Imagine coming from a conservative culture and wanting to be part of the liberal lifestyle in Brooklyn. You are, of course, taking New York City by storm while dressed in your interpretation of “modernized” traditional garb. But, what do you do next?
The simple answer is to make an impact in the best way you can.
This is the basic premise for Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz’s web series “Shugs & Fats.” They are unafraid to break barriers in how women are perceived, and are thereby making an impact on how women who wear hijabs are seen in America through their sometimes raunchy but overall hilarious show.
[Read Related: Nadia Manzoor’s One-Woman Show ‘Burq Off’ Transcends Cultural Barriers with a Bikini and a Burqa]
Their characters, Shugufta (Shugs), played by Manzoor, and Fatima (Fats), played by Vaz, create a comical atmosphere where women can connect to each other while also looking past their cultural identities.
”As a woman, I find it necessary to raise the subject of double standards or female stereotypes – it’s just the way I think,” Vaz said. “This is about all women, not just for women in hijab.”
“The device of traditionally appearing women looking for liberation and stepping outside the status quo made sense for us in creating these characters,” Manzoor added.
The first season shows a different side of conservative women in a short time span. Each webisode is less than three minutes long and gives an imaginative and laugh-filled look at the situations Shugs and Fats indulge in.
Right from the start, with the opening hip-hop theme song and the sight of Shugs and Fats headed to the laundromat in hijabi attire and large sunglasses set the perfect tone for what viewers can expect to see from the duo and series.
The characters both change the way women who wear hijabs are perceived with comical ease, for example, when Shugs dances to hip-hop music or the webisode where both women try boxing as a hobby.
In some scenes, Shugs and Fats take their imagination to great lengths by discussing topics of making their friends agree to detox, discovering sexual toys and getting the ultimate acceptance into becoming a real American, a.k.a. jury duty.
But beyond the humorous premise, the chemistry is what solidifies the pair. Together, Manzoor and Vaz’s rapport is undeniable as they feed off of each other fluidly, much like sisters.
“I’ve known I wanted to work with Rads [Vaz] from the very first time I saw her in an improv show and I didn’t even know her. I just related to her humor,” Manzoor said. “Our comedic chemistry was great. We got each other’s humor so well and helped each other with our own material.”
Manzoor’s comedic style is straightforward and within the narrative of “Shugs and Fats,” she is comparable to a a younger sister who can easily run wild with multiple ideas, and is often seen scrambling at the last minute to live up to her fellow comedian’s motherly style.
“I allow her [Shugs] to be more curious than I am, a bit more of a goofball, a bit more lost in her existential commentary and interest in the nature of all things. That’s basically me — but she has permission to be full on,” Manzoor said.
Meanwhile, Vaz effortlessly takes on the role of the older sister, who indulges Manzoor’s crazy ideas but is usually the voice of reason.
Vaz said she found her character after many auditions where she was subjected to the weeping and subservient mother role.
“I remember I would keep thinking, just because she is wearing a hijab doesn’t mean she is subservient – or any of the stereotypes we buy into,” she said.
Both Manzoor and Vaz have a limitless area of topics they could explore in their show, and the web series offers the right leverage to show women that it is okay to continue to break barriers.
The first season of “Shugs & Fats” is currently available to watch online and the second season is set to premiere in April.