by Keertana Sastry – University of Missouri Graduate

It’s official. It can’t be denied that Indians are all over the entertainment industry nowadays with movies like Life of Pi, music and reality series, TV shows with Indian women as leading ladies (looking at you “Mindy Project”) and even Indians randomly showing up in blockbusters. I mean, can anyone give me any other reason for having Irrfan Khan in “The Amazing Spider-Man” or Anil Kapoor in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”?

Now we are taking to the Internet, and we at Brown Girl have found a new series that allows us to relate and reverently tease our culture. Brownies, created by comedian/writer Farhan Arshad, is a fun, fresh look into an unconventional family that appears in a video entry. Why is the family so unconventional? Because the son, Salman, is the one who is trying to get an arranged marriage while his father, Mustafa forbids him to marry unknown girls and begs him to fall in love.

The idea may not make sense but the execution does. Funny, sweet, a bit serious and very awkward. The show does an interesting job of both upholding and turning stereotypes on its head. Somehow, this family puts up with a son whose only goal in life is to get married and spend his life with another. Why does he pick marriage and not find a girlfriend the American way, or get a pet? Apparently, it is easier to be married than to take care of a dog. Some of the jokes do not necessarily land the way Arshad probably hopes but that is expected in a new creation. Plus, aren’t the uncomfortable parts of shows sometimes more interesting than the well-timed laughs?

I spoke with Farhan about how this strange venture sprouted and what he sees in the future for the series.

So congratulations on making a funny show that Indians can relate to on many different levels. How did you come up with this idea and translate it into a web series?

Thanks so much for the kind words! It’s a really exciting time right now, and I’m so happy with all the positive attention that Brownies is getting. I have to give a big shout out to all the actors, crew, and everyone who has already been supportive of the work. Everyone has been so awesome.

The idea for Brownies is something that I’ve had in my head for the last few years, but I really got motivated to write it about a year ago when I got into a big debate with someone at one of the major television networks over the lack of diversity in television. I was unhappy that all of their shows were geared towards a white audience, and challenged them to create a show based around minority characters. They basically used that show Outsourced as an example for why that would never work. I argued that shows that made their their characters into caricatures rather than actual three-dimensional people were destined to fail regardless of ethnicity, and that there was room for a show like Brownies. They countered by saying that the show failed because a Desi audience wouldn’t garner the same type of support that Tyler Perry’s audience (for example) gets for his. So long story short, I made this webseries to prove that person wrong.

I’m hoping that if we can get enough loyal followers and lots of support from the Desi community that there’s going to be a chance to have Desi programming on mainstream TV. I’m not doing it just to prove that point though. I’m doing this, because I believe that people like us can change programming if we mobilize ourselves and do it.??While the story itself isn’t based on true life, there are aspects of it that were inspired by things that happened to me and those I know. The character of Sal is probably a really exaggerated version of myself. As I was writing him, I’d read his lines out loud over webcam to try and get the voice down right.

How many episodes are you hoping to put up per season? Are you going to come at the story from just Sal’s point of view the whole time? If you’re able to do more seasons, will we see other arranged-marriage hopefuls?

There’ll probably be an average of about 8 episodes per season. Season one is completely written, and we’re aiming to get the next few episodes out in early January. I have a three-season story arch fully fleshed out. Right now there aren’t any plans to spin off onto any other families, however, we’ll see other characters such as Mahliha playing a bigger role as the series progresses.

Do you worry about the tone of the show becoming too serious or, on the other end of the spectrum, too much of a mockumentary?

Within my own life, I feel like there’s always funny moments as well as sad or serious ones too. Those ups and downs are just part of life, and I hope that is captured into the writing as well. Some of my favorite comedies have serious moments and a lot of time those serious moments are what drives the comedy. Brownies will have it’s serious moments too, but the show’s main objective is to make people laugh. A big reason for why Friends was so popular was that it was really a soap opera disguised as a sitcom. We loved the jokes, but viewers came back every Thursday at 7 to find out what happened to Ross and Rachel. I don’t want Brownies to be just about the laughs, and we’ll explore more serious subjects such as love, breakups, and even death.

Are you hoping to add an Indian woman’s point of view into the story line as well and if so, how do you plan on having Sal interact with women? He seems like the type of guy who would have no clue how to act with someone who might actually show him interest… or how to act with women at all, which is hilarious to think about.

Mahliha, who appears in Episode 2, is going to return to become one of the show’s most important characters. While the story will mostly be from Sal’s perspective, we’ll also explore what is driving her and hopefully give her more dimensions as a character.

What is your end goal with a show like this? Do you hope to get picked up for a broadcast series or make it into a movie?
Seeing Brownies on TV or on the big screen would be AMAZING! If enough people connect to the show and continue supporting it then the possibilities are really endless. Workaholics actually started out as a web-short before ultimately being picked up on Comedy Central, and it’d be great to follow a similar path. That being said, I’ve had so much fun just creating the series so far that continuing Sal’s story and ultimately getting to the series finale would be a great feeling as well.

Brownies has had its first episode premiere. Catch the first two 8-minute episodes above. And don’t forget to check back periodically for more!