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Anjana Vasan on We Are Lady Parts season two, Malala and why UK must open its doors to immigrants

We Are Lady Parts is back, and star Anjana Vasan says the band loved getting together again

Anjana Vasan

Anjana Vasan. Image: David Reiss

“There are people who follow me on Instagram and all they do is ask when season two of We Are Lady Parts is coming out.” 

Good news for Anjana Vasan’s band of social media followers. We now have the answer to a question that has dogged the actor for three long years. We Are Lady Parts, the most inventive and important comedy of recent times, is finally back on Channel 4. And the show, which follows the lives and misadventures of Muslim female punk band Lady Parts, is better than ever.  

“I didn’t want a show like this to only have one season. It didn’t feel right,” Vasan says. “Because it’s led by incredible women, it has five Black and brown women in the lead roles – and I didn’t want that show to just be a one-off. There was so much love for it and a real will to make it happen.” 

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We Are Lady Parts is written by Nida Manzoor, who also co-writes the music with her brothers and brother-in-law. In series one, punk anthems were shorn from the fabric of the characters’ lives and struggles. 

For Amina, played by Vasan, the series saw her struggle with the transition from folk and country music-loving, microbiology PhD student to punk guitarist, as well as her feelings for drummer Ayesha’s hot brother Ahsan. For Vasan, who also sings, this was a dream role.

“It was just by chance that this role came up, with Amina who, musically speaking, was so close to the kind of stuff I like,” she says. “When am I ever going to play a brown girl who loves Joan Baez and folk music? It felt like something the universe wanted to happen.”

But how do Lady Parts the band top songs like “Voldemort Under My Headscarf” and “Bashir with the Good Beard”? Vasan suggests Manzoor, who directed her debut film Polite Society between series one and two, had big plans from the get-go. 

“I remember when series one came out, I asked if she had any ideas for series two yet,” says Vasan. “All she had, she said, was a nugget of an idea. A song title that was something like “Malala Made Me Do It”.  I didn’t say it to her, but I remember thinking, ‘I bet she’ll find a way to get Malala in the show.’ Because if anyone can do it, then it’s her.” 

Sure enough, in episode two, the band unleash their new song namechecking the education activist and there she is. Malala Yousafzai herself. On screen. Astride a horse as the band dance and sing around her – the sort of surreal scene that punctuates the show, elevating the comedy and foregrounding the brilliant songs.

Malala Yousafzai. On a horse. With the band Lady Parts. Image: Channel 4

“It’s amazing,” Vasan grins. “Everyone was excited and nervous before her arrival. There was a big lead-up. ‘Oh my god, she’s coming on Thursday, we have to make sure everything is right.’ But she was so calm. I think she found us very funny. We were being very silly around her, coming up with dance moves, and she was so stoic on the horse. But I could hear her chuckle at the ridiculousness of what we were doing. And she liked the song!” 

Meera Syal also makes an appearance – as a punk pioneer. “Meera is amazing,” grins Vasan, who has worked with Syal twice on stage. “It’s so nice to have someone who is a pioneer in the industry playing someone in our fictional world who was also a pioneer. And she loves music. So it was a lot of fun for her.” 

By its very existence, We Are Lady Parts is a political show, as well as a heightened, visually innovative comedy. This labour of love was born of frustration – at the narrow and stereotypical representations of Muslim women across TV and film. 

“When series one came out, a lot of people were like, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ Well, you don’t see this on TV, but in culture it exists,” says Vasan. “So TV is catching up with what’s already out there.  

“The biggest thing this series is an existential question around the band’s identity. There’s the collective question of what Lady Parts means to us and that perennial one of art and money, creativity and capitalism.” 

As the band wrestle with the complex conundrum of no longer being the only all-female Muslim band on the scene when more media savvy, younger band Second Wife compete for their audience, Amina – who, for viewers, is our window into the world – there is also complex feelings about a young troubadour.

“Of all the characters I’ve played, she’s the one person who is so open-hearted and warm, she just wears her heart on her sleeve,” says Vasan.

“She’s so vulnerable and beautiful that way. And it’s very rare you get to play completely uncynical characters So to play her is a real gift. I get to like be a clown. That’s how I approach her, almost like a clown.”

Returning to We Are Lady Parts was not so much a case of getting the band back together as interrupting the ongoing friendship with a filming schedule.  

“We were all genuinely friends, the whole cast, so we are in each other’s lives,” says Vasan. “Our WhatsApp group was going strong the whole time. So we didn’t have to find the chemistry again or go, what have you been up to?  

“We go a bit crazy when we are all together. Once we got into costume and were together for a group scene, the energy was as manic and chaotic as ever. It’s like we are on a sugar high. So after every day of filming we are exhausted, in the most wonderful way.” 

Between series of We Are Lady Parts, Anjana Vasan has been stealthily putting together one of the most eclectic CVs in the acting world. She went straight into series four of Killing Eve as trainee assassin Pam. Vasan went on to shoot Wicked Little Letters alongside Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman, causing a commotion as police officer Moss unveiled the phantom filth-writer of old Littlehampton Town.  

“I said yes faster than you could say Olivia Colman,” Vasan grins. “It was a masterclass every day – watching these beautiful actors and beautiful humans at work.

“My favourite memories are of whenever Eileen Atkins was on set. She has such great stories about people in the industry – that I’m not allowed to tell – and we would just assemble around her in a circle, just in awe of her, and her incredible career and life that paved the way for all of us.” 

This was followed by a long run in A Streetcar Named Desire, with Vasan winning an Olivier Award for her performance opposite Paul Mescal and Patsy Ferran.  

Vasan also received a second Bafta nomination, in the Best Actress category, for her killer performance alongside Paapa Essiedu in “Demon 79” – the Black Mirror episode that looked at the impacts of everyday racism through an unsettling lens. Her character Nida Huq (Vasan) went on a killing spree against a backdrop of anti-immigration policies and the rise of the National Front and under the influence of a demon dressed as Bobby Farrell from Boney M.

“I love the questions that it was asking within it,” she says. “Paapa is an exceptional actor and exceptional friend. I can be quite self-critical when I’m filming, but there was so much love and trust on set, that it was the one time I’ve been on a film set and not gone home thinking, ‘I should have done this or that differently.’ And I think that’s because I felt so held by everybody.”

What next? Vasan is not one, she says, for writing lists, making plans, or manifesting her next dream job. 

“I always want to exist in a different genre, a different world, or a different time period,” she says. “It’s about always trying to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Maybe subconsciously it’s trying to stop yourself from being stereotyped or put in a box.  

“Because starting out in this industry, I felt very limited by the choices that were in front of me.” 

Big stardom is approaching for Anjana Vasan. But what is her Big Issue? She pauses, settling on the right choice of words, before explaining what was going through her head at the BAFTAs last week.

“I feel so lucky to be able to work as an actor in this country because it’s not my country,” says Vasan, who was born in Chennai, India and grew up in Singapore before moving to the UK to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2011.

“That I even have a career is incredible to me. I was thinking of all these things at the BAFTAs, because it is all very meaningful and symbolic. But it struck me that if I had to start that journey now, I don’t know if any of it would be possible. Because the policies are different. The rhetoric is different. The climate around immigration is different.

“This government is wanting to close its doors. But I think the country, and by extension, our industry, is strongest and at its best when it can look outwards and welcome people and their stories, and open its doors to immigrants, to asylum seekers, to dreamers, to hardworking people.”

We Are Lady Parts series two begins on Channel 4 on Thursday 30 May.

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