Everybody may very well be talking about drag-loving teenager Jamie New in the film Everybody's Talking About Jamie, but his best friend Pritti Pasha isn't a character to be ignored.
Lauren Patel portrays Pritti in the Amazon Prime Video flick, and while much of the film explores her on-screen bestie's desire to be a drag queen, Priti has an important and uplifting role to play.
Speaking to Refinery29 Australia over Zoom, 20-year-old Patel opened up about how proud she was to call this her first major acting role where representation was front of mind, and her British Indian character wasn't just defined by her appearance.
"I think the thing I loved about Pritti and a reason why I felt comfortable taking this role is because as much as she is a hijabi Muslim, she doesn't have to be," said Patel.
"It’s not even really addressed in the film, it’s not mentioned. She just is in Jamie’s life and happens to be wearing a hijab.
"There’s obviously elements of her faith that help resonate and add to the story but if you took that back, she was still the same character and it would still be the same story."
The movie does make religious and cultural references related to Patel's character throughout, but in a subtle yet powerful way.
For example, at one point Pritti tells Jamie, "I'm a Muslim girl with a Hindu first name... the looks they'd give me at mosque." In another scene the school bully, Dean Paxton, calls Pritti a 'spaki' – a derogatory term insulting Pakistani people with a disability.
Patel said "there’s obviously elements of her faith that help resonate and add to the story", but if they weren't there, she'd still be Pritti, she'd still be "the same character and it would still be the same story."
"I think it’s important to have representation on screen where it’s not just about the thing that makes them a marginalised group," she explained. "We can just exist in wider stories, the same way we exist in real life."
Speaking of Patel's real-life experiences, the rising star sent through an online video audition for the role when she was 17 and "putting off doing my homework".
"Twenty days later I found out I got the job, and then a month after that was my first day on set, so it’s just been an absolute whirlwind of an experience," she gushed.
Growing up, Patel struggled to see many people who looked like her in the entertainment industry.
"Thankfully, [there was] slightly more on British TV, but I genuinely thought there were no Asian American people," she said.
"I didn't realize that was a thing because the only people I saw on American TV who were Indian were thick, stereotypical Indian accented people. I didn't realize that there were Asian Americans."
When she eventually learned the truth, Patel was "quite angry" that Asian Americans weren't seen on screen in authentic roles.
"I’d like to think it’s improving, but I think that even though we’re on the screens, we need to also be behind the cameras," she said of the industry's progress towards greater representation. "We need to be in the rooms making the big decisions."
"Especially in the UK, there’s a lot of subtle microaggressions and systemic issues that need to be broken down and I feel like everybody is influenced by that," she said.
"I also have a lot of privilege being very, very light and there’s a lot of colorism that goes on. So I have [faced racism], but I have also been very very fortunate and a lot of people have dealt with things that I couldn't even imagine. It’s terrible."
Since the film's premiere, Patel is cherishing her newfound platform and the start of a promising acting career.
"It's just surreal and I feel so lucky every day to just be a part of this because everybody loves this story and these characters and this film so much," she said. "I feel really privileged to be a part of it."
Inspired by the 2011 TV documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, Everybody Talks About Jamie was also a West End musical before being turned into a movie. It's now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.