by Margaret Chrystall
AIZZAH Fatima came from a small town in Mississippi and turned her back on a career in IT to explore a future in drama.
It’s the start of a story that has seen her turn into six Muslim women nightly in her one-woman show Dirty Paki Lingerie.
Next year, four of the women will be part of the Dirty Paki Lingerie film that Aizzah’s currently working on.
With her director Erica Gould, the two have now seen the play transfer from American, Canada, the Middle East and back to Scotland – where it played at the Edinburgh Festival ... though almost under a different title.
And never mind the cultural differences and Muslim stereotypes explored in the play, the title alone has some stories to tell.
Dirty Paki Lingerie sees Aizzah transform herself into six Muslim-American women caught between two different cultures.
Aizzah conducted one-on-one interviews with Pakistani-American women who shared real-life incidents and concerns in their lives and has created a play that aims to break down boundaries and shatter preconceived ideas about culture, religion, sex, and politics.
Worries about the word "Paki" in the title came as a surprise to Aizzah when the play came to the UK first.
She says: "In America, ‘Paki’ isn’t a mainstream word, I’d say it and people say things like ‘What, a package?’.
"But we’ve found that a word like ‘lingerie’, conservative people don’t like it, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindi. They seem to feel it’s too personal – I think it’s interesting – as if they want to do away with sexuality."
Director Erica Gould adds: "The word ‘Paki’ is almost neutral in the United States, but I know in the UK it’s the equivalent of the ‘N’ word over there.
"When we did the show in 2012 in Edinburgh for the Fringe, some of the venues said ‘We’d love to have you but not with that word’.
"But at the Assembly they were cool with it and I think they appreciated the controversy!
"In America, the word raises a very different conversation. "But we’re always walking a fine line between alienating people and bringing up a conversation about ‘Why is that word negative?’.
"Some of the theatres presenting us have insisted on changing the title. So in some places it’s been Dirty Pakistani Lingerie – as in Toronto, we had to change it there.
"But sometimes, surprisingly, the word in the title that people have a problem with is ‘Lingerie’.
"There are so many issues around sexuality in many traditional Muslim cultures, not historically, but now.
"There’s a really interesting New York Times article about what you can and can’t say – and in Urdu, apparently, there aren’t even words for some sexual things."
Aizzah adds: "We were putting on the play at a multi-cultural centre in California and a Muslim students’ group didn’t want the play to go on. But it went ahead and some of the students came along and sat at the back and I could see they were laughing at the show and enjoying themselves. When it was over – we always have a question and answer session – I said ‘If you want to talk to me about it, this is your time’. But they had nothing to say."
The play has been on a big journey and it was the same for Aizzah in creating the piece.
For her, home was university town Starkville in Mississippi with a university population and a diverse community from Japan, Europe and the Middle East.
"It was an interesting place where you were close to lots of different cultures," she says.
Drama took a back seat as a hobby while Aizzah studied microbiology and pursued a career in IT, working for Google for a while.
But Aizzah took a class to see if she could write her own show with Matt Hoverman, an actor, screnwriter and coach for those wanting to stage solo shows.
"I realised I could do it," she laughs, adding how at first she would perform just five or 10 minutes in front of an audience, trying to hone the work.
"At first I thought it was going to be a dramatic, serious piece."
Aizzah had no idea that she had a talent for comedy, but remembers one wake-up call.
"In an acting class, we’d been asked to work on a dramatic, moving short piece about rape and doing it, I was in tears.
"But at the end the tutor said ‘Do you know you should be doing comedy?’ Aizzah laughs.
Over time, she realised the same thing about her serious, dramatic monologue that has now become Dirty Paki Lingerie – and that she is currently rewriting as a film script.
Aizzah said: "I really fought doing comedy, but now I love and embrace it.
"I think it brings down more barriers."
Dirty Paki Lingerie is at Eden Court on Saturday, March 5.