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Why on-screen representation in India matters now more than ever

It’s in an incredibly exciting time for women in the film and television industry. This month, we’ve seen breakthrough award nominations for women in front and behind the camera and a focus on diversity and inclusion not seen before. It seems there’s never been a more important time for us to become aware of accurate on-screen representation.

For most Westerner’s when thinking of Indian actresses on television we think of Priyanka Chopra or Mindy Chokalingam (Mindy Kaling) With Mindy being American and of Indian descent. But of course, that is only our limited perception and experience of Indian women in television.

Our India-born and based writer Sayasha Pillai talks us through why representation is so important.

Mindy Kaling photographed by Victoria Stevens in Los Angeles, CA on January 7, 2019; Styling: Jason Bolden; MakeUp: Janice Kinjo/Dior Beauty/Starworks Artists; Hair: Brian Fisher/The Wall Group/Leonor Greyl; Manurcurit: Jolene Brodeur/Tack Artist Group; Clothing: Tom Ford; Retouching: HE Studios

Growing up in a country as culturally vibrant as India, one truly believes “variety is the spice of life.” To the rest of the world, we all fall under the common category of being ‘Indian’ but the definition of what it means to be Indian varies from coast to coast, and state to state.

In a country like India where people hail from across the 28 states and 8 union territories, with over 19,500 spoken languages of which are 22 scheduled languages and the rest, not even identifiable – coming with their own set of customs, traditions, and history; even the way we say common everyday phrases like “please and thank you” changes.

I was born into a South Indian, Malayalee (Malayalees are people who hail from the South Indian State of Kerala) family who brought me up in Mumbai Maharashtra. My first memory of any kind of an on-screen representation was only around the 8th grade. 

For my north Indian friends, I was too mallu (an abbreviation of Malayalees’) but for my mallu friends and relatives, I was far too north Indian. And while I turned out lucky that this was the only kind of discrimination I experienced, one that I can laugh about in retrospect, not everyone with a similar story has such a happy ending.

And even today, most North Indians are oblivious to the fact that not all South Indians speak the same language or there being a significant difference in our beliefs and rituals. The need for accurate onscreen representation is the need of the hour, not just in India but the world over.

Why the emphasis on on-screen representation you ask?  Because everyone deserves to be in the ‘lead’ and not just assigned to as a stereotypical sidekick that people assume less of. Everyone, especially kids, deserve to grow up knowing they can be the heroes of their own story.

Accurate on-screen representation has more benefits than we credit it to be. It helps with self-esteem, external validation, and provides the necessary tools for acknowledging that equal opportunities prevail and how we can promote our many differences to our advantage.

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Sayasha Pillai

Sayasha Pillai View All

Mumbai-based creative developer - writer -podcaster, Sayasha Pillai is one of the writers at Debut.

For over 3 years now, she has been actively engaged in ideating, creating, and reviewing stories for feature films as well as digital series.
She got published in early 2020, with the UNREAD Anthology that brings together 99 hand-picked poets and writers across India. You can find her previous work on, Elephant Journal, among others.

Her passion for creativity and art in all its forms led her to, launch her podcast show, Podlist with Sayasha in association with one of India's leading podcast distributing platforms.

It's the first-ever podcast about podcasts, that brings together the best in the business. The Podlist shifts the spotlight onto the creators and the conversations delve into their creative process, journey, and everything in between. Available on most of the leading podcast listening apps.

Connect with Sayasha:

Instagram - @sayashapillai
Twitter - @SayashaPillai
LinkedIn - Sayasha Pillai
Facebook - @pillaisayasha

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