Not Your Butter Chicken, a new four-part TELUS original series on TELUS Optik TV channel 8, Stream+ and  is now available to audiences in B.C. and Alberta.

Award-winning filmmakers Priyanka Desai and Joanna Wong teamed up to create the docu-series that celebrates the untold stories of South Asians in Western Canada through the eyes of food and wine expert Shiva Reddy.

The series will bring viewers on a road trip from British Columbia’s Kamloops and Kelowna to Alberta’s Lethbridge and Fort McMurray, in this blog, and our friends at Storyhive had the chance to sit down with Priyanka Desai and Joanna Wong to hear more about how they are carving their path in the world of filmmaking.

For both of you, this is not your first time working with TELUS originals. Can you each take me through your background with producing TELUS originals docuseries?

Joanna Wong: I ran a creative agency in Beijing, China for a decade and came back to Canada during COVID. Through that process, I connected with the amazing documentary and unscripted community, and met Ryan Mah and Daniel Berish at Black Rhino Creative. Together we joined forces on House Special, which is how I met Priyanka Desai. Before that, one of the first things I did when I came back to Canada was collaborate with another friend of mine on a STORYHIVE project called Purple Tiger and it was directed by Jon Chiang—that was my first contact with TELUS.

Priyanka Desai: I was born in Mumbai, India and moved here six years ago, so I’m fairly new to the Canadian scene… I was looking for a job and I didn’t know anyone, but I came across Ryan Mah and Danny Berish of Black Rhino Creative. It was by accident that I got to work with them on a project that they were producing for TELUS STORYHIVE called Red Chef Revival. I got to produce three episodes for them while they were in the middle of the production. And then also got a chance to work on Moosemeat & Marmalade, the TV show for APTN. I got a chance to again collaborate with Ryan and Danny for House Special, which is how I met Joanna. I also line produced this TELUS original feature called Mareya Shot, Keetha Goal: Make the Shot, a hockey documentary directed by Baljit Sangra [and Nilesh Patel]. So it was a really good experience working on that and working with Ken (Tsui) as TELUS originals’ Production Executive. When the opportunity came up for doing a South Asian show, Joanna and I just joined forces and thought ‘Let’s do this together!’ and it’s been a sweet, fun ride so far.

Do you look at Black Rhino Creative as your mentors? Did you feel that TO gave you a strong footing in creating your own docuseries?

JW: We think of Ryan Mah and Daniel Berish as our film dads and have the greatest respect and admiration for them in their body of work. It’s just so amazing that we had the chance to work on House Special and have such a great show together. And they have also been just instrumental through the process of our own show, especially at the very start. As we brought it together, they provided incredible support and mentorship.

PD: And also giving an insight into the Canadian way of production ethics, running the production with so much love, care, respect and kindness towards the crew members. I don’t think I’ve seen that in any other set before, but I think that that’s something that is really important in having mentors. We are really grateful.

JW: I would just add to that, TELUS’ vision to build this journey of STORYHIVE is a great first contact for early creators, and [TELUS] originals, which is now powering just documentary content in Canada. It’s not just the vision as funders but as community builders—these programs bring people together in an incredible way. It connects people in an industry that can feel really lonely and overwhelming at times and difficult to navigate. And I really think that these programs and TELUS’ deep thought in this space is transforming what’s possible for creatives.

Not Your Butter Chicken premiered with the beginning of Asian Heritage Month — share in your words why Asian stories are so important, and why you wanted to be part of bringing this project to life.

JW: Well, I very much believe that Not Your Butter Chicken is an incredible South Asian story. So I will let Priyanka speak on that. But I think the opportunity to look back on your history, as an Asian Canadian contributes to a deep knowing of the self and, and your story, and where you came from. And it gives a power to look at the now and the future.

PD: Whenever we talk about diverse stories, we talk about Asian stories, we talk about representation. The core of the stories are human emotions and that connects us all and have been experienced by everyone. Representation matters not so that we get to stand out, but so that we get an opportunity to connect on a deeper and a higher level through stories of human emotions. What are we if not for our emotions, our stories and for our lived experiences? I think that this is a great opportunity to look at Asian stories as the stories of human emotions and as universal truths through these lived experiences. I think here’s an opportunity for us to do that.

How did you develop this story?

PD: I always wanted to show or invite people to, you know, experience that South Asian and Indian culture is more than butter chicken… Shiva Reddy’s story, her personal journey becomes the tool or the medium to basically share what we wanted to say. The feeling that you’re not Canadian enough or not Indian enough—you replace that Indian with any other person, you always feel like you are living this dual identity. And it’s such a universal experience that, you know, right now, yes, we are talking about the South Asian experience and the Canadian experience, but people are going to connect with it on a very universal level as well. So this is a local story, but also a global story at the same time.

Was there anything you found in the filming of this that surprised you about your own storytelling? Or anything you identified with?

JW: The universality of intergenerational relationships was just something very delightful I experienced during the filming. I have a Chinese background, but I found that a lot of the values I grew up with and a lot of the experiences I had living and working in China transferred over to the way that I saw Priyanka and her team relating to a lot of our amazing subjects and collaborators. For example, reverence for elders and ways of showing respect and building relationships through food are things that are very familiar to me… so it goes back to that idea of universal stories.

Now that the four-part series is released, what do you want audiences who are thinking of watching this to know before they dive in? What will they take away from it?

PD: I want people to really look at the show as not just being a story that is told that you’re going to watch for entertainment. I really, I really hope that people make these conversations with their elders with their loved ones because our time is so finite. I really want people to lean into that thought and create and document new memories with the people they love.

JW: Everyone knows butter chicken, but they don’t know the culture that created it. The series is an invitation to learn about the culture that created this iconic go-to favourite dish, but whether you love butter chicken or you hate butter chicken or you don’t even have feelings about butter chicken, this show is still for you. It’s an invitation into the culture.

Watch all four episodes of the TELUS original series Not Your Butter Chicken on TELUS Optik TV channel 8, Stream+ and (in B.C. and Alberta) now.