See Jane Spotlight

Mira, Royal Detective

Discover how Disney Junior’s new series celebrates a vibrant, diverse and magical culture

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Images: © Disney Junior

By Mary Ellen Holden

In a world that is multicultural, global, and connected, it is fitting that Mira, Royal Detective, Disney Junior’s new television series celebrating Indian culture, was its first to launch concurrently in the United States and India. Set in the fictional kingdom of Jalpur, the production highlights the beauty, diversity, music, and deep heritage of this culture to a broad audience that transcends geographic, societal, and traditional demographic boundaries. It features South Asian talent on- and off-screen in the voice cast and creative team, as well as consultants who ensure that the series is authentic and breaks traditional stereotypes.

With a diverse, empathetic, optimistic, and intelligent female lead character, Mira, Royal Detective, tells the story of a young girl who travels through the magical land of Jalpur solving mysteries. The series engages audiences with a clever juxtaposition of universal themes and cultural celebration.

Each episode premieres on Disney Channel, with subsequent airings on Disney Junior and DisneyNOW. In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May 2020), Disney Junior will debut three new episodes, and a short-form interstitial series called We’re on the Case, as well as a behind the scenes look at the series’ Bollywood music video, and more. Importantly, as we are all sheltering in place, the series has been celebrated as a top family co-viewing experience… more on that to come.

⁠Below you will hear from series developer and story editor Becca Topol and Leela Ladnier, who voices the title role of Mira on why the representation of diverse and inclusive female characters in children’s programming matters. This series fully delivers on the #Iwanttoseeme mission of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media for the South Asian and Asian American communities.

Introducing Becca Topol

Mary Ellen Holden: Please tell us a little about yourself.

Becca Topol: I have always loved writing, but my career path took some twists and turns. I majored in East Asian studies at Brown University and then earned a law degree from Harvard Law School. Fast forward, I moved to Los Angeles to follow my passion for writing and storytelling. I’ve worked on other Disney Junior series, including Elena of Avalor, and I was thrilled and honored when they asked me to develop Mira, Royal Detective and to be a part of this groundbreaking series.

Mary Ellen: How do you ensure authenticity?

Becca: Our creative team is dedicated to ensure authenticity and integrity of the show. In addition to conducting extensive research, we work very closely with cultural consultants through all stages of production from the initial episode idea to scripts, designs, music and animation. The cast is South Asian as is our talented series composer, choreographer, and other key creatives. Like several of us on the team, I traveled to India which was a huge inspiration in so many ways. We collaborate with Technicolor India; our partner animation studio and regional consultants based in India. Collectively, they help us to showcase the diversity of India from the classical and folk dances to food and music from different regions. Making this show is truly a collaborative process.

Mary Ellen: What has been your greatest surprise since launch?

Becca: After six years of development, I had high hopes for the series and the response has been beyond what I ever imagined! It’s thrilling to me that kids of so many ages and from different cultures, backgrounds, geographies, and genders are responding to the show and to the mystery genre. I just wanted people to love it as much as I do…and, they do!

Mary Ellen: Variety listed this series as one of the top “24 Shows to Watch with Your Kids While Self-Isolating That You’ll Like Too.” Why?

Becca: I’m so thrilled we were selected; especially since one of the team’s goals from the beginning was to create a show that can work for kids of all ages. And, also to have humor and characters that parents can appreciate. I have a 13-year-old daughter so this meant something special to me personally. She was 7 when I started and it’s great that the show has grown with her.

Mary Ellen: Tell us about Mira.

Becca: Mira is a smart, brave, and compassionate girl who is appointed Royal Detective of her kingdom. She has a close relationship with her father and her family and loves her community. She applies critical thinking and deductive reasoning when she looks at evidence. She is deeply empathetic and doesn’t jump to conclusions which is a great lesson for all of us. As a problem solver, she can draw viewers from different communities and backgrounds who enjoy seeing how she’s going to figure out the mystery in each episode. Mira helps everyone – royals and townsfolk, alike. While she was appointed to be the Royal Detective, we like to think of her as the “People’s Detective”.

Mary Ellen: How has the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media inspired your work?

Becca: I’m a huge fan of the Institute and everything it is doing to bring strong and diverse characters to the forefront. These are conversations we need to be having. Oftentimes, you see the smart girl as the nerdy sidekick and for me it was so important to have the smart girl be front and center. Mira’s our “shero,” very much inspired by the work of the Institute.

Mary Ellen: Can you share an example of how the Institute’s research has informed this series?

Becca: I love its motto, “If she can see it, she can be it.” We are working this vision into onscreen portrayals. For example, we wanted to see a character like Mira using her intelligence as a way of helping her community by being smart, capable, and compassionate. I wanted audiences to see a smart aspirational female being a detective as a role model for boys and girls. Mira is the first female in the long line of men to be appointed Royal Detective. I also noticed that much of your research is around female leadership, which also informed our development of Queen Shanti, who is voiced by Freida Pinto. She is a role model by being a benevolent leader who cares deeply about her people. She’s strong and has humility and acts as a mentor to Mira.

Mary Ellen: What does success look like?

Becca: Young South Asians now have animated television characters who look like them…and, people all over the world are celebrating South Asian culture, being curious and wanting to know more. Kids are learning about South Asian food, dance, clothing, and music and getting up and dancing to our Bollywood inspired dance numbers on the show.

Mary Ellen: What viewer takeaway is most important to you?

Becca: Mira has a talent and we can all learn from her. She pays attention to the world around her and notices things, sights, sounds, and smells. The little things we do matter. We can all use our talents to make the world a better place. Mira is ultimately a show where people do good and want to do good for others.

Mary Ellen: What do you see as the future of children’s programming?

Becca: Kids are so smart, and they’ll pick up more and more from their exposure to the world around them. There are going to be more programs that showcase cultures and diverse communities giving viewers cross cultural experiences. The world is becoming so much more multicultural and the best way for people to really gain an appreciation of that is to watch and learn.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for female creators entering this industry?

Becca: Push to have stories you want told and push to create female and male characters that you want to see on screen. Work with people who support and nurture your vision – find your allies and creative partners.

Close Up with Leela Ladnier

Mary Ellen: How did you land the role of voicing the lead character in, Mira, Royal Detective?

Leela Ladnier: My mom’s agent asked if she knew any young girls who could sing and perform. She said, “my daughter can.” My first audition was a cool opportunity to get in the room and learn about the industry. I got the callback and started to consider more deeply how important this project would be. Even after I landed the role, I didn’t fully realize how important this project was. But, now, after I’ve done Season One, I’m just so grateful… Mira is one of the more important roles that I’ve seen on television.

Mary Ellen: What is Mira’s appeal?

Leela: She’s very motivated, kind, and inclusive; but, she’s also a strong and independent girl who sticks to what she feels is right… I’m learning that every day. She is always optimistic and never gives up. She lifts people up to find a solution. I think Mira is going to be a role model for young girls and boys everywhere who will aspire to have some of her qualities.

Mary Ellen: This is the first time Disney Junior has produced a South Asian/Indian show – how does it feel to be first?

Leela: Hopefully, this will be just the first of many projects. I’m growing up in a new generation (different from my mom’s) and we’re seeing a lot more diversity in the media, Yet I never saw many strong female leads that I could look up to. So, I looked to Black Widow from The Avengers… she never strayed from what she believed in. Being a role model for younger kids is humbling.

Mary Ellen: How did the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media influence your aspirations and your opportunities?

Leela: Their motto is, “If she can see it, she can be it” and I relate to that. When I was younger it gave me the confidence that if strong females could go after their dreams – why can’t I. People like me deserve to grow up idolizing people that they can relate to in achieving their dreams – if they do, we’ve done our job right.

Mary Ellen: Did you ever imagine that you would become a role model?

Leela: I’ve always had a dream of doing this. To be part of something bigger than myself; but, never thought I would be a part of Disney, a company that has been a significant part of my life since I was little. This is just an absolute dream come true and I’m proof that if you work hard at something it can happen.

Mary Ellen: What are some of the key take-aways from the show.

Leela: I think it’s important for young kids to understand that there is always a solution and that you should never give up. Another is to be kind and help others…it’s the only way to be successful.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for culturally diverse females entering this industry?

Leela: Stay true to yourself; and, let the appreciation you have of your culture shine through. I’m mixed race so it’s been kind of difficult to try to find my own identity – especially when one part of the industry is telling you that you’re not Indian enough and the other part is telling you that you’re not white enough. Remember who you are and never forget where you came from because your background is only going to help you push forward.

Mary Ellen: Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you’d like to share with our audience?

Leela: Even if you’re not a young kid, it’s a great show to check out. It’s a fun and inspirational show.

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT