Desi-Filipina Sisters Producing Fusion Film & Theater
Asian Americans make up a heterogeneous community in the United States, a community comprised of people of different religions, races, and socioeconomic statuses. Too often, however, there seems to be room for telling only one experience of being Asian American, when in fact there are millions of stories to tell. That’s where Desipina comes in. The nonprofit fusion arts company focuses on film and theater to spread artistic, cultural, and political dialogues within and between communities. The name Desipina itself reflects fusion: It’s the slang term for describing people of South Asian (desi) and Filipina (pina) heritage, like the Desipina’s Founders, sisters Rohi Mirza Pandya, 34, and Rehana Mirza, 28. In addition to its signature show Seven.11 Convenience Theatre, Desipina has produced plays such as “Barriers,” which portrays the backlash against a Muslim family post-9/11 and “Modern Day Arranged Marriage,” which recently won an NBC Audience Award. To learn more about Desipina and the talented, creative sisters who are behind it, check out this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
Desipina & Company
Rohi Mirza Pandya
Bridgewater, New Jersey
B.A. in Economics & Political Science
University of Colorado
NYU Tisch School of the Arts
BFA, Dramatic Writing
Tons of odd jobs in the legal and financial field, also worked for an Asian television company.
Half Pakistani – Half Filipina
About the non-profit
Award-winning Desipina & Company is North America’s only South Asian and Asian not for profit theater & film organization.
Desipina & Company is a 501(c) 3, not for profit fusion arts company that focuses on film and theater to promote the sharing and spreading of artistic, cultural, and political dialogues within and between communities. Desipina, as a term, is slang for describing a person of South Asian (desi) and Filipina (pina) descent, like the two founding sisters of Desipina, Rehana Mirza and Rohi Mirza Pandya. Together since December 2001, these sisters and their supporters have brought a new, powerful voice to South Asian and Asian men, women, and children.
Most notable milestones
RMP: Celebrating five years of theater and film this past season.
RM: Winning live audience award for NBC Short Cuts Comedy Festival. Producing and writing “Barriers” in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
What’s the niche?
Desipina provides a platform for both South Asian and Asian artists. Desipina is known for its ground-breaking work in bringing together diverse stories to one stage. We bring together both South Asian and Asian American artists and communities. Generally, media tends to like to focus on one ethnicity only.
What’s the biggest challenge?
RMP: Fundraising enough to keep Desipina growing and thriving.
RM:Fighting the mentality of mainstream who believe that a South Asian and Asian American theatre must speak to, or address issues of being foreign, and that everyday problems are not to be played by any actor with ethnicity. Also trying to show that the Asian American community is part of the fabric of the United States, yet within the community itself, “Asian American” is a broad term, covering up a heterogeneous community. There seems to be room for only one experience, one story that should represent all Asian Americans. Yet there are millions of stories for white people. There should be millions of stories for other people, like South Asians and Asians, living in the US.
What’s in store for the future?
RMP: Season six kicks off with Ravi Kapoor’s The Prince of Delhi Palace. We will be also producing the final two years of our signature show “Seven.” 11 Convenience Theatre for Spring 2008 and Spring 2009. After the series ends, we plan to maybe take the popular show on tour depending on the interest.
RM: Desipina & Company will be participating in the Public Theatre’s year-long venture of Suzan Lori Parks 365 Days/365 Plays during the National Asian American Theatre Festival, the first ever of its kind, in June 2007. Beyond that, Desipina would like to grow its community of administrative artists who can take power of film and theatre projects that Desipina can nurture.
Most amazing experience while working in theater & film
RMP:Seeing the reactions of audience members during the production of our first play, “Barriers” that dealt with the backlash against a Muslim family post-9/11 on the one year anniversary of 9/11.
RM: Winning the audience award for “Modern Day Arranged Marriage,” a short film that we created to specifically address the problematic pressures of marriage within the South Asian community and how it can manifest itself in ways not realized.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
RMP: Watch your competitors.
RM: Be aware of everything. Always seek for more knowledge. Avoid being lazy and taking shortcuts.
Guiding principle in life
RMP: What is meant to be is meant to be.
RM: Guiding principle in life: I write because I have to. I write what I write because the world needs to hear it.
Yardstick of success
RMP: The number of years Desipina continues to be around and produces high quality work.
RM:My everyday happiness.
Goal yet to be achieved
RMP: Desipina is yet to have a paid staff, everyone is on a volunteer basis. We would like to have two full-time staff within the next year or two.
RM: Winning an OBIE Award; Growing to be a paid, well-staffed, theatre and film company.
Best practical advice
RMP: It’s not the end of the world, life moves on.
RM: Don’t expect success tomorrow. or next week. or next year. Expect that you will find your own way, and it may not be in the form you think it is
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
RMP: Work hard and good things will happen.
RM: I believe in you.
What keeps you motivated?
RMP: My husband, Gitesh
RM: My sister. Good art.
What motivated you to get started?
RMP: My sister, Rehana
RM: I was three years old. There was a manual typewriter, a cloth ribbon, and much ink to be spilled.
Like best about what you do?
RMP: The end product whether it is a completed film or opening night of a theater show, it is always satisfying to see your efforts culminate.
RM: The process. The collaboration with wonderful people. The joy of finding your voice in a story
Like least about what you do?
RMP: The nay sayers.
RM: The subjective-ness. The politics of who gets seen and what stories are deemed produce-able
Personality in Cinema most interested in meeting
RMP: Reese Witherspoon – she is a strong and talented artist.
RM: Drew Barrymore, because she is a smart, independent woman and produces her own work.
Biggest pastime outside of work
RMP: Photography and knitting
RM: More work.
Person most interested in meeting?
RMP:Oprah Winfrey – she is a successful businesswoman.
RM: Prince William. I have no idea, just seems like it would be fun.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I’m a producer of film.
- I’m a producer of television.
- I’m a producer of theater.
- I’m a writer.
- I’m an Artistic Director.
- I’m a filmmaker.
Three characteristics that describe you
- Passionate, yet quiet.
- Crabby yet sweet.
- Quirky yet normal.
Three greatest passions
RMP: Women’s mental health issues.
RM: AIDS Run/Walk
RMP: Any cheesy 80’s romantic comedy.
RM: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
Who would you like to be contacted by?
RMP: Angel donors of any kind interested in the community and the arts and would like to see more of this sort of work produced.
RM: I would love to be contacted by an investment company looking to take a risk on a good piece of art.
Interview by Saba Nasser
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez
|October 10th, 2007, 21:31:52||permalink|
As Muslims get more involved in all kinds of different endeavors in the US, it is also necessary for there to be individuals who can be active in liberal arts. Communications for the sake of Islam happens in all kinds of ways. In the news, on the radio, and even acting on TV, or on Stage. Many people, especially from the orthodox Islamic religious community consider it frivolous and inappropriate to be involved in liberal arts. There is a need for Muslims to change their attitude.