It’s a story for the ages. A tale as old as time. Amina is looking for love and marriage (while maintaining focus on her microbiology PhD). Saira, Ayesha and Bisma are looking for a lead guitarist for their punk band, Lady Parts. And when their worlds collide, something magic happens.
The latest Channel 4 comedy is smart, bold, creative and funny. It foregrounds British Muslim identities that other television shows don’t go anywhere near. For Nida Manzoor, who created, wrote and directed the series, We Are Lady Parts is a labour of love, born of frustration.
“I was feeling frustrated with being asked to write stereotypical portrayals of Muslim women. I’d had a couple meetings where I’ve been asked to write dramas about honour killings and forced marriages as though that represents everyone,” says Manzoor, a relative newcomer who directed two episode of Doctor Who in 2020.
I wanted to show Muslim women who are complicated and idiosyncratic, but full of joy and laughter
If it is initially her thirst for one of the band members’ hot, bearded brother that convinces Amina (Anjana Vasan) to audition for Lady Parts, then the quietly rebellious streak she has been hiding until then leads her to stay. The result is a band – and a series – that blends identity crises and discordant anarchy with a side helping of romcom. And it’s surprisingly catchy.
“Being slightly annoyed about asked to write a certain thing drove me to ask, what would I really want to do,” continues Manzoor.
“I was meeting really cool artists and musicians – people of colour, Muslim and non-Muslim – who were expressing their identity in the fullness of what it is. And I was really inspired by them. So those two things came together.
“I love comedy – I grew up watching lots of Blackadder, my dad was obsessed. And I’ve been making music with my siblings forever. So I wanted it to be music comedy and I wanted it to be punk. It is a story I think will appeal to anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider or weird or like they don’t quite belong.
“I wrote a pitch for my dream show then took it to different production companies and was like: ‘Do you want to make this exact thing please?’”
I want to show that Amina can be a woman looking for love and wanting to settle down as well as being a punk
Happily, Channel 4 did. And after an initial pilot for their Comedy Blaps strand, which attracted a lot of attention in 2018, the series was commissioned. As well as being audacious and funny, the series features Muslim women that are complex and full of joy – still a rarity on British TV.
“It feels like society is getting more polarised and we’re being reduced to one identity,” says Manzoor.
“What I wanted to explore with Amina is that you can be a whole myriad of things. You don’t need to fit into one box. I was trying to push against the mentality where Muslim communities are seen as Other. I wanted to show Muslim women who are complicated and idiosyncratic, but full of joy and laughter. That’s what the show really let me do.
“I was starting to get frustrated with seeing them always very serious and shrouded in a kind of darkness. There was never much joy, but I was seeing it in my friends and my community.
“And I like the idea of showing a brown woman who has desire. Amina goes into these fantasy sequences. I want to show that she can be a woman who’s looking for love and wanting to settle down, as well as being a punk. These things aren’t in contradiction.”
The music in the series blends unexpected cover versions – one in the opening episode a nod to Manzoor’s love of the Coen Brothers – and soundtrack choices with new songs written for Lady Parts.
The songwriting was a family affair. Manzoor was joined by her siblings Shez and Sanya to work on the music and lyrics for songs like Voldemort Under My Headscarf.
“We had a couple weeks in a studio in King’s Cross [in Central London] where we wrote a bunch of music and it was honestly one of the best times of my life,” says Manzoor.
“Our parents were initially like, ‘Don’t go for the arts, it’s not gonna work out.’ And there we were, all working, writing music, doing what we used to do as play.”
The on-screen band is made up of actors. But could they now follow Spinal Tap – another Manzoor favourite – and actually perform gigs in the future?
“Sarah [Kameela Impey], who plays Saira, is obsessed with that idea. She desperately wants it to happen,” says Manzoor.
“My brother, who plays every instrument, taught each of the cast members how to play. I’m a musician, so I’m obsessed with making sure it looks like they’re playing. The actors had to learn and we had extensive rehearsal periods for them to get really comfortable. By the end, these actors could play all the songs – it was like they became the band.”
We Are Lady Parts launches on Channel 4 at 10pm on Thursday May 20 and will be available to stream as a boxset on All 4.