Former VJ Shenaz Treasury is resurfacing as an Instagram ‘influencer’ | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Former VJ Shenaz Treasury is resurfacing as an Instagram ‘influencer’

Shenaz Treasury tried Bollywood, chipped a bit off her surname, and moved to New York. Now she’s back with a Netflix show

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Nov 19, 2016 09:09 IST
Poorva Joshi
Former VJ Shenaz Treasury has been travelling in Bali.
Former VJ Shenaz Treasury has been travelling in Bali.(Photo courtesy: Shenaz Treasury)

At 10.05pm on a Saturday, we get a WhatsApp message from Shenaz Treasury (35). “I’m signing into Skype. See you at 10.30.” Twenty-five minutes later, Skype’s signature ringtone goes off, with her video call.

In keeping with the Indian tradition of a Skype call, she can’t hear us for the first few seconds. Even before we exchange pleasantries, the stream freezes. But Treasury is prompt. She’s already calling us on WhatsApp.

She brushes off the technical difficulties. She’s in Manhattan, New York, and has more pressing matters to discuss: Donald Trump has just been elected US President, the streets below are flooded with “Not our President” protests. Amid this chaos, with uncanny coincidence, her Netflix series, Brown Nation, released on November 15.

Revolving around the life of an Indian family in New York, it not so much touches upon as dives into the debate of ethnic diversity in the US. “I think this is the best time. Now is the time to understand that we, the human race, are bound by the same challenges and sentiments, irrespective of where we come from,” she says.

Read more: Here’s our complete guide to Netflix in India

What’s skin colour got to do with it?

Set on the life and family of an Indian IT specialist, Brown Nation is a light-hearted comedy on the lifestyle changes and the personal struggles a first-generation immigrant faces in America. Treasury co-stars noted Indian-origin international actors — Rajeev Varma (The Price of Milk, 2000; The Blue Rose, 2013) and Omi Vaidya (Three Idiots, 2009).

“I play Dimple, wife to a businessman settled in America. She has big dreams about living in New York,” she says. The reality, however, is different. She’s caught between settling into her new life abroad and wanting to make a career for herself. And Dimple is a little scatterbrained. More significantly, she is taking in the culture shock.

Treaury would understand. She has a culture shock story of her own.

She moved to New York five years ago in 2011, when she was offered a recurring role on the American TV soap One Life to Live — one of the longest running soaps in the US — as a waitress at a nightclub. By her own admission, it was during this time that the myth of living outside India was shattered for her. “Everyone thinks living abroad is fun… The ideal life. Take it from me, it’s tough,” she says.

To better explain her point, she gives us an example. That of the lady who runs the beauty parlour Treasury visits in Manhattan. The woman travels all the way from Queens (the New York equivalent of a Virar to Churchgate transit), cooks before she leaves, and takes care of her kids. “She works hard — balancing her life and making honest money, just like her Caucasian counterpart. She deserves an equal shot at happiness,” says Treasury.

Read more: Here’s what happened during Atlas of Beauty’s India visit

Treasury is quite taken by the parlour lady. She mentions her a few times through our conversation. She admits she’s rattled by Trump’s win, and steers the conversation to the racial debate at every chance she gets.

More remarkably, her opinion is not primarily driven by her own Indian lineage. “I’ve been travelling over the last year. I have grown to understand that no matter where we come from, human beings, at heart, are the same. Defining ourselves based on race, religion and ethnicity is like betraying that,” she says.

Been there, done that

Treasury isn’t exaggerating when she says she has been travelling. Her Instagram feed (126k followers) has her posing at exotic locations — Bali, the Bahamas, Istanbul, Turkey, Jamaica, Thailand. It goes on. And like any serious Instagram ‘influencer’ (she calls herself that in her Instagram bio), it’s work meets pleasure for Treasury. “I am venturing into the travel vlogging [video blogging],” she says.

A self-taught videographer, photographer and editor, she says she learnt it all from YouTube tutorials. Her vlogs feature must-visit locations, and top hotels in every city she’s visited. Each vlog — all a little confusingly titled Travel with Shenaz — has close to 50,000 views on YouTube.

And the amateurish approach notwithstanding, she’s already developed a bit of a reputation. She says she was followed around in Bali courtesy her Instagram posts. “Two couples had checked into the same hotel I was in, after having cancelled their original booking, because they saw my posts. I bumped into them thrice during the trip. They were going wherever I was posting from,” says Treasury.

Read more: Poets of Instagram: How social media is making poetry hip again

She says the travel vlogging is a passion, something to keep busy between acting projects. The perks of being a social media influencer don’t hurt, though. A lot of her luxurious getaways are thanks to hotel invitations. “I am invited for a stay and a review,” she says.

Despite her social media success, Treasury continues to primarily identify herself as an actor and a video jockey, a job she started when she was 22. Fresh out of college in 2002, she was on MTV’s Most Wanted. In fact, she continues putting her VJ-ing talents to use — Treasury was the red carpet host at Couture Fashion Week, New York, in September. She was even invited to speak at a Hindus for Trump rally in New York. “I refused, of course,” she says.

But being an actor and a VJ is not enough for her. Treasury doesn’t like being idle between projects. So she travels. She’s even attempting a book: a collection of short stories about love and relationships. “I know I’m in a jack of all, master of none situation, but I like it that way,” she says.