When Mawaan Rizwan began creating funny YouTube videos as a teen he didn’t realize that he was inadvertently launching his mother’s acting career.
In a delightful, must-read essay for the New York Times, Rizwan describes the creative journey that began when he was a directionless 16-year-old who decided to ask his mother, an English teacher named Shahnaz Rizwan, to co-star in some of his videos. “We did rap battles. We dressed up as Goths. We even re-enacted my birth. Sadly, she drew the line at twerking,” he wrote. The combination of the duo’s talent and clear mother-son bond quickly drew the notice of viewers. Rizwan wrote that their videos received almost eight million views in the year they launched the channel in 2012.
Comedy fans were not the only people who were watching. Mawaan Rizwan also received a call from an Indian television producer saying she was working on casting an upcoming series, Mawaan Rizwan was immediately excited. But, as he writes, he was quickly put in his place. “No, we don’t want you,” she said. “We want your mother.”
That’s how Shahnaz Rizwan wound up being cast as the feisty mother-in-law Mrs. Bhalla in the hit Hindi drama “Yeh Hai Mohabbatein,” which airs on Star Plus. The show’s title translates to ‘This is Love’ in English and tells the story of an extended family in Delhi who struggle with a variety of issues that include infertility, adultery and crime. (This is a soap opera, after all).
Earlier this year, Shahnaz wrapped up her five year run as matriarch Toshi Bhalla. Critics note that she made her mark as one of the most memorable characters on the hit show. While tabloid rumors have swirled about the reason for her departure, she says the decision was purely a personal one. “There is no such reason professionally, she told Pinkvilla. “It’s just that I am really missing my family who is settled in London and eagerly waiting to go back to them.”
She also noted that as someone born in Pakistan in the 1950s, living and working in India for so many years was sometimes an emotional experience. “You won’t believe that when I stepped onto the Indian soil for the first time, I could feel the warmth and love in the air,” she said to Pinkvilla. “I could sense as if this was my own country. And why not? My ancestors belonged to this country and are buried in the same soil so of course, I felt at home in India.”
You can read Mawaan Rizwan’s full essay here.