Alum couple explores intercultural relationships in web series ‘Converting’


Photo courtesy of Ariella Khan

Director Ariella Khan (Communication ’21) and cinematographer Dhruv Mehra (Communication ’22) have been working together on projects since they met nearly three years ago.

Jenna Wang, Reporter

Ariella Khan (Communication ’21) always struggled with navigating cultural confusion between her American and Pakistani identities, especially while growing up. When she began dating cinematographer Dhruv Mehra (Communication ’22), the difficulties of an intercultural relationship became more prominent than ever.

“The system is not designed for (intercultural relationships),” Mehra said. “There’s not really an infrastructure for these things to happen in this age, where we’re so connected and it’s possible to actually be meeting and interacting and falling in love with people on other sides of the world in different cultures and contexts.”

Her new comedy-drama web series, “Converting,” explores the dynamic of an intercultural relationship where characters Iman (Mirrat Moloo) and Liam, (Rishi Mahesh) (Communication ’21) are separately and jointly navigating their complex identities.

Khan said she found inspiration while attending a series of weddings back home in Pakistan, where she faced the reality that in Islam, legal marriage generally only occurs if both people are Muslim.

Upon noticing how many Pakistani families would accept their new son- or daughter-in-law only after they converted, she said she struggled to draw the line between true faith and tradition.

“You can sign this piece of paper so your family can be happy, versus actually believing in a religion and embodying the values of the faith,” Khan said. “That’s where the real idea came from, was just exploring that idea of why people could turn to a faith. Can it start that way and end up in a genuine adopting of this value system?”

Mehra, who grew up as Indian, Japanese and white in a predominately white environment, said his relationship with Khan has made him more aware of his own identities and how he finds common ground for their coexistence.

This complicated aspect of an intercultural relationship is the overarching notion of the web series, Mehra said, where identities cannot be fully simplified. Both Khan and Mehra sought to share one couple’s story in hopes of highlighting some difficulties that can speak to a broader experience.

Mehra and Khan described “Converting” as the biggest challenge from a directorial and cinematic standpoint since they started working together nearly three years ago. While juggling many roles within the production, they have also had to navigate the dynamics of working together while dating.

Already, their efforts have resonated with the cast, crew and community around them, Khan said. These shared experiences helped Khan realize her situation wasn’t as hyperspecific as she thought.

“I write this for myself and my people who will relate, and not for wanting everyone who watches it to understand everything immediately,” Khan said. “We don’t have to act like we’re operating within a Western industry — we can think of it as as multicultural as we are.”

Producer Devon Gulati described working with Khan as “eye-opening.” Given his past intercultural relationships, he said he appreciated the intention behind making both protagonists South Asian to highlight the nuances most people don’t notice.

“I think it’s more than just saying, ‘My girlfriend’s Indian and the same as me,’” Gulati said. “It’s like, ‘Well, she’s also from South India and from a different caste and there’s other things that are different about us even though we’re from the same place.’”

Gulati said he has noticed how passionate the cast and crew are.

Every moment on set isn’t just another day on the job, he said, but rather a place where he can find vulnerability and trust.

“These are the groups that I want to be repeatedly creating art with because it’s such an extraordinary experience,” Gulati said. “You find that when you work with people who care about you.”

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Twitter: @jennajwang

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