Villains and heroes, damsels in distress. These are the tropes that captured the imagination of Zakeeya Patel when she was a young girl tucked away in the dark of the cinema and falling in love with the charm of the silver screen.
“My grandmother was one of the first distributors of Indian films in South Africa and I have spent my whole life surrounded by the film and entertainment industry,” says Patel.
“My dad used to tell me stories of how we are descendants of a tribe of Indian gypsies and that our caravans were those of the performers.”
Today strong women such as Salma Hayek, Frida Kahlo and her mother and grandmother inspire Patel. She admires them for breaking boundaries and stereotypes and forging their own paths without waiting for luck or chance.
“You really do everything when you’re an actress in South Africa – I act, do voice-overs, script and dance,” adds Patel.
“There is also a whole other aspect to being an actor in the public eye; here we have this amazing platform to help, empower and educate people. I think if you have the ability or means you must try to make people’s lives better in any small way.”
Patel is also passionate about teaching young girls not to be spectators to boys so that women’s and men’s stories are heard equally. She is also involved in preventing young girls from being ashamed of their bodies and the conditioning of the media.
“If we spent half the amount of time we do on obsessing about our bodies on more constructive things, we would be happier, healthier and more fulfilled women,” she says. “I never want to be the actress a little girl looks at and thinks: I need to diet to look like Zakeeya.”
Confident, compassionate and ambitious, she is well on her way to becoming a household name and one that’s as known for her skills on stage as for her character and moral compass. You can see her in the upcoming play Emotional Creatures written by Eve Ensler and directed by Jo Bonney. — Tamsin Oxford