Sharan Dhaliwal 33 London
Categories: Editor, Publisher, Zine

Posted: 21st August 2017

Here at Babyface we’re all about safe online spaces that make our time spent on the Internet a lot more worthwhile. Take Burnt Roti for example, a print and digital magazine providing a platform for rising South Asian voices and creatives. Of course, finding Burnt Roti led us to discover the girl behind it – Editor in Chief, Sharan Dhaliwal. Born and raised in London by her Punjabi parents, Sharan is something of a career chameleon. Having started out working at a London creative agency before becoming dissatisfied by the lack of support, Sharan decided to go at it alone in 2015 starting her own animation agency Peatree Productions, that saw her create social content for a number of clients. With a new skillset under her belt, and an underlying desire to do something different, Sharan decided to create a magazine through which she could proudly declare her British-Indian culture. Just like that, Burnt Roti was born.

But Burnt Roti isn’t just a magazine. Shaped by Sharan's own experience struggling with Euro-centric beauty standards and the sometimes-odd upbringing that comes from living a British childhood whilst also existing as an individual immersed in South Asian values, Sharan kickstarted the project from crowdfunding, before publishing the first issue of Burnt Roti in April 2016. The name itself stems from Sharan’s memories as a child. Those of rebellion, resisting her mother’s desire to teach her how to cook the perfect roti for fear it defined her only worth was to cook for her husband. Sharan spent her younger years doing anything she could to deflect from misogynist practises. Repeatedly burning her roti was just the start.

Aside from Burnt Roti's own content that spans everything from interviews with rising actors to thought pieces on mental health, the magazine also invites writers from around the world to submit their own original work based on topics like racism, arranged marriage and women’s rights. By paying attention to her own experiences, Sharan has started an open conversation in which other South Asian individuals can celebrate and discuss their culture.

It doesn’t stop there. Right now, Burnt Roti is hosting an exhibition titled ‘The Beauty of Being British Asian" at East London’s Old Truman Brewery, inspired by an original message submitted online by writer Nikita Marwaha, that explores how British Asians navigate their dual identity. Having teamed up with art-curator Ryan Lanji for the occasion, Sharan is showcasing the work of 15 multimedia and five spoken word artists, who each use their art form to express their dual identity and their political, emotional and artistic views. In turn, the exhibition aims to provide British Asians with a sense of unity, or a place for discussion. Expect art from the likes of Jasmin Sehra – who’s portraiture takes a look at the influence of hip hop culture on South Asian women in the UK – and words from poets and spoken word artists like Jamal Mehmood, author of Little Boy Blue, a collection of personal and political poetry from the perspective of a young British, Pakistani Muslim.

When she’s not heading up Burnt Roti or curating exhibitions, you can find Sharan herself “nervously and drunkenly making dad jokes on a microphone” at The Star of Bethnal Green in aid of a Bollywood Pub Quiz (a regular occurrence). It’s Sharan’s fearless approach to addressing issues of cultural assimilation that makes her stand out for all the right reasons. Welcome to the club, Sharan.

Words by Brooke McCord

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU DO… Through clenched teeth, I’ll call myself a 'creative'. I wear a few hats; by trade I'm a video producer/animator, my full-time job is as a designer and I'm an Editor-In-Chief of lifestyle magazine Burnt Roti. I grew up avoiding issues that dealt with my mental health, identity and political status but with age it became all I spoke about. I speak on panels, give talks and go on the radio discussing beauty standards, my magazine and why representation matters.HOW WAS BURNT ROTI BORN?I worked for a creative agency that I didn't feel was nurturing me, so I left and went freelance. I started an animation agency – Peatree Productions LTD, which worked with a lot of clients, creating Vine, Instagram and YouTube videos. After a while, I stopped getting work and found myself spiralling into anxiety attacks and depression. Then one day I remembered that when I was younger I always imagined myself as a woman running a magazine (this was after, of course, when I used to say I wanted to be an ambulance. Like, the actual van). So, I did it. At that time, I was having a lot of discussion about the rhinoplasty I had undergone in my early 20s and whether I was removing 'ethnic' features to fit into a Euro-centric beauty standard. I found myself writing articles about body hair and acceptance and this led to me opening up about my cultural identity. It felt like the perfect fit.WHAT PROJECT HAVE YOU BEEN MOST PROUD OF TO DATE?The first print magazine of Burnt Roti. It was my first project and the first time I've ever undertaken such a task. I remember holding the magazine in my hands after the order arrived and just screaming/crying in happiness. It was my first child and I'm so proud of it. I held a kick ass launch party after, which my dad turned up at and stole everyone's hearts. It was just such a happy moment.TELL US ABOUT ‘THE BEAUTY OF BEING BRITISH ASIAN’… I get a lot of submissions for the online part of Burnt Roti and I remember receiving one from writer Nikita Marwaha, that really resonated with me. It discussed the dual identity of being both British and South Asian in such a way, it made me do an ugly laugh. On my 4th read, I found myself imagining art by each line and it inspired me. I emailed her back asking what she thought about using it for an exhibition and it went from there. I felt if it connected with me so strongly, all the British South Asians that come along will get the same feeling and I wanted to share it with them. Let them know, they're not the only ones who feel it.HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT CURATING IT?Again, it's something I'd never done before, so I researched how to put on an exhibition...successfully. Google is only so helpful as for a creative, but it helped me figure out how to organise my tasks. I knew I had to speak to some artists, so I put out an artist call on Twitter and the response was amazing. So many were interested, excited and realised how important it was. I set up a Google document and got them to fill out ideas, and through a selection process I figured out what group would be the most interesting. I wanted different styles and art types. Now we have a WhatsApp group where we all excitedly tell each other what stages we're at.WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT IF WE COME AND HANG OUT AT A BURNT ROTI BOLLYWOOD PUB QUIZ?Oh man. Expect me nervously and drunkenly making dad jokes on a microphone. It's such an interesting event because I mostly hold it in East London and I’ve been asked why I don't go to areas that have a large South Asian community, such as Southall. I feel that those communities are integrated into their own worlds and those who may feel left out or have no one to talk to about Bollywood films/songs/actors, can come together in this space. The music round is by far the best, because I get to see people's faces light up while I dance awkwardly to intros. It's a fun, silly atmosphere and the prizes are always great!HOW WOULD YOUR FRIENDS DESCRIBE YOU IN A SENTENCE?I asked a few friends to answer this for me and then said 'a barrel of fun', 'the spirit of adventure' and 'a good one'...WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU WAKE UP?I pick up my phone, check social media, check emails, line up posts, make sure I flag important messages, then I do my personal accounts and then I go on Tumblr to find some funny content to share. Then I get up and wee.WHO DO YOU ADMIRE?I have the most interesting and exciting group of friends. They all inspire me in different ways – either creatively, with body image or with just living life to the most. My friends are all successful in some way and because they're doing well, I know I can too. They're my beautiful, inspiring girl gang.WHAT COULDN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?My eyebrow kit. I would never leave the house.WHAT’S YOUR SIGNATURE DISH?Homemade bacon cheeseburger with rosemary chips. WHAT’S YOUR PET HATE?White feminism.AND FINALLY… WHAT’S NEXT?After this exhibition, I'm working with a collection of South Asian women on an exciting book! Stay tuned for more. AND FINALLY...WHO IS YOUR NEXT BABYFACE GIRL SUGGESTION?Who: Bolu Babalola
Why: She's one of the most interesting, funny and creative people I've ever met. Always on top of things, currently writing and producing shows and making everyone laugh while doing it. Selfies are always on point too tbh.
Contact Sharan Dhaliwal