How the ‘We Are Lady Parts’ Creator and Star Cranked Up the Volume in Season 2

In 2021, the world was introduced to “Bashir With the Good Beard” and “Voldemort Under My Headscarf,” furious outbursts of passion and wit from the fictional band at the center of the British comedy series “We Are Lady Parts” (which streams on Peacock in the U.S.). Created by Nida Manzoor, the show stars Anjana Vasan as Amina, a nerdy PhD student whose mad guitar skills land her a place in Lady Parts, a pop-punk outfit made up of Muslim women played by Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed and Faith Omole — all of whom perform the songs themselves. They’re managed by Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), who vapes under her niqab.

The critically adored first season won three BAFTAs and a Peabody Award. Now, the rebels are back for a raucous Season 2 in which they record an album, butt heads with the system and cross paths with Malala Yusafzai, the young Pakistani activist and Nobel laureate who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

We Are Lady Parts
Sarah Kameela Impey, Anjana Vasan, Faith Omole, Lucie Shorthouse and Juliette Motamed in “We Are Lady Parts” (Peacock)

Season 2 is always a challenge, particularly when you’re following a debut as well received as yours was. How did it feel to tackle a second season? Daunting? Exciting? Both?

NIDA MANZOOR  It was all of it. It was exciting. It was daunting. It was like that difficult second-album feeling when I started approaching it. But as soon as I sat down at my desk, as soon as I started brainstorming ideas, getting into the writers room, it all started to come back. I had time away; I’ve made a film in between [“Polite Society”], which actually galvanized me because I was just so excited to play in this world again.

How was it for you, Anjana?

ANJANA VASAN  When I read the scripts, it felt like such a natural continuation from where we left off in Season 1. We all work together so closely and actually in that interim period, we were very much in each other’s lives. So we were supporting each other’s works and showing up. I feel like Nida also understood us even deeper as actors. For example, Faith, who plays Bisma, has this beautiful moment where she’s [singing] Nina Simone. And that’s because she’s been nominated for an Olivier Award for best musical theater performance, you know what I mean? So I feel like she could write deeper for all of us because we’ve had so much time to get to know each other.

Also, I don’t know if Nida remembers this, but just after Season 1 happened, we went for dinner and I remember asking you if you had any ideas for Season 2 and you said, just off the cuff, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if I could write a song for Malala?” And I remember thinking, I bet she’s gonna pull that off.

MANZOOR You manifested it!

And she appears in the show, in the video to the song she inspires, “Malala Made Me Do It.” How did that come about? 

MANZOOR All I had was a title. And then I was at a talk; I was speaking and she was doing a talk after, so I was like, I must stay and listen to Malala. She was talking about her love of comedy and how she loved watching “Fawlty Towers” and “Sex Education” and I was like, Malala loves comedy?! I might have an in here. I basically wrote her a love letter. Just knowing she has a sense of humor and a mischievous side, I was very excited to see if she might respond. Then on [set], she was just so relaxed, so chill, so down-to-earth, made everyone feel at ease. I was being very intense and nervous, but she was just a delight.

We Are Lady Parts
Zaqi Ismail and Anjana Vasan in “We Are Lady Parts” (Peacock)

Anjana, what did you want to explore this season?

VASAN  Season 1 was so much about her coming out of her shell and finding her voice. So what does she do with that? And we left a cliffhanger about what happens with her and Ahsan [her love interest, played by Zaqi Ismail]. I remember saying, sort of jokingly, “I think there should be a love triangle.” Maybe I was just secretly wanting to live out my own rom-com fantasies because I’m such a nerd. I just wanted my Meg Ryan moment. [Laughs]

Season 2 tackles this conflict between artistic integrity and capitalism [when the band gets a record deal]. It’s something that every artist faces as they become more successful and get a higher profile. For both of you, is this something that you have grappled with?

MANZOOR Certainly not this one for me. I mean, that’s why it exists. I felt so supported by my team. And I think it was just the experience of making Season 1 and building that trust that meant for Season 2, I could go into those darker, more difficult themes and be supported.

But it was definitely, certainly something that came up for a lot of the artists in my writers room when we’re talking about, how do you make art when there’s a certain idea of what needs to be? I have writer friends for whom “We Are Lady Parts” existing is difficult for them because people want to recreate a “We Are Lady Parts,” — like, that’s the only version of a show about Muslim women that could possibly succeed. And you’re dealing with the industry’s around risk-taking and small-mindedness in certain areas. So it was definitely something that came out of my writers room.

And I’ve experienced as a new writer, when I was trying to break into the industry and being asked to write a very certain, specific idea of what it means to be a Muslim woman: It had to be a victim, it had to be this very specific thing. And I felt for a long time that I don’t think I can do this because I wasn’t seeing a way through where I’d be allowed to make a show like “We Are Lady Parts,” which is why when I got to make “We Are Lady Parts,” I was like, I want to put that tension in there.

I remember having this moment when I was a new writer. I’ve got this job, and it was a big job and I needed money. But I had to co-write with a white male writer who’s writing a show about a Muslim woman, but it was very dark and it was all about honor killings. And it’s like, Would I come on and just essentially rubber stamp it? They’d have my name. I feel lucky that ultimately I said no to that because I just couldn’t do it.

And Anjana?

VASAN As actors, the only power you have, really, is to say no. You can’t always control the choices, the opportunities that come your way, but you look at the choices in front of you and you try to pick the best one. I feel like I’ve said no a lot more than I’ve said yes in the last couple of years. And doing projects like “We Are Lady Parts,” it’s a gift but it’s also in some ways really difficult because you realize not every show is like that. It’s hard then to say yes to something that isn’t written with as much care.

But having said that, it has also given me a power to be able to say, “This isn’t okay. I can’t be part of something like this because I was part of a really wonderful cultural phenomenon moment with [‘We Are Lady Parts’]. I can’t be a part of your show because it does the opposite thing.”

How long does it take to write Lady Part’s songs?

MANZOOR I write original songs with my brother, Shez [Manzoor], who’s also the composer, my sister, Sanya [Manzoor], and our third co-writer, Benni Fregin. Basically, we have a day per song. One of the reasons I wanted to make the show was to have an excuse to write music with my siblings because it’s what we did as kids. I was always keeping my own [tally] like, Are there enough jokes in the song? Or with some of the more serious songs, with “Glass Ceiling Feeling,” it was, OK, this is too funny now. So thinking tone as well.

But again, I was just trusting my co-writers, my siblings [who] were really encouraging me to push away from the traditional Lady Parts sound of punk, pop-punk. … So with “Malala,” it was “Malala Made Me Do It,” [country-] western. … “Glass Ceiling Feeling” is a bit grungy. Or there are more intricate harmonies. It was collaborating and trusting them being like, “Let’s evolve Lady Parts to something else.”

VASAN They’re like the Von Trapp family. They write these songs. It just happens.

We Are Lady Parts
Faith Omole, Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed and Anjana Vasan in “We Are Lady Parts” (Peacock)

“Glass Ceiling Feeling” has one of the most brilliant words ever uttered: supercalifragi-racist. Where did that nod to “Mary Poppins” come from?

MANZOOR [Laughs] It’s just being in a room with my siblings, eating sugary snacks. I think it’s that sibling thing where there’s a slight element of competition. What’s the funniest line you can come up with? Also, getting to have an Audre Lorde quote — “Stuck in the master’s house with the master’s tools” — among it meant a lot to me.

Anjana, you get your big rom-com moment when Amina serenades Ahsan in the middle of a busy London street with the 2004 hit “The Reason” [from the Southern California band] Hoobastank. That’s quite a song choice. Was it fun to shoot? 

VASAN I have to say when I read it, I was like, Really? Of all songs to sing? I just had a memory of the boys in my school playing guitar and singing it, and I’m like, “This is so cheesy and so cringe.” But that’s what makes it perfect. The fact that she’s uncomfortable singing that song and putting herself out there makes it really sweet and vulnerable. It was the one moment of Season 2 that I was genuinely nervous about filming because this is not really in my key or my register. And I expected it to be outside in a quiet street. [Laughs] That’s not quite where it was. I remember a lot of people staring. Every time I’d turn around, there’d be someone staring out the window.

If you’d done it on a rooftop, you could have had your Beatles “Let It Be” moment.

VASAN Yeah! Oh my god, yeah. That’s a much cooler reference than Hoobastank. I’ll take that.

A version of this story first ran in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews

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