Growing up as a desi kid in America, we often struggled to find our place and see ourselves represented in mainstream media. Although often problematic, Bollywood provided a platform where we saw our culture, families, and traditions represented. In their new podcast, “Desi Standard Time”, Maaz Ali and Maaz Khan, a.k.a “The Maazes,” highlight the South Asian experience through media — how it affected their upbringings, current lives, and what they foresee for the future.
From item numbers and pelvic thrusts to the role of nepotism and things that probably made female actors uncomfortable on set, “Desi Standard Time” is the perfect dichotomy between criticism of and a love for all things Bollywood. I had the chance to speak with The Maazes and their producer, Anum Hussain, about the podcast and how Bollywood made them question—and shaped—who they are today.
Where did your love for Bollywood come from?
My love for Bollywood came from growing up in a household of immigrants. My parents moved to New York in the ’80s and they felt out of place many times, but Bollywood, TV Asia, Sony, all those channels growing up, that’s how they connected with their roots. Even going to the Indian store and getting groceries there makes you feel like you’re at a place that you’re familiar with. They kept that in our house, my parents still only speak to me in Urdu and Bollywood was a really good way for them to show us their culture. A lot of my early memories are Bollywood music, scenes, actresses, fashion trends, etc.
As I’ve grown up and become more ‘Americanized’ because I have that base and foundation from Bollywood, that’s always been something that I’ve kept so that’s where the passion comes from. I really appreciate it now whereas before it was just something I was viewing. Now I can look back and realize that this has helped shape my perception of what love should be, what marriage should be, what a family dinner looks like, what a household looks like, that’s where I get a lot of my early references from and that’s how it’s helped shape who I am today.
My parents were both singers so as a family we were super into that and that was backed up by watching a lot of desi movies and Pakistani dramas. So looking at who I am today, there’s a sense of nostalgia that comes from that so I love watching these movies and being like ‘oh my god this is who I am’ because that’s what I grew up on. Like what Maaz (Khan) said, it kind of shows you your family life and love life and how it should be – now it’s something I wear with pride.
Where did the name “Desi Standard Time” come from?
When everyone started brainstorming we naturally started coming up with ‘time,’ based on their names. So we thought about ‘Maazywood,’ ‘The Sound of Maazic’ and so on. But we stopped and realized that it’s not just about The Maazes, it’s about our community. ‘Desi Standard Time’ is something every South Asian can relate to. We’ve all had that experience of running late to a dawat, wedding, or party, so it already catches people’s attention.
The Maazes are here to discuss South Asian cinema from a place of respect, appreciation, and some comedy. For me the branding has been really fun! We release on ‘Desi Standard Tuesdays,’ we’re creating playlists on Spotify called ‘Desi Standard Tunes,’ and just making it a great conversation.
Hollywood has a lack of representation, and while Bollywood also has its issues, growing up did you feel like Bollywood was a space where you felt represented?
One of the things that’s become more apparent over the last few years, is more and more minority actors coming into the fold and starting to make movies that have real impact. Back in the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s when we were growing up, there were less of those kinds of films. So when you wanted to see someone like yourself on screen, you couldn’t really go to Hollywood for that, so that’s where Bollywood really played a big role. When other kids were idolizing Tom Cruise, we were idolizing Shah Rukh Khan. I’ve learned to appreciate what Bollywood did for me as a kid. A lot of people just look at Bollywood as these phony musical movies but to me it’s this amazing medium where you get to see people that look like you, go through situations that look like yours.
We’re both Muslim, and one of my distinct memories was growing up and thinking it was cool to see someone with the same last name as me — Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, these are really big names. One of the narratives that is still an issue not just in Bollywood but in the Indian subcontinent, is the whole Muslim vs Hindu rift, even when you add Sikhs into the mix. Obviously there are still movies that don’t do well with that but in many ways you’re able to see people from different religions really succeed. If you look at the music industry today in Bollywood, a lot of Sikh artists are the ones that people want to listen to more than anyone else. ‘Coke Studio Pakistan’ has brought a lot of Muslim artists to the forefront. So growing up as a Muslim kid in America and watching all those Khans dominate Bollywood, to me, that was really inspirational cause you think ‘one day I could be that person.’ So in that way, Bollywood really provided a safe place.
I grew up watching movies at the South Asian theater in the Bay Area and that was always kind of like a safe space. We grew up going there all the time and because I had a sense of nostalgia from watching desi movies as a kid, it made me want to continue watching them as I got older.
It’s been cool to see the evolution of these actors and performers through the course of time and you really appreciate who they are. Any time you’d see anyone South Asian in Hollywood, I didn’t feel like it depicted us correctly. Desi movies showed how we interact with the rest of the world whereas in Hollywood it was like okay this is the “awkward brown guy” in an American climate. So even though Bollywood is more fanatical and fantasized it kind of was better (in terms of representation).
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Aaj kal tere mere prints ke charche har instagram par … ACHA! ????????? On every episode of DST, we’re spotlighting South Asian owned or operated businesses. First up? @shopkishmish. We even had the pleasure of having co-founder Zareen Abbasi in the studio with us. Link in bio to episode 1 where we learn all about KishMish’s empire of South Asian goods – including this “acha” wall print. ????????? ?: @catherineheath.creative
During each episode, you do a “South Asian Spotlight” where you highlight a South Asian founded or focused business. Why is this something that was important for you to include?
Maaz (Ali) and I are the voice of the podcast, but the brains of our podcast is Anum Hussain. She is the driving force for our social media and the business side. She has an MBA from MIT and is now making waves in the startup industry. Knowing someone who has her own startup inspired us to seek out other people as well. We know a lot of people from our own travel and social connections that are doing big things. If you look back through 2019 there is a 1st generation come up. We’ve gone to school, we’ve graduated, we’ve been in the workforce for a few years and now you’re seeing South Asians make a real difference all around the states.
So once we went out there and started looking, we realized there are some people doing some really cool things and there’s not enough people talking about them. It was an honor for us to meet these creators and people who are venturing out and doing things that can be scary in order to showcase their talents, drive, and vision.
It’s been really cool to see people that are excited to support our podcast and to see other South Asians killing it and doing amazing things. One of the things that’s really important to keep in mind is that when it comes to the bigger picture we have to support each other. This isn’t just about me and Maaz, it’s about the community and we want to bring all of us up together.
I’m an actor and it’s a very entrepreneurial lifestyle and a lot of people get by on nepotism, knowing people, and just having the means. So it’s important even in that space, to help each other out. If Anum is winning in her startup, we’re all winning. If you guys are succeeding individually in your respective fields, we’re all winning. If I’m doing well as an actor, it’s not just me succeeding, we’re all in this together and we’re all succeeding. It’s a mentality that I feel like traditionally we need to be better at and that’s the reason we take so much pride in our South Asian Spotlight.
For me, being a South Asian founder and going through the struggle of trying to raise money from investors who don’t look like you or understand you and trying to bridge a market for yourself in a community where there is a certain type of profile that survived. I think it’s really important for us to find other people that are maybe struggling and create a platform for them to have their businesses be just as successful, because other communities have those resources and build them for themselves. Other communities are helping lift one another up where ours are like ‘we need to make our own space for ourselves’ so we’re here to help elevate everyone. We want to succeed but only if everyone succeeds, so it’s all of us together.
While listening to the podcast, I realized that in many ways Bollywood is like that one friend you’ve known forever and you know they have a lot of issues, but for some reason, you love them anyway. How do you find the balance between discussing what you love but also recognizing the components of Bollywood that are problematic?
There are a lot of things that Bollywood taught us where you look back and realize, ‘this is not okay.’ There’s a whole generation of people that grew up thinking this is what love is. Running around a mountain, singing to each other, going to a girl’s house and kidnapping her to ensure your love story is complete — you see those things and take it for granted and laugh like ‘this is crazy.’ Something you’ve seen and you kind of just wrong off as something that Bollywood does, but it’s deeper than that and it’s pervasive in ways that I didn’t even realize. Emotional well-being comes from so many different places and everything that you see adds a little bit to it so Bollywood has probably influenced us in a lot of ways that we don’t even realize. It’s a struggle and it’s a process but being aware is the first step and that’s what we’re trying to do.
The hip thrust episode – Maaz and I did a dance together at a wedding where we were hip thrusting chichoras thinking this is all hilarious but the deeper we dug, the more we remembered and the more we compared notes about different experiences we realized this is not okay and it’s probably something that should be highlighted. We’re not the first ones to do something like this or the last ones to do this at a wedding but we didn’t really know what we were driving at — no pun intended. It’s been a learning experience for both of us. That’s what this first season has been about. Highlighting those themes and making people more aware.
In 2019 you watch a show like ‘The Office’ or ‘Friends’ and think, ‘this would not fly today.’ It’s the same with Bollywood, there’s good to it and obviously the bad as well. We’re not going to say it’s perfect and at the same time there are aspects that have led us to who we are so we’re here to highlight that. There are some traditional values, like family life, that have kind of been forgone so it’s kind of nice to touch on that again. We take pride in trying to find the good and confronting the bad to be like ‘we have work to do.’
Why did you start this podcast?
We started this podcast as something to do for fun. Maaz and I really just appreciate each other’s Bollywood knowledge. We started putting together episodes and some are more lighthearted but they always have these interesting undertones and we realized there was a theme. Kind of like a ‘Full House’ episode where it’s all fun and games but there’s a lesson to be learned in everything. As we’ve gone through the season I’ve learned to appreciate the process more and even appreciate Bollywood more. There are so many different facets that make up this industry. In later seasons we’ll talk about other industries and I’m excited to delve deeper into those.
I think my understanding of Bollywood has changed completely. There are so many themes, even the way that we use facial gestures, the way that we look at each other is so influenced. I didn’t think about these things till we went down this road so I’ve learned to appreciate my childhood, what I saw and what I heard and how much it has made a difference in who I am as an adult. I think that as we start to think about later seasons whether it’s Pakistani media or South Asian Americans who are influencing media in the US, I think those are going to be phenomenal educational introspectives for us and hopefully all our listeners.
We used to size each other up to see who had more Bollywood knowledge and we would butt heads a lot…
Mind you, he’s 6’4 and I’m 5’9 so usually I was usually sizing up and he was sizing down.
So at some point we had this mutual appreciation and respect and realized ‘you’re like me in so many ways.’ While hanging out with other people we would just go off on our own rants and at some point some of our friends were like ‘why don’t you just start a podcast?’ Since then, it’s been a great process. It allows us to touch upon our childhood, what it meant to us as a kid, as teens, and as adults now. I say to Maaz every time after we’re done recording ‘wow that felt really therapeutic.’ It creates a sense of validation and makes you appreciate who you are. I’m very proud of my parents for instilling out culture. A lot of parents when they come to America just want to keep their head down and fit in. And I understand why they do that, to keep their family safe and protected. But I appreciate our parents saying no, this is who we are and we’re going to appreciate this and instill this. It just made us more confident people at the end of the day.
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I thought I was a Bollywood fan until I listened to the podcast and realized “oh this is what a true fan looks like.” “Desi Standard Time” is hilariously relatable and makes you think about Bollywood in a critical yet appreciative way. The podcast creates a sense of nostalgia while also highlighting modern-day South Asian movers and shakers.
Check out the episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and more. Follow “Desi Standard Time” on Instagram @desistandard and follow Maaz Khan @themaazlim and Maaz Ali @maazyali.