Being Piki: Behind Maori TV's edgy new drama

By Siena Yates

The star of Maori TV’s new bilingual drama talks to Siena Yates about art imitating life.
Hinerauwhiri Paki, star of new bilingual drama This is Piki featuring on Maori TV.
Hinerauwhiri Paki, star of new bilingual drama This is Piki featuring on Maori TV.

The struggle for many Maori today is finding a middle ground between the culture's traditional and urban sides.

Now, new Maori Television show, This Is Piki, will centre on young Maori as they deal with just that.

Its lead teenage character, Piki, performs in a Rotorua cultural centre as part of the kapa haka group, but dreams of moving to Auckland to become a famous musician.

Hinerauwhiri Paki,star of television show This is Piki featuring on Maori TV.
Hinerauwhiri Paki,star of television show This is Piki featuring on Maori TV.

So while she's working, viewers get the jarring experience of seeing people in traditional costume, standing in a forest, texting each other about how good they are in bed. But that's the show. And according to the actress who plays Piki, that's pretty much life.

Not unlike her character, Hinerauwhiri Paki is 18 and works at Wairakei Terraces as part of the tourist attraction's Maori cultural experiences. She also tours the world with theatre dance company Mau and is now pursuing a career in acting.

She is the real-life equivalent of Piki, and says the show does a good job of depicting the lives of people her age.

There are elements of social media built into the show - text bubbles and Snapchat videos pop up on screen to further the narrative.

And although Paki says the language used "is way off - I don't know anybody who talks like that", she says it's done for dramatic effect, and it's still "fun to watch".

Director Kiel McNaughton, a former Shortland Street star who directed acclaimed 2015 television comedy Find Me a Maori Bride, says Piki needed fresh elements to its storytelling.

The show has a modest budget of $500,000 from Te Mangai Paho but the series has some big names attached - including veteran actors Temuera Morrison, Calvin Tuteao and Vanessa Rare as well as young Born to Dance star Tia Maipi.

The project is the brainchild of Rotorua-based actor-producer Cliff Curtis.

"[This Is Piki] was an opportunity to prove there is an audience for Maori drama - that is, a drama told from a Maori perspective with characters who live in a bilingual New Zealand," says McNaughton.

"It's not high-end drama ... but it is relatable relationship drama that can appeal to anyone."

Hinerauwhiri Paki,star of television show This is Piki featuring on Maori TV.
Hinerauwhiri Paki,star of television show This is Piki featuring on Maori TV.

As far as the lead character goes, it hasn't escaped Paki's attention that Piki is a lot like her. "We both have a dream and we both want to follow it."

But the major difference is that Paki, it seems, was born to do it, while her character struggles against expectations and limitations and does so mostly on her own.

Paki has spent a lifetime surrounded by the arts and a family rooted in Maori culture and performance.

"What I think drives Piki is her stubbornness and her will ... she doesn't let anything bring her down, even her love interest - even though she has feelings for him, whether he stays or goes doesn't really matter to her as long as she gets to where she wants to be," she says.

"But she's more independent than me. My whole family has been around TV and performing arts so I've been nurtured in that way."

Paki grew up in a family home school, where learning about Maori culture "was really the beginning of my passion".

She travelled as part of a performing arts group, her parents were part of the travelling musical Ahorangi Genesis, and now her siblings are all in performing or visual arts, or working in TV.

Paki herself was called to audition for This Is Piki when a video she was in with her kapa haka group Tareikura, went viral.

They dubbed it "Poi-yonce" - a mixture of traditional poi and hip-hop dance, performed to a Beyonce hit. McNaughton saw it and was drawn to Paki.

"Piki needed to have an innocence and vulnerability but also drive and determination to follow her dream. Hinerauwhiri definitely has that," he says.

For newcomer Paki, it has opened the doors to a new career.

"It came at a good time because I was yet to find what I was really passionate about, so within my journey as Piki I kind of found myself as well.

"Before that I'd never acted in my life, I never saw myself as an actor, so after doing this I've got a real fire for it," she says.

"[The story] kind of mixed in well with my life ... towards the end, Piki and I, we kind of found each other."

Low down

What: This is Piki
Where: Maori TV
When: From Thursday July 7, 8pm

- NZ Herald

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