Nida Manzoor on We Are Lady Parts' “bolder, sillier, darker and deeper” second series

Nida Manzoor on We Are Lady Parts' “bolder, sillier, darker and deeper” second series

Wednesday, 5th June 2024
We Are Lady Parts (Credit: Channel 4)
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We Are Lady Parts returns to Channel 4 – bigger and bolder. Matthew Bell is hooked

We Are Lady Parts was an oasis of TV joy amid the bleakness of the pandemic as Nida Manzoor’s exuberant comedy about an all-female Muslim punk band brought laughs and great tunes to Channel 4. Now, three years later to the month, the RTS and Bafta-award winning show returns for a second series, “bolder, sillier, darker and deeper” than before, in Manzoor’s words.

Series 1 – greenlit on the back of an irreverent short for Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps – “was a trial by fire, but I found my voice, my style and my confidence in creating this show”, recalls the creator, writer, director and executive producer. “Most importantly, I found my tribe – from actors and crew to producers and studio execs.”

Manzoor says she “felt emboldened” to go “bigger and bolder… and push it further. I felt a sense of confidence having made season 1 and having made a film as well in between.”

'Showing these women as funny was a big thing’

This film was her highly regarded debut feature Polite Society, a martial arts action comedy, which Manzoor wrote and directed. “A spinning back-kick of laughs,” reckoned The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw.

Making Polite Society, says Manzoor, boosted her confidence: “You make a film and… slowly, the imposter syndrome wears down a bit. So, for season 2… it means you can… lean into pushing the story, pushing the characters, being more ambitious.”

Manzoor admits to an initial “fear of [not] topping season 1, but then I just got back into the characters and their world…. I had such an incredible writers room of Muslim women from different backgrounds. So many of the themes and conversations we had in that safe space were so inspiring.”

For series 2, the band is back in full – Anjana Vasan’s nice-as-pie lead guitarist Amina, Sarah Kameela Impey’s spiky singer Saira, Juliette Motamed’s sarky drummer Ayesha and Faith Omole as chilled bass player Bisma – as is Lucie Shorthouse, the wheeler-dealer manager, Momtaz, who has to keep the show on the road.

Anjana Vasan as Amina (Credit: Channel 4)

As yet, no musical differences, rampant egoism or rock excess have distur­bed the band’s equilibrium. They are, however, broke, despite a summer of gigging, and may have to compromise their beliefs to raise money to make their first record. There is also competition from a new outfit, Second Wife, who are enjoying success with a cover (theft or homage?) of the Lady Parts’ song Bashir with the Good Beard.

As with series 1, the show mixes clever pastiche punk written by Manzoor and her siblings, and covers, all played by the band.

“The new songs were really, really hard to play,” says Motamed, but there was compensation in the extra band practice. “It was just so nice having the time with the girls; it’s such a rare thing in this industry to be able to have a couple of uninterrupted weeks of just being in the room together.”

Shorthouse adds: “They do all of it… [it’s not] TV magic and stuff being manipulated. They are a full-on band.”

One of the covers is Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, most famously sung by Nina Simone, and performed by Bisma in the new series. “I’ve always loved [Nina Simone] from a very young age,” says Omole. “I got a bit teary. I just wanted to do it justice…. It came from the heart, you know – it was one of those things where five-year-old me showed up on set that day.”

The band in action (Credit: Channel 4)

We Are Lady Parts doesn’t take any prisoners; one of the band’s songs is the provocatively titled Ain’t No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister But Me.

And it was not the programme telly chiefs wanted Manzoor to make earlier in her career. She recalls: “I was being asked to write about Muslim women as traumatised or as victims. I think that experience really pushed me to develop and create We Are Lady Parts.

“As people of colour, sometimes you feel this burden to always do more, sometimes at the expense of your own self.… Growing up, I never got to see myself on the screen, so making the show has always fed my soul in a really meaningful way – every day on set seeing this cast playing punk music and being funny…

“Muslim women’s representation is just so narrow and just showing these woman as funny for me was a big thing.”

Motamed adds: “The issue with representation is when it becomes tokenistic.… Making the show, that’s not the feeling that you have on set.”

For Omole, it was more important that the scripts were about “real people” and “based in humanity”, rather than simply representing an idea of Muslim women. “We could all connect with them because… they’re real, individual people and that, for me as an artist, is what is really refreshing.”

(Credit: Channel 4)

Vasan adds: “I’ve been so grey in so many different TV shows I’ve done and this is filled with so much love and care.… It’s empowered me to be able to turn down jobs, because I’ve gone: ‘Well, I can’t do that now after doing We Are Lady Parts.’ That’s not a negative thing, it’s an incredibly positive thing.”

The new series also features a couple of surprising cameos: one is from renowned education activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman; the other is by comedy legend Meera Syal, the co-creator and star of Goodness Gracious Me, who plays an ageing punk.

“Meera has been an inspiration for me as an artist; she is someone who showed me that I can make comedy. The work she’s done is subversive, cool,” says Manzoor.

Recalling the shoot, Syal says it was the “most joyful and the most diverse set I’ve ever been on and I don’t think it is an accident that the two go together”. All sets should be “a safe space”, she adds, so you don’t “have all your defences up and can produce beautiful work like this. These women are fucking amazing.…

“I was so honoured to be part of it – [they] are changing the landscape and I’m so proud to be part of that.”

We Are Lady Parts is produced by Working Title Television, which is part of Universal International Studios, for Channel 4 in the UK and Peacock in the US. Series 2 began in both countries on 30 May.

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