Lights, Camera, Inclusion S2E1: Shyam Valera and Kashif Pasta

The pair discusses representation, inclusive sets, and second-gen storytelling.

In this first episode, Now & Next lead editor Gaëlle Essoo is joined by longtime friends Shyam Valera and Kashif Pasta. The pair founded Dunya Media, a production company focused on “telling BIPOC stories with a global impact.” Shyam and Kashif’s work on authentic representation also includes special attention to the crews, including their contribution and well-being on sets. 

Shyam and Kashif grew up in Surrey, B.C., one of the most culturally diverse cities in Canada and met in high school some 20 years ago. “[Surrey] is this kind of amazing place where

there's such a huge South Asian community in particular where I didn't even really ever feel like a minority”, Kashif shares. “I really grew up in that environment

where I didn't necessarily feel super othered, which has given us this weird cultural confidence, I feel like as well in our work.”

The pair immediately connected on their shared love for movies. Creating a production company together was an idea they had in mind for years and Dunya Media was born out of the desire to produce “feature films and episodic series for the global South Asian diaspora”. Their work so far includes the digital scripted series Welcome to Surrey, the short film Desi Standard Time Travel, directed by Pasta, numerous clips and ads, among other projects. 

Talking about the importance for the first generation of immigrants to this country to see themselves on screen in a meaningful way, Shyam Valera mentioned that they want their work to reflect the way they see their own parents and grandparents: as “forces to be reckoned with”. “Representation is really important to us," adds Kashif Pasta. “But what really matters to us is who is centered in the story”.

The duo also shared how they had no prior notion of how things were done in the industry, neither of them having attended film school. Obstacles and systemic barriers became apparent as they started to go through the journey of getting projects funded, developed and distributed. 

According to Kashif Pasta, not going to film school came with its set of challenges, but also allowed them to set up their own rules when it comes to creating inclusive film sets, where they have put in place prayer breaks for crew members, for example. 

Asked about the one thing they would like to see evolve in the screen-based industry, Shyam Valera spoke about the need to take more risks and to reach out to different voices and creators: “There's still an old guard that's taken up a lot of the funding or resources or has a lot of the voice that's out there. I think there's a lot of new talent, not even new talent, but a different talent that's being created [...] So I hope the system takes a bit more of a chance, puts a little bit more time and resources into some of these different avenues.”

Gaëlle Essoo
Gaëlle Essoo works for the Canada Media Fund as the Lead Editor for the Now & Next editorial platform, and as the French market liaison for the organization's Growth & Inclusion team. Prior to joining the CMF, she worked as a producer for international news channel France 24 where she focused on programs dedicated to women’s rights across the world. She also worked as a press counselor for the Embassy of France in Canada.
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