'Maybe We'll Explore Priyanka's Character's Back-Story In Mumbai Next Season,' Says Quantico's Bangladeshi-American Writer

07/02/2016 12:02 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
ABC/Phillippe Bosse

Quantico, the primetime hit drama about a group of Federal Bureau of Investigation recruits, has made headlines for multiple reasons: Priyanka Chopra, an established Bollywood mega star playing the lead role of Alex Parrish, the diversity of the recruits and the plot of terrorism.

But show's biggest success lies in creator Josh Safran's commitment to understanding and portraying correctly the backgrounds of his characters.

That's why his team of writer's room is staffed with eight writers, including those Palestinian, Jewish, Quaker and Muslim origin.

Sharbari Ahmed, a Bangladeshi American writer is part of the team, and plays a role in the depiction of the Muslim twins.

I am Muslim so I do harness that to contribute to the Raina and Nimah Amin story arc.

"So far, it's been focused on beautiful, elegant, thoughtful writing and creating authenticity for all characters and I am Muslim so I do harness that to contribute to the Raina and Nimah Amin story arcs," Ahmed says

She shares, "They have not used my 'South Asian-ness' yet but who knows? Maybe we'll explore the back-story of Priyanka's character's decade in Mumbai next season. And then it might come in handy."



Photos courtesy Sharbari Ahmed

Does Ahmed feel the weight of being a Muslim writer in today's world where Islam is being hotly debated and there is the additional burden of a presidential candidate like Donald Trump spewing hateful rhetoric?

"I think Muslims have to thank Trump," says Ahmed calmly.

"His presence on the national stage has turned the conversation to the intolerance and bigotry that is becoming more pervasive in America."

I think Muslims have to thank Trump... His presence on the national stage has turned the conversation to the intolerance and bigotry.

If she could spend five minutes with Trump, she says she would tell him that he has" gotten it totally wrong."

"Muslim immigrants are just like Americans. They wake up in the morning, thinking about their jobs and families. I guarantee you they are not thinking about causing harm to America," she said.

In fact, Ahmed credits Quantico for its "sheer brilliance" in the casting of the Muslim twins Nimah and Raina Amin, played by actress Yasmine Al Massri.

"We have been careful in staying away from stereotyping. We showed both sides of the coin in the twins. The hijab-wearing devout one and the liberal one without. They are meant to create a dialogue about Islam and its complexity," Ahmed says.

The instructions to the writers were very clear on that Muslims don't have to be presented in the clichéd role of terrorists. They have stayed away from demonising or caricaturing them as some other shows have done.

"But we will also not sacrifice a good, authentic story to be politically correct," Ahmed said. "Especially if it makes sense in the world Josh has created."

Ahmed has been writing for over a decade. She published a short story collection The Ocean of Mrs. Nagai and had a play Raisins Not Virgins adapted into a short film.

Priyanka works really hard at this role... It makes me very proud as a South Asian to see her succeed.

She was working on her novel when an actor friend emailed her to tell her that ABC was looking for a South Asian female writer. To cut a long story short, she was hired.

This is her first television gig and she spends all week writing with the staff in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

"At first it was intimidating and still is at times; it was difficult because they are all so much more experienced than me. But, with their help, I am learning and I hope we are picked up for another season," Ahmed says.

She has only met Priyanka Chopra over Skype and is filled with admiration for her work ethic.

"Priyanka works really hard at this role, which requires her to be both smart and sexy. Plus, it's physically gruelling. It makes me very proud as a South Asian to see her succeed."

Ahmed wishes for more representation for "South Asians, Muslims and women" in America.

"We have made some strides with Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling and Priyanka but that's not enough," she says.

Ahmed was born in Dhaka but immigrated to America when she was three weeks old. She lived in Chester, Connecticut for the first seven years of her life.

Her father Dr Manzoor Ahmed, now retired and living in Bangladesh, was a United Nations diplomat. For many years, he was based out of Ethiopia with his wife Anowara, a homemaker. Sharbari is the youngest of four kids Parveen, Nasreen, and Murshed.

I always knew I was going to be a storyteller. I kept writing and I got rejected but I never stopped.

Ahmed soaked in the "deeply spiritual vibe of the amazing, exotic country with its weather and its multicultural mix of Muslims, Jews, Christians and other cultures."

She spent two years in China, and went on to complete her education in New York, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Marymount College and a master's degree in Creative Writing from New York University.

Currently, Ahmed, who is divorced, lives in Darien, Connecticut, with her son Anjay, 16.

Travelling and living around the world helps her appreciate multiculturalism and it seeps into all her work.

"I always knew I was going to be a storyteller. I kept writing and I got rejected but I never stopped," she says.

The patience, the persistence and the perseverance has paid off and made her more determined to be a player in the world of entertainment.

When the writers get a break from the show in March, Ahmed plans to finish her novel, set in WWII Kolkata and turn it into a screenplay down the road. Keep an eye out for her first solo TV credit, episode 13, "Clear", which airs on 13 March on ABC.





Stills from Quantico episode "Over", co-written by Sharbari Ahmed. © ABC/Phillippe Bosse

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