‘Unfair & Ugly’ is a dramedy web series about a South Asian Muslim American family in Orange County, California trying to keep it together.
Ahhh!!! How did you feel?! Need to goss? Let’s dive into my episode breakdowns! I reveal behind-the-scenes of filming, why I wrote stuff the way I did, the music, and more. Episode breakdowns – coming soon!
I wanted ‘Unfair & Ugly’ soundtrack to capture and reflect Asian-American music of today. Yumna and I gathered sounds of hyphenated American and international artists across genres…
…all the way from UK’s Mumzy Stranger, Leo Kalyan, and Nadine Shah, to Canada’s Kay V Singh. Our American artists span from New York’s Madame Gandhi, Texas’ Shreya, and California’s very own Raaginder, A-Rushh, Nasi Nassiri and Haseeb.
…and more lovely words…
…and even more!
‘South Asian American-Led Dramedy Wants to Explore ‘Unfair & Ugly’ Side of Life’ by Monica Luhar
‘Unfair & Ugly’ follow goody-two-shoes Sana 💁🏽♀️ & her slacker brother Haaris 🧔🏽 as they struggle to balance their immigrant parents’ expectations while navigating millennial adulting.
Our show’s themes include stigma around mental health, interracial relationships + anti-Black racism, and generational gaps + general family dysfunction.
‘Unfair & Ugly’ explores ‘The OC’ like we rarely see on television, from boba & milkshakes in Westminster’s Little Vietnam, to brunching in Downton Santa Ana, to hookah bar nightlife in Anaheim’s Little Arabia.
Who’s it by?
‘Unfair & Ugly’ is created, written and directed by me, Nida Chowdhry, and produced by the talented Yumna Khan. Our lead characters are portrayed by Kausar Mohammad, Saagar Shaikh, Travina Springer, Samiya Khan and Raghuram Shetty. Our crew had an all-female production team and over 40 speaking roles for POC characters. Our community believed in this show and made it possible. We crowdfunded just shy of $40,000 thanks to 359 amazing backers. We celebrated our show’s launch with our audience at two live premiere screenings in Los Angeles and New York City.
Why is it called ‘Unfair & Ugly’?
I thought of the title ‘Unfair & Ugly’ as a play on a wildly popular skin whitening cream called ‘Fair & Lovely’ (from multi-national corporation Unilever, whose other brands include Dove, Knorr, Slim Fast, and Ben & Jerry’s). Sitting on the subway, I thought to myself how their tagline might as well be, “Hey, use our cream to be fair & lovely, because without it, you’re unfair & ugly!”and boom, we had our title. Skin whitening products (i.e. skin bleach) are a $10 billion dollar industry across the globe, a lasting effect of colonialism. I still find skin whitening products in Asian American grocery stores right next to Kit Kat bars. There’s a growing movement called #UnfairAndLovely raising awareness about these products.
There’s a second meaning behind the title of ‘Unfair & Ugly’. On TV, we’re often portrayed as either two-dimensional characters or terrorists. We’re pressured to present a ‘whitened’ version of ourselves to be accepted by the White gaze. We rarely get to be actual, messy human beings on screen and shed the burden of representation. I wanted this show to capture the unfair and ugly aspects of ourselves. To put a mirror to those parts of us as a form of acceptance, which is the beginning of healing and change.
What is it inspired by?
For ‘Unfair & Ugly’, I was inspired by Wes Anderson’s cinematography. I wanted us to feel like we are watching a storybook, and also like the characters are talking to us. I was also inspired by the narrative structure of Master of None. I love how it flowed more naturally and captured bits and pieces of life in different themes each episode. Oh, and of course, I was totally inspired by Arrested Development. I love how messy and what terrible people the characters are. Before I came up with the title ‘Unfair & Ugly’ I referred to it as South Asian Arrested Development, or SAAD :)
What other shows is it like?
I was developing ‘Unfair & Ugly’ for years, at a time when there were few POC, let alone Asian American, shows on TV and almost a decade after the 90’s wave of Black TV shows I grew up with disappeared. I was getting my life from Mindy Project and Fresh off the Boat. I also loved Aasif Mandvi’s ‘Halal in the Family’, Lena Khan’s The Tiger Hunter, Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King, and Fatima Asghar & Sam Bailey’s ‘Brown Girls’ web series, which launched the same year we filmed our web series.
I love that now there are a handful of more shows to watch: Jenny Han’s To All The Boy’s I’ve Loved Before, Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever, Kal Penn’s Sunnyside, Nijla Mumin’s Jinn, Minhal Baig’s Hala, and the show who’s success has buoyed us all, Insecure. I get to write on Disney’s Mira Royal Detective lovingly created by Becca Topol, which has an all South Asian cast and is a childhood wish come true. We’re starting to see more streaming shows like Zoya Akhtar’s Made in Heaven and Four More Shots Please! both on Amazon. Our lead actress starred in another web series after ours called ‘East of La Brea’ which recently launched, and there’s also Ramy’s Ramy. There’s even a South Asian reality show on Bravo called Family Affair! And Zainab Johnson is a lead on Greg Daniel’s Upload! Can you tell I’m counting all the wins?! I have yet to check out Indian Matchmaking.
We also have Mahershala Ali and Rami Malik on our screens so… I’m not mad. Or… I’m less mad. No, I’m still mad.
Ugh. Brb I’m gonna go watch Bend it like Beckham on repeat to feel better.