People Moves

What does a cultural consultant actually do?

More color, region-specific clothing, and appropriate accents—Shagorika Ghosh Perkins is making sure Disney's Mira, Royal Detective accurately reflects the South Asian experience.
March 9, 2020

On Mira, Royal Detective, there’s nothing that the titular character can’t solve. She knows about everything that goes on in the mythical city of Jalpur. In that way, she’s just like Shagorika Ghosh Perkins, the cultural consultant for the upcoming Disney Junior animated series. Premiering on March 20, Perkins has her hand in every bit of the production to ensure that the show is an accurate representation of India and its people…even if it is set in a fantasy world with fictional characters.

From ensuring there are no unnatural accents, to suggesting story ideas, Perkins’ responsibility it to ensure that Disney Junior’s first animated series starring South Asian leads comes together appropriately and authentically.

Perkins began her career at Genesis PR in India before moving to the US 20 years ago, where she’s worked with advertising agencies to help better reach the South Asian diaspora in North America. She is now at multicultural marketing firm IW Group (and has been for 11 years), working with clients such as MetLife, Walmart and Lexus.

A few years ago through her work at IW, she began consulting with Disney’s R&D team, Walt Disney Imagineering, before shifting over to the Pixar side where she helped as a cultural consultant on the 2015 Oscar-nominated short Sanjay’s Super Team.

And for the past two years Perkins has been dedicating her time to Mira, Wild Canary’s new 25 x 22-minute series, produced in association with Disney Junior and with animation provided by Technicolor India. That work will continue on season two, which Disney Junior has already ordered, ahead of the show’s debut later this month.

Set in a fictional city of Jalpur, the first step, both for Perkins as the cultural consultant, and for the series itself was to decide what that city would actually look like and do a bit of world building. India is a massive country (1.2 million square miles) with many different cultures, religions and people, and the producers and Perkins wanted to be able to represent all of it. To narrow that focus down, the creators opted to make Jalpur a port city, that’s based on the Northeastern Rajasthan region of India.

“There’s a beautiful palace in Udaipur called the Lake Palace, and the palace for this fictional kingdom of Jalpur is based off of that,” says Perkins. “So we looked at the architecture and material and everything started from there.”

mira-royaldetective

Once they had the palace and architectural style of the region determined, setting it in a port city also meant lots of opportunity for diverse characters from all around the country. Since the show is set in a fictional place, Perkins says viewers will never actually hear anyone say where they are from (besides Jalpur), but they will see different South Asian cultures represented through various cultural celebrations (including Hindi, Muslim and Christian celebrations ) and through the characters themselves.

“The last names signify which states they’re from,” says Perkins, who says a common last name of someone from the Northeast would be Chaudry, for example. Characters’ differing cultures will also be represented through the clothes they wear. “From Punjab you would see more of those long shirts with loose trousers. In other places like the central part of India, a sari is more common.”

But the element Perkins is most proud she had an impact on is the colors in the show.

“Personally for me, the biggest difference I’ve noticed between here and India is that over here we live more of a monochromatic lifestyle, where everything is very coordinated and symmetric,” says Perkins. “In India it’s a lot about color.”

She said she had to encourage the teams multiple times to put in more color and not worry about trying to make everything match or work within a limited color palette that animated shows would usually use.

mira-disneyjunior

And, as a mother of a young bi-racial girl (her father is an American) she is incredibly happy to be a part of this project.

“My daughter is growing up here, and she’s far removed from her Indian culture and the celebrations that I grew up with and I was so passionate about, so this show brings India and the South Asian culture, along with the music, dance and the colors, right into our living rooms,” says Perkins.

It’s a feeling that she hopes other people will experience as well when they watch the show for two to sevens when it premiers simultaneously in the US and India.

About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at awhyte@brunico.com

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