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