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Springboard: ‘Shugs and Fats’ Creators Radhika Vaz and Nadia Manzoor on Defying Stereotypes For the Funny

Springboard: 'Shugs and Fats' Creators Radhika Vaz and Nadia Manzoor on Defying Stereotypes For the Funny

Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.

“Shugs and Fats” won the Short Form Breakthrough Series at this year’s Gotham Independent Film Awards, but its creators don’t remember much about the actual moment. “It was like being blackout drunk,” Radhika Vaz said. “Completely. Like from the moment they called out our names, completely, completely, I don’t recall anything.”

In fact, they hadn’t even submitted themselves for consideration, which made winning the award all the more surprising. “It gives us a boost in confidence and, in terms of the validation, because we haven’t had this level of validation from the show,” Nadia Manzoor said.

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But winning the award was a huge moment for both the web series and Vaz and Manzoor, who created the show together after encountering each other in the New York improv scene. An irreverent take with no shortage of subjects, “Shugs and Fats” is a perfect showcase for the improvisational talents of its stars, who (per the independent web series’s tagline) “walk the line between hipsters and hijabis.” Fast-paced and hilariously funny, the duo’s unstoppable chemistry makes them a joy to watch interact as they take on issues ranging from menstruation to cleanses.

Via Skype, Vaz (in India) and Manzoor (in New York) spoke with Indiewire about how “Shugs and Fats” came to be. “I love all of this. It’s so exciting,” Vaz said at the end.

“It’s so fun talking about it, people asking us about our process,” Manzoor added. “It’s like, oh my god, Rads.” “I know, we have a process?” Vaz laughed.

For two years, [“Shugs and Fats”] been very self-driven in terms of the motivation behind it.
Because we think it’s really good, and we have roughly 4,000 to 7,000 viewers and we know they think it’s good. But I think having the industry recognition gives us the confidence to take it to the next level, which is of course around season three. But we’re really interested in writing a pilot, we’re interested in developing a movie with these characters, so I think it gives us that boost of energy. –N.M.

A long time ago, I hadn’t met Nadia. But both of us were doing improv in New York…and I’d started auditioning in New York City. This was all sort of post-9/11, and a lot of the independent filmmakers, especially at the level I was auditioning at, were making a lot of films about 9/11 and their impressions of what American Muslims were probably dealing with post-that. And a lot of the time, I would get auditions for “wife of suspected terrorist who doesn’t speak English and cries all of the time.” And that was basically it. And “mother of suspected terrorist who cries all of the time and doesn’t speak English.” It wasn’t exactly that, but it was that. And the thing for me wasn’t so much about the terrorism thing, but why are they making the women so one-note? How come the guys have all of the lines in the thing? So I wrote this monologue about this woman who is the wife of a suspected terrorist, but she’s not really quiet and crying all of the time. She’s angry at him, and she’s just a regular wife. She’s bored with him and thinks he’s silly and doesn’t like his sense. It was sort of that thing. — R.V.

I remember the first time I ever saw Rads on a stage, I hadn’t even taken an improv class yet. I’d gone to see this show at Improvolution, and she was one of the old-schoolers. And I remember seeing this cool Indian chick on stage with really short hair. She was really funny. For me, I didn’t have a lot of role models, nor have I seen a lot of South Asian women doing comedy on stage, so there was something really exciting about it. I don’t think I had that conscious thought then. There was something about watching Rads that was very exciting and also really intimidating, so I was really scared of her. –N.M.

I had seen [Nadia] do a show where she did this South Asian character, which wasn’t just about the accent and things like that. It was more funny and it was more about the character and the things that bothered her. So she and I sat down and were like, “Let’s write something. Let’s do something together.”…And that’s literally how it started. And we wanted to do a lot of improvisation, that was the other thing. We liked these two characters and we wanted to see them in improv situations. That’s where it started from. — R.V.

So it wasn’t until three or four years later when we — we did that thing together, remember, where you were reading a part in your show and I read a part, and as soon as we starting working together, you could see that we had really great chemistry just as each other. –N.M.

The chemistry, I just want to say, I think that was always there. It just got magnified by writing our shows together. — R.V.

Shugs and Fats are totally exaggerated versions of ourselves, so it’s kind of like how we are as friends. So that makes it fun to do. –N.M.

Whenever we talk to anybody in the United States, I always see that period and gay marriage are the two things that come to mind if I want to tell them about what we’re doing in the third season. But when I talk to Indians, the one thing that I always tell them is, “By the way, we’re going to do this one episode about maids.” The maids episode is really a big thing here because in India we have such absolute poverty. The kind of poverty you see here, you don’t see in most developed countries. But it’s so bad that middle class homes can afford a full-time maid to do all of their work, but they treat them deplorably. And now that the system is changing, women are moving up in India now. So that’s one of the big trends we’ve seen. — R.V.

One of the things that I really enjoy is that, especially in South Asian cultures or in all traditional cultures, the women are really tight, like intergenerational. So a niece and an aunt can be best friends, or your mom and daughters and sisters. There’s just this female clan system that’s really tight. So we have various dynamics. One is that Fats is Shugs’ older aunt. They’re not actually related, but she’s kind of like her aunt figure. She’s the elder, she worried about Shugs’ marriage prospects, she’s trying to keep her in line. And then at the same time, Shugs is teaching Fats about postmodern Brooklyn and how to be down. So they’re both teaching each other about these different worldviews, and as a result, they become best friends and this inseparable duo. –N.M.

One of the biggest things for me as a non-Muslim, and Nadia can speak maybe to being a Muslim, I always think that especially in India, which is such a diverse country in terms of religion, we still judge women so much on how they dress… And once you identify based on that, you start attributing all kinds of things to them that go with a very traditional mindset, which often isn’t the case — the woman behind whatever she’s wearing. And for me, that was something I really wanted to show, which is why we chose really mundane stuff that happens to all women, like catcalling, speed dating. We really did take things that happen to everybody, and we put these two women in those situations. We really believe that regardless of what you wear, we’re all operating with the same stuff. — R.V.

READ MORE: As the Gotham Awards Turn 25, Here’s How the Indie Landscape Has Changed

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