzFeed: Were there any TV shows or performances that you were particularly inspired by when making the show?
Nida: I was watching This Is Spinal Tap a lot. I love band dynamics! There's another film, Almost Famous, which is about a band. I don't know why, I just love the egos brushing up against each other, and all the fun of that. And I love Flight of the Conchords, so doing a music comedy was something I was really excited to do.
Anjana: I tried to watch as many movies and shows as I could that had any kind of music – like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Spinal Tap.
Nida: And The Commitments we watched as well, right?
Anjana: Yeah, we talked about that as well! Just anything that had music in it cos that's really up my street as well. I also grew up obsessed with sitcoms, even if they weren't that funny I would still watch them. And whenever I'm doing a funny part, something that always informs my work is Lucille Ball. There's always an element of her that I think subconsciously tap into.
BuzzFeed: London and its culture play a big part in the series, how did you go about portraying that?
Nida: London means so much to me in the show, especially as somewhere where I found my creative voice and found other creative people who have inspired me and inspired the show. We set it in East London and I really wanted it feel like East London. We shot in Queen Mary University, which is Amina's uni, and around Ridley Road, Dalston. Some of the locations we shot in were places I would go as a person going to see live music, so that was really fun. It was also about trying to find that balance of shooting exterior stuff so we could really "feel" London, and doing more interior filming because it made it more COVID-safe. I feel lucky that we were able to strike that balance and show that these are women from London.
BuzzFeed: I did see Victoria Park at one point, which I recognised!
Nida: It's funny – as we were shooting in Victoria Park, Michaela Coel walked past and was like, oh hi guys. I was like, oh my gosh, she's just there! She was really nice.
BuzzFeed: Did you talk to her, or grab her to be in a scene?
Anjana: Well our producer John has worked with her.
Nida: Yeah, John has worked with her and I've met her a few times and she was really supportive of the show. She was like, I can't wait for you to make it, let me know how it's going. So it was just serendipitous that she was going for a walk then!
BuzzFeed: Okay, last couple of questions! If all of the members of Lady Parts joined the Spice Girls, what would their stage names be?
Anjana: I don't know! That's actually quite a difficult question.
Nida: Amina would be Scared Spice.
Anjana: She'd be Weird Spice, I think.
Nida: I feel like Saira and Ayesha would be like, Tortured Artist Spice.
Anjana: Oh, and Momtaz is Mysterious Spice and Bisma would be Zen Spice.
BuzzFeed: How do you hope that US viewers respond to the series?
Anjana: I hope they love it, I hope everyone who watches it loves it! I really think that it's a show that everyone will enjoy and everyone will think is funny. I know that people always say that a show is "relatable", it seems like such an obvious thing to say, but I really do believe it. It's just fun and I hope people love it!
BuzzFeed: And lastly, if you could have ANY famous person be a fan of the show, who would it be?
Anjana: If Dolly Parton said she loved the show, I would die. I'd happily go to heaven.
Note: Some answers were edited for length and/or clarity.