Aftab is a bright, feisty, British-Indian teen living under her parents’ watchful eye amid the hedonism and decay of Thatcher’s London. When her strict and traditional parents decide to marry her off to the first available Indian suitor, Aftab rebels, taking a job at a sex shop and setting off to write her own destiny.
“Alex in Wonderland” is a darkly comedic coming-of-age drama about freedom and rebellion. The six-part TV series created and written by Mandi Riggi, and produced by Kevin Comer of Psychonaut Films, will take part in the drama series pitching competition this week at the Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo (MIA) in Rome.
Riggi was raised in the U.K. after her parents left Iran in the wake of the 1979 revolution, and for “Wonderland,” she partly drew on her own experiences as an immigrant child in ‘80s London. “If you were an immigrant, it was automatically assumed that you were uneducated, and that you had to go around being everybody’s servant,” she said, describing the “traumatic” experience of being bullied, robbed, and chased by skinheads.
For the young Riggi, it felt like the world around her was burning. “Thatcher’s enterprise culture was fostering this greed,” she said. “At the same time there was heavy unemployment. There were strikes, riots, suicides.” Hedonism and rampant consumerism became relief valves for the upwardly mobile middle class, while many young Brits like Riggi found other means of escape. “Music became its own kind of movement. Punk was over, and there was a birth of something new.”
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Like the show’s lead, Riggi had a kind of awakening amid the turbulence, taking a job at a sex shop at the age of 17 after being dared by a friend. “I was never going to work there,” she said. “I had this rebellious streak in me. I just wanted to win the dare.”
Two years later, she still hadn’t left the job. “This sex shop was a home for other misfits like myself. It became a shining symbol of emancipation, independence and sexual freedom for me,” she said. “Because I was having this identity crisis myself, and everyone around me, all these misfits were the same, just like me. Some of these people became family.”
In Rome, Riggi hopes to meet a commissioning editor who’s drawn to her coming-of-age script so she can “develop it with someone who loves it.” She attended MIA’s co-production market last year with “Mercy,” a feature film that’s being executive produced by Andrew Eaton (“The Crown”) with a cast that includes F. Murray Abraham, Hiam Abbass, Emun Elliott, Sarah Snook and Yasmin Paige. For “Wonderland,” she said she wanted to try her hand at TV at a time when “hopefully doors are more open for new voices.”
“I’m always interested in writing about people or characters who haven’t necessarily been portrayed before,” she said. “It’s not so much of an interest as a duty to tell stories about Asian immigrants, and try to maintain their ethnic identities while assimilating into Western society.”