Kiran Rai - Kay Ray
Sis and I have been observing the rise of young Sikh females across the pond who are making waves through their art and creativity. One such soul is Kiran Rai aka ‘Kay Ray’ - a young Canadian film-maker who caught our attention with her short film, ‘Kirpa’.
We’re fascinated and inspired by Kay Ray, and the strong circle of women she is surrounded by. Make no mistake - they are a talented and fearless bunch of ladies who are using their artistic expression as a voice to motivate and empower the brown woman.
Tell us about Kay Ray, who she is and how you came up with the name.
‘Kay Ray’ is a play on words. In high school, my friends used to always have random nicknames for me, and when we graduated, one of my friends continued to make up names whenever she’d talk to me. It started out to be what my name would be if I was a rapper. The literal meaning of ‘Kiran’ is sunbeam, or ray of sun. And my last name being Rai, always got mistaken as Ray. It just flowed well. Especially, when I decided to pursue the arts, particularly, filmmaking. I was creating videos for clients and needed a name to do it under. So that’s where 'kayray’ became official.
What inspired you to make ‘Kirpa’, and how and why did you choose the name?
'Kirpa’ is a fragment of different stories of the Panjabi women we were surrounded by. It was influenced by the female artists that struggled to make a career out of their passions to the women who have to work extra hard to work against the double standards they face at home. It was an important subject that these sisters were facing on a day to day basis, that either they have accepted it for what it is for or felt incredibly alone in their struggles. It was also inspired by our hardworking immigrant parents that didn’t know what it was like to have a choice. Instead, they had to give up everything they knew to work for the survival of their family, for them to work hard labour jobs, so we as children of immigrants, can live comfortable lives. It’s time that we tell these stories.
The name 'Kirpa’ was derived from the main character’s name of course. The name itself translates to “a blessing” and in this case of the film, “a blessing in disguise”.
When did you realise that the creative art was your ‘calling’?
I think it always sparked something in me. I was so infatuated by the performing arts. I would imagine film ideas and play them out in my head, or by myself in front of the mirror. What I realized later in the years is that I never saw myself playing the lead role. Even if I came up with these ideas, and share the screen with these incredibly famous actors (in my head of course), I could never see myself being the lead. I realized, it’s because there weren’t enough actors that looked like me that were creating waves in the industry. Bollywood was never realistic and relatable to the struggles of the diaspora. Even in that industry, being a Panjabi Sikh actor, I would still be considered a minority. It was a constant dilemma because of the setbacks that I thought I had. I grew up always performing dance, which I felt more comfortable doing so in front of an audience rather than actually acting with dialogue because I was so shy. Even with dance, I was told it should be considered just a hobby and nothing more.
So throughout high school, I took the dramatic arts every year, performed dance in so many talent shows, however, I thought it wasn’t a realistic career. So, I started gearing my courses towards psychology and thinking about getting into the mental health field. I took a semester off before applying to post-secondary education (which was honestly the best decision I’ve ever made) and that time made me realize that acting was all that I ever wanted to do. I knew that it was going to be difficult to get into, so I decided to take media productions, so I could learn all the behind the scenes work before working in front of the camera which included film-making. I also started modelling at the same time which truly allowed me to be more confident in myself, and be comfortable in front of an audience and a camera.
Working with community organizations, (and always having to work on video projects) allowed me to start creating with my own vision. One thing led to another and in the last year, I finally got acting training at Toronto Film School and Talent Inc Academy. I worked with local artists to create on our own terms, and it allowed me to feel comfortable to create films under my own name.
What advice would you give to someone who, like Kirpa, wants to pursue the creative industries but perhaps feels they don’t have the support of their family?
I know what it’s like. Many of the artists that you see working hard, especially from the South Asian diaspora did not have it easy. It’s because we were the trailblazers. It took us twice as long to understand this is truly what we wanted to do. I didn’t have anyone to look up to when I first started. I had to create my own opportunities without having any support at all, whether it being family or friends. I think you shouldn’t expect it either, because when they realize how talented you are on their own, it is that much more meaningful. We need to have the arts in order to tell our own stories, to create our own content, to build our own culture. The diaspora, unfortunately, do not have a home to call their own. We are considered outsiders regardless, whether it being here in western society, or back in the motherland. We need to trust our struggles and find the beauty in them. To realize that this is beyond us. We are here so temporarily. We mine as well make the most of every breath and fulfill our purpose.
What’s been your greatest struggle in filming, and how do you generally overcome negative emotions?
I think being a female filmmaker was always a struggle. I was always surrounded by males who wanted to work with me however didn’t take what I wanted to pursue seriously. Being a conscious, Sikh, Panjabi woman made it even more of a struggle, because generally I just always want to be socially aware and politically correct with any content I put out to the universe. It’s so difficult to do what we want, but once we seriously feel confident in our work, putting out honest art and surrounding ourselves with energy that will motivate us, we can only find ourselves excelling. It’s better to experience all the hardships at first because then you will understand greatness when it comes.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everything. My mother. My father. My naniji. Just to name a few of the most important people of my life. Conversations with like-minded people and people who love to debate inspire me. It allows me to understand what our community needs, to explore different avenues, to comprehend various characteristics. Especially, when I am travelling, meeting so many incredible people that restore my faith in humanity and realizing that we are so small in this infinite universe. Photography, whether it being anything from old family photos to high fashion editorials, truly get the juices in my brain flowing. Of course, film, whether it being the way the screenplay was written, the cinematography, the musical score, the acting or the set design. When it is all put together it springs so many endless ideas. Seeing people of colour sharing the screen and addressing societal issues through their art forms, especially South Asians. Fashion is a heavy influence on my sense of creativity and incorporating the fusion of west vs east as much as I possibly can.
What challenges did you face during the project, and how did you stay motivated?
Resources and time. It was all so limited. We shot the entire film within a span of four days and countless hours of shooting and editing. I was lucky enough to have worked with artists that were able to contribute throughout the film, however, it was quite challenging to be the director and lead actor at the same time. It was definitely worth the thrill. Knowing that I have complete creative control and it is my responsibility to make the call was what kept me motivated to continue to deliver.
What have you learnt about yourself since releasing ‘Kirpa’?
I realized how important it is to share. That this film was beyond what I ever experienced and that it really is the reality of not just myself but so many people, children of immigrants, all around the globe. That I have the power to release any content that is socially aware, artistically expressed and does justice to what people are starving for.
What’s your motto?
Build your own opportunities. We are the ones we were waiting for.
What else can the world expect from Kay Ray and the sisterhood?
The sisterhood is rising, growing and collectively creating. We have so many upcoming projects including more videos and short films, magazines, EP, art shows, traveling on tour together. The opportunities are endless and we are seizing each and every one.