OC Interview: OPEN CHEST Interview with Actress Sheetal Sheth

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Out In The Open With
Sheetal Sheth

Acclaimed star of many notable films at the onset of the South Asian American film revolution, Sheetal Sheth, graduate of NYU’s famed Tisch School of the Arts, has honed her skills starring in revolutionary films like ABCD, Wings of Hope and American Chai. Born in New Jersey, this determined Cancerian describes herself as “strong-willed, stubborn, loyal, trusting, and sometimes, very naïve”. I had the chance to chat with Sheth upon completion of her biggest film to date, Looking for Comedy In the Muslim World, the multi-million dollar, Warner Bros comedy flick written, directed and starring Hollywood heavy Albert Brooks of Lost In America and The Muse fame. She talks candidly about the struggles of being a South Asian actress in Hollywood, the vibe of today’s South Asian community and her appearance in Vanity Fair and MAXIM magazines. I’m sure you’ll agree that if anyone deserves to represent our community in Hollywood, it’s Sheetal Sheth, a name worth remembering!

Read On!….

Considering that you could have chosen any number of career paths with your straight A academic record, why acting?

I definitely ask myself that everyday (laughs). You know, the first time that I actually did performances was when I was in high school. I was really, really bad at it. I sucked, but I just was so intrigued with it and since academia was so much easier for me, acting became so challenging for me. It wasn’t something you could learn in the traditional sense of learning. I couldn’t figure it out, but the more I studied and learned about it, the more amazed I was about the process, and I couldn’t not have it a part of my life anymore. As well as this, having grown up in mainstream culture, I didn’t feel that there was a voice that I particularly could relate to. So in short, I wanted to create more of an avenue for people like me.

What did you specifically feel that you had to do to make that a reality for you?

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done! It really is unbelievably complex, unbelievably difficult and there are more barriers than I could have ever imagined. Looking back, I don’t think I ever knew what I was getting myself into because I felt ‘I want to do this and I should be able to’, but it’s not that simple. I went to one of the best schools for [acting] where we learned about the craft and the history of acting. I know this may sound naïve and silly but it never occurred to me that I would ever have some of the struggles that I’m having in terms of being South Asian. When I graduated and started working in the professional world, I never in my life imagined someone would ask me as many times as they do a day, what my background is. I just thought I was going to be an actress. I didn’t realize that I needed to have anything more associated with me than that. I remember one of the first meetings I had with a manager where the meeting went really well and I felt comfortable, but then at the end of the meeting he said: “Great we want to sign you, which one of your names do you want to change?”

Oh my gosh!

Yes really! I was like, what are you talking about? And he said, “Well you have to change one of them.” And that started a barrage of thing after thing after thing. I realized very quickly that I don’t look at the world the way a lot of people do, but also that I needed to stick to the way I see it and hopefully with enough hard work I can still do what I want to do. But it’s definitely very difficult.

Why do you feel that there is such a hang up with what an individual’s ethnic background is, especially in the case of those of us who were born and brought up in the West? We all went to the same schools, had the same friends, wore the same clothes and ate the same food. How is it that we are perceived so different, almost alien?

At the end of the day, the joke is that the only colour that Hollywood sees is green. It’s hard in a sense when there’s little representation of people like me in movies like there is with the African American or Hispanic ethnicities. When people meet me, and I audition, as much as you hear: “Oh you’re great! You’re one of the best actresses in the room!” At the end of the day when it’s up against me and another actress, more often than not, the role goes to the other person. The other person is also usually white and blonde. (Pause). The funny thing is that the word ethnic is this charged word in the business and there’s always this effort to cast more multi-ethnically and more diversely. But a lot of times, this means ‘black’. It does not include all the spectrums in between. There’s times when I’ve been told that I haven’t got the part because I’m not ethnic and I’m like, “wait but I am!” and they would say that I’m not ‘Black’ or ‘Latina’, which is the latest hot thing. It’s a struggle, and it’s very frustrating and there are times that I’ve wanted to scream. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not upset by something that is rooted in ignorance. I think that in many ways, casting people the way they do in Hollywood cuts the intelligence of viewers by pandering to what they think people will want to see rather than understanding the dynamics of today’s society’s acceptance of diversity. It’s everywhere but in the movies.

The funny thing is that visually you could be set up to fit into numerous ethnicities because you’re not stereotypical of the South Asian look or what westerners see as South Asian.

And that’s another thing I’ve struggled with. I’m not the typical Indian face. I’ve gone into a room when they do want to cast someone who is South Asian, and they question whether I am Indian. They think I am mixed.

You can’t win.

It’s the funniest thing. I do, however, play many different ethnicities quite well and you feel that being the best actor for the part would be enough, but when you’re faced with remarks like you’re not this enough or you’re that enough, you’re having to deal with what they have in their head as to what the standard is. They simply are not willing to do the research to see that there is a whole spectrum of types when it comes to being South Asian. The only time this is not the case is when there is a South Asian involved in the decision-making and they would step in and say, “wait, she is Indian”. That’s when I’ve had a little luck on my side and have gotten the role.

You had mentioned that there have been a number of hurdles you’ve had to overcome. Tell me about some of them.

I really feel that they are going to become different versions of the same hurdles. Here’s the thing: the music and movie world are the two most difficult careers you could be involved in, in terms of actually getting the opportunity to do it. Outside of this factor, which is enormous enough, being of a minority background and that too one that is not readily represented, there is a whole other struggle where people don’t know who you are and don’t want to know who you are. I think to myself, why does it matter? I literally want to scream sometimes, and I’m sure there have been times when I’ve lost my patience with people because they ask inappropriate questions. People say inappropriate things. People don’t sometimes realize how ignorant they really are. They don’t realize that it’s not okay.

Give me an example.

I had this one person tell me that they could not get my name right so I should hyphenate it. I could tell you so many stories. First of all, they are not technically supposed to ask you your age or background but they do. I cannot for the life of me understand why there is so much emphasis placed on this stuff since there is no relevance whatsoever to the role I’m there to audition for. If I tell them I’m South Asian, they remark, “well you don’t have an accent”.

This is beyond ignorance.

It’s stupidity. Can you believe, they have asked me what tribe I’m from!

What!

Yes! They think I’m American Indian; like that’s the only Indian they know about.

And this is relevant because?

I don’t even know half the time why we’re having this conversation. I think sometimes, not to go off too much on a tangent, but that it has a lot to do with good versus bad writing. People sometimes mistake someone’s ethnicity with being funny or someone’s character being funny. They feel that if I add an accent, automatically it becomes funny because the writing itself lacks humour. An accent in itself is not funny. It needs to pertain to something beyond an accent in order to retain the humour value. What they don’t realize is that today’s funny requires giving the public more credit than that to sustain their interest.

Do you feel that the plethora of South Asian American movies you started your career with may also have contributed to the difficultly of you getting a mainstream gig because of the element of typecasting?

First of all, I don’t consider them South Asian American movies. When people say that it bothers me because that’s not what they are. Labeling them this way is doing what everyone else is doing to us, to ourselves.

Point taken and I agree in that respect, but for want of clarification, how would you describe them?

They’re movies about American life, at least the ones I’ve been in. Movies that are made in America by any ethnicity are movies about their American experiences. I did these movies because it was important for me to do movies that were about my background and who we are as Americans. Everyone in America has an ethnicity, so what makes mine less worthy or inconsequential to the overall value system of America, or even Canada or Britain?

Correct me if I’m assuming, but by playing South Asian specific roles, you don’t feel that you are showing Hollywood only one dimension of ethnicity from the many you are trained to portray? Bearing in mind, of course, that making it in Hollywood as an actor is your goal.

I feel that if a script is good, ethnicity is irrelevant. The roles I have taken have been good roles that have allowed me to show my range of acting. It comes down to whether people agree with me or not.

It’s a little known fact that a lot of the roles that you have gotten have been on your own merit – you have been your own promotional machine. Tell me about this.

My agent and manager I love dearly, but you can’t rely on them alone. I’m in a place where I love the people who are on my team and I have a lot of faith in them, but I could never not be as involved as I’ve ever been. Let’s be realistic and understand that these people have a lot of other people to service and it’s never gonna be only about you. In addition to this, I have always had a savvy, hard work ethic, which stems from my academic background. I make it my point and my business to be educated as to what is happening. Everyday I’m doing something for the advancement of me as a person and actor. It’s my responsibility for what happens with my life, and I can’t put that on anyone.

When you know that you’re up for an audition, what do you do to prepare? Do you have a formula that you follow?

Depends on what the role is. Different roles require different processes. My standard overall thing is to learn about who you are portraying the best you can; figure out who she is. For me personally to do this, I ask myself, well, what’s her thing, what’s her hook? My key is connectivity with my character.

You have chosen a number of very controversial roles along the way. Although they have all been very different, the one commonality is that they have always been strong women. Was this deliberate or simply a coincidence?

I choose roles that move me and I guess it is always the ones with women who are strong in some shape or form that capture my interest. As for controversial, I never see the roles from this perspective until someone approaches me and says something inappropriate. (Laughs).

How similar are you in real life to the characters you play in movies?

I think there are elements of me in every character I have played because as an actor, I look in part into my own life to draw from emotions and experiences that I have directly or indirectly been faced to work through.

How do you mentally prepare for the intimate scenes you have done, bearing in mind that there is a room full of people and not many SA actresses before you have been so daring or allowed themselves to be so real, so human?

Yeah, well it certainly has entered my mind what my parents would think. I’m sure actresses feel this in some part in general, but being South Asian is a whole other level (laughs). At the end of the day, I’m not playing me and as long as I’m true to what the character would or would not be doing, it’s the job I’ve chosen to do, and I have to be convincing when I play the part. But there’s nothing mentally you can do to prepare yourself for being in those intimate situations with a complete stranger in a room full of people. It’s very difficult to do, and I get around it by making a lot of jokes to try and decompose [the situation]. So you get through it and then comes the time to view the movie…with your parents. I find myself saying to them that they may not be comfortable seeing a certain part. It’s funny because I just did a layout for MAXIM, which will be out very soon. When I told my parents, I felt like I had to almost prepare them, so I told my dad and he said “great!” thinking it was a regular magazine. I had to clarify to make sure he understood what type of magazine this was. I said, “Dad, it’s MAXIM!” And then it hit him and he very diplomatically said, “I just want to be able to see everything you do” and I’m like, “it’s not that you can’t see it, I just don’t think you want to. I don’t want you to see it.”

I’m curious, have you ever watched these scenes with mom and dad?

I try not to but when ABCD premiered in London, my mom came and that’s the first time she saw the movie.

How was that?

I swear to you, I had so much anxiety and couldn’t sit next to her even though on another level, I wanted to. We got through the movie and she appreciated the role and the movie, but to this day, we have not had THAT conversation and I’m glad because I never want it.

Is there a line that you wouldn’t cross? If so, what defines that line?

I have ideas about what I would and would not do, but my work ethic is so trained to do whatever it takes to bring a character to life and be believable that once I’m in a particular situation, that line may be crossed. I don’t know. The only line I would never cross is one that expects me to perform something out of character; that I won’t do. But if it was something like Playboy, I would never do that because it would be me and not a character I’m playing, and I don’t think there would be anyone interested in seeing me that way.

I beg to differ, as I’m sure there are thousands of people around the globe that would be quite interested in picking up a copy of that!

(Laughs) Not in my lifetime! The thing that troubles me is that people always have this idea about South Asian women not being sexy because there is this notion that South Asian women are good. I don’t get the mindset that comes with this.

But the great thing is first and foremost you’re an actor and the purpose of your life, outside of being a South Asian and a woman, is to portray characters that not only you but also the audience can connect to. If you’ve done this, you’ve done your job.

That’s right, but the thing is Raj, at the end of the day, my role in ABCD has become my most talked about movie role. The actions of the character were appropriate for who she was. Also, if you compare this movie to movies that don’t have South Asians in them, my role frankly isn’t a big deal. But in our own community, we have set up this kind of hierarchy of what is and is not appropriate and what we can and cannot do. This is detrimental to ourselves because again, we’re not viewing ourselves as part of the mainstream audience. Until we view ourselves as mainstream as everyone else, we’re never ever going to get past this taboo.

I think it’s more than being South Asian. It’s about being human, and I don’t think South Asians are any less human with their needs, wants and frailties than any other ethnicity.

I think you are right, and that’s one of the big things [that] first generation born in the West have to come to terms with and make peace with in our own way and on our own terms. At the end of the day, our parents came here to give themselves and their children a better life, but in order to accomplish that we need the freedom to find our own way, armed with the tools that both our culture and the world we live in can help us accomplish. I always joke with my parents about marriage as I’m not married, [and] I say to them that they should be so happy that they have raised such an independent, progressive, self-sufficient woman (laughs).

Your skill set screams versatility, from acting, singing, dancing, voice training, etc., not to mention the fact that you’re not too difficult to look at. No doubt you have been preparing yourself for the big leagues for a while now. Clearly it has paid off if your resume is anything to go by — TV, films, theatre. Where does your real passion lie?

Hmm. If I was in an ideal situation where I could work on whatever I wanted to and on things that I love, I could answer this question, but since I’m still on the road to the Emerald City so to speak, I would have to say that at this point in my life, my drive is about breaking the wall and setting the bar higher. I am resigned to the fact that it is never going to be enough just to be as good as everyone else. I have to go into an audition and blow them away. I can’t just be better than everyone else. That’s my struggle. I’m tired of working harder than everyone else, and I’m frustrated that this is the only way that I’m gonna make any headway, but it’s the only way I’m going to be able to do what I love and that’s why I keep doing it.

And to take that a step further Sheetal, I feel that some of the ownership of breaking down that wall should be put on the shoulders of the South Asian community in terms of actively supporting their own. It’s that old belief of ‘find the need and fill it’. I feel that the onus is on the South Asian community to voice the need to see themselves on film, TV, etc., in order for the powers that be to here them.

And that’s my point! Don’t just talk about it, go out there and support each other by purchasing a ticket to see a movie with a South Asian in it so that a need can be identified.

I can parallel what you’re saying, as over the past three years of publishing and promoting our magazine, I have met many people across North America who unanimously rave about how pleased they are that there is finally a magazine that addresses today’s South Asian in today’s world, in a truly real way. My first question to them is always: “Do you have a subscription to the magazine?” Their response after a moment of dazed silence is more often than not: “Ahhh…no but I will” And more often than not, I get a paid subscription in the mail shortly after that. It’s not that they don’t want to support, but their support is passive when it should be active. The need is there; more people need to support it in order for us to fill it. This is the only way that the wall you are trying to break down will ever have the chance to crumble.

I agree.

Has there ever been a moment when you have felt like packing it all in because you feel like maybe you are not destined to make it in Hollywood or maybe Hollywood itself is not ready for us?

Yes, everyday. I’m not kidding — EVERYDAY! Everyday it enters my mind and I question what I’m doing. I ask myself “am I crazy?” Why did I make my life so difficult? Why did I have to pick that one profession where success is not determined by being skilled and good at what you do? If you look at all professions outside of the entertainment world and you look at those that are the best at what they do, it almost always equates to their success. That’s not the case with what we do. I’ve seen amazing actors who never get the rewards that their talent deserves because of the dynamics of the industry and the fact that being good doesn’t mean that you are marketable. Marketability is the defining factor as to whether you get a break or not. That in itself, in this industry, is so dynamic that it changes from one day to the next until you reach that level of stature where you are less likely to fail due to your track record. But how do you even attempt at getting that track record without being given the breaks? This is the only profession where hard work and talent doesn’t guarantee you a job. This is the only profession where it is OK to be ageist, sexist and racist. Why am I doing this? I STILL ask myself everyday.

You keep doing it for the same reason that I keep doing ANOKHI — our community needs us to do this for them, the mainstream need to recognize that we exist and are worthy of the same, and we want to make sure that the right people with a sound skill set and understanding are representing our ethnicity as it exists today in its various forms.

You get it Raj.

So do you! Now it’s a matter of the rest of the world getting it, and that is another reason why we struggle, because we need more people to get it.

And if we work together instead of resent each other’s success, we WILL get there!

Let’s talk about some actors who have created a dent in that wall. Having interviewed another SA American actor, a good friend of yours, Kal Penn, it seems that it is more difficult to break into mainstream acting if you are a SA woman as you both entered the arena almost at the same time. He has been accepted as an actor more readily than you. Do you think that gender was a factor?

I think it is an issue. I think we have different struggles being a guy and being a girl for sure. I think Kal is very smart and very savvy and has figured out the business a lot better than I have. He knows how the system works and looks at things in a different way than I do. He’s able to successfully navigate through it. With me, I have a different way of looking at the larger picture because I’m a girl. Our type is recognized differently in Hollywood. If you were to look at ethnic type casting, I think that the Indian male is looked at as being more able to cast, especially in terms of comedy.

And I think that’s because when you think of comedy in relation to being South Asian, you think of the various stereotypes that have thus far been explored in Hollywood and they have always been men as cab drivers or shop owners.Women don’t fit into the perceptions here because again, it comes back to what you said earlier that South Asian women are perceived as good and traditional which equates to being homemakers, therefore could never be deemed sexy or be seen driving a cab or working in a shop. Albeit, these are such ignorant ways of looking at who we are as a race period.We need to first surpass being perceived as being funny because we are new immigrants with accents before we can be recognized for being funny because of a predicament we may be in within a specific story line. But caricatures are funny.

They are but so are so many other things about us as a race, as men and women and as humans, right?

I agree.

How do you feel about the notion that Bollywood actresses are possibly getting a fairer deal in Hollywood than the homegrown talent, figuring that Gurinder Chaddha is partial to Aishwarya Rai, and Mallika Sherawat was in a Jackie Chan movie recently?

They’re beautiful women.

photo v

Well no I’m just saying that that’s one of the reasons for Hollywood’s love affair with them.

There is also the UK invasion that is taking US TV by storm — Parminder Nagra as series regular in ER and Naveen Andrews in LOST. Do you feel that maybe SA actors from North America are getting unfairly overlooked, considering that the only really high profile American actor is Kal Penn, or is it that there are more trained SA actors in the UK than here?

I don’t think that they’re more trained. I think that we have equally talented and trained South Asian actors in America. The difference is that the SA community in England is far more settled and further in their integration and mainstream recognition then we are here. Also, there is more of a proven success rate in England for South Asian actors than there is over here. Since the success of Bend It Like Beckham which has been the highest box office earner of any SA movie to date in the west, Hollywood, which only sees the green, sees the actors who have performed in these high profile movies and consequently have accomplished a degree of credibility over and above SA American actors. [Hollywood] sees the potential to make money using them over actors here who have yet to accomplish the same. This said, thank god Parminder is in ER because of all the stereotypes, we should at least be recognized within the medical field, as she is, and Ravi is in Crossing Jordan.

But you have at last put your own dent in that wall by bagging an Albert Brooks movie (Looking for Comedy In the Muslim World). This is a big budget Hollywood movie that’s finally going to put Sheetal Sheth on the map. But as with everything else, it didn’t come easily.You went through months of auditioning before being signed as the principle actress. Tell me about this.

This was the longest process I have ever had. I’d be thinking: “What, another month! Are you kidding me?!” I wanted to kill myself everyday (laughs).

What was the process?

That’s the funny thing; the role was of a woman who was brought up in India so she had to be authentic or at least, appear to be. Albert went searching to fill this role absolutely everywhere. I said very frankly to Albert from the very beginning that if he wanted to cast someone from India, fine, “but if you’re not going to cast anyone from India and you’re gonna cast someone from America, I can guarantee you that there is no actress more connected to the culture than I am and who could do this role better than I could.” When I found out more about who the character was, it moved me to the sense that I need to do this.

Do you think this is why you got the role?

To this day, I really don’t know. Albert told me that he went to India and met with several Bollywood actresses and had his reasons why he decided not to go that route. I know that they had their casting directors in New York, Toronto and London. (Pause) A story for you: I don’t know if it’s true but a friend of mine who also went to audition for the role called me and said: “You know Sheetal, my agent told me about this role and they said that the prototype of what they’re looking for is Sheetal Sheth.” And I go, “What! You can have Sheetal Sheth.” It’s so funny to me because we always joke as actors about the four stages of an actor’s career, which are: Who Is Sheetal Sheth? Get me Sheetal Sheth. Get me someone like Sheetal Sheth. Who Is Sheetal Sheth? That’s the joke. I’m like, “Dude, I haven’t even gotten the second one yet and you’re telling me that the prototype stage exists!” (Laughs) But this being a lengthy process is an understatement because the first time I met Albert was back in May or June, and I didn’t find out that I had got the part until the end of September.

How did it feel when you finally found out that you were chosen?

The great thing about it was that Albert likes to tell people himself. I remember my last meeting with him before I got the part. When I got there, I remember I had to sign a confidentiality agreement, which told me that I guess he’s going to tell me something today. I walk in and it was probably the most amazing two hours ever. He acted out the whole movie and finally told me what the movie was and he never does this unless you’re going to be part of it. Then he gave me a scene from the movie to see if we had that connection and we just read it cold and at the end of it, he told me that he had looked literally around the world and there’s nobody else he could see doing this. He then proceeded to give me a hug and it was absolutely surreal – amazing.

What was going on in your head?

I was speechless. I just kinda hugged him back and said, “thank you, I’m so excited”. I was more in a state of like ‘is this true?’ because in my head I was like, ‘what’s gonna go wrong’. I’ve actually been told that I’ve got a part before, and then been told that the part went to someone else. He called me later that day to tell me that I should celebrate, and then I knew it wasn’t a fantasy but a dream come true.

Who do you play and what is the significance of your role in the overall plot?

The premise of the movie is that Albert Brooks plays himself and he gets hired by the U.S. government to go to India and Pakistan to find out what makes those people laugh. What a great idea! He has to figure this out and subsequently write a five hundred-page report. Since this is a very daunting task, he hires an assistant, Maya, and that’s the role I play. Then we go on this adventure together, and what’s really sweet about Maya is that she herself really wants to learn how to tell a joke, and she’s probably the most positive person in the movie. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself, but what’s really interesting about the movie is that apart from being hilarious, it has a really serious, underlying political message. I love that it turns all the stereotypes about India and Pakistan around, and the heart of the movie is really the people from India and Pakistan. Albert said that after 9-11, nothing seemed important anymore. He said that he knew that not every Muslim in the world hates America, and so he wanted to put some heart on that part of the world to maybe help regain some balance in the world. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is what he came up with to help facilitate that.

Would I be correct in assuming that this film is the jewel in your crown so far?

When I saw the movie, I have to say, I really did like it. To get a lead in a movie so high profile and actually get to play opposite Albert Brooks who is such a legend was great, but to be a part of a movie which spoke to me and will speak to people the world over, I have to say, is the crown!

What do you feel is the key element that viewers need to get out of this movie?

That you have to take a look at other people’s perspectives and try and understand the differing dynamics of their world and what they hold sacred  and what makes them laugh as opposed to what makes you or me laugh. It’ll make you think and laugh all at the same time.

Now that you’re working the promo circuit for the film, you’re finally going to get the recognition that will catapult you into the next phase of your career. Your feelings?

I don’t know because I don’t think of it in those terms. It’s hard for me to put all this weight on this. For me it’s about doing the movie. That’s my next phase. Everything else that may transpire because of that is icing on the cake. (Pause). I did the Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, which I think comes out in March, and I couldn’t believe that they picked me as one of the up and comers to profile this way. Surreal is the only way to describe it. I simply couldn’t believe that a couple of things this year (2005), had gone my way—the cover of ANOKHI magazine, being in MAXIM and Vanity Fair. The first covers the savvy South Asian community, the second introduces me to the world of mainstream men and the final one is the prototype of today’s woman!

There seems to be a real buzz about you right now in Hollywood. How do you plan on using this to further your career?

I know how things need to unfold in this business so following the protocol is very important, especially for someone like me as a South Asian and woman at that. It’s a great motivator for all those aspiring South Asian actors out there to see one of their own being recognized in such a high profile manner. Everyday when I question why am I doing this, I get four or five emails from aspiring South Asian actors who look at me as their role model and that does more for me than I could possibly do for them. The fact that they perceive me as a role model makes me think, God help them because I’m pretty crazy! (laughs).

What is the one key factor aspiring actors should know when seeking a career in mainstream acting?

I think they really need to figure out who they are and then figure out what about being an actor is important to them.

Even though your eye is on a mainstream acting career, you’re very connected to your roots—the many events you have partaken in and supported within the SA community. Why is this important to you?

Because it’s who I am. I cannot imagine my life without recognizing and accepting who I am and where I came from. It’s that simple.

Having grown up in the West, how did you come to terms with being SA and mainstream?

By first of all making a lot of mistakes. We’re products of a very stratified, well thought out community that has lived a certain way for centuries and when those values are conditioned within you or thrust upon you, you have a natural tendency to rebel. What I learned was the ability to take parts from both that were relevant to who I was at any given stage of my growth. I still do this today.

What is your take on the notion that SA youth are eliciting an identity from other cultures, for instance, the urban black culture, rather than working towards developing and nurturing their own movement based on their own culture’s value system?

It’s human nature to gravitate to something that you can relate to, and there is no real South Asian role models for them to follow because they are just emerging now. People like you and I are attempting to change that by giving them alternatives closer to their sensibilities to nurture both parts of who they are as South Asians and the mainstream.

And I guess that goes hand in hand with the emancipation of sexuality within the SA community, whereby it’s okay to express your needs, wants and desires based on who you are as opposed to what your culture is. Your roles have often depicted a very emancipated woman. Is this true in real life?

I would say that I am a very independent woman.

Define her.

I’m an American first and then Indian.

Dying to ask you something!

I’m intrigued.

We don’t hear much about you and relationships. Are you single, dating, committed?

I just don’t talk about it. I don’t feel that it’s relevant to my work. (Pause). I’m not married; I’ll tell you that much.

But the career that you have chosen has made everything about you relevant.

I’m not married. I will tell you that the dynamics of my job makeit very difficult to sustain continuity.

If you could create the perfect counterpart to you, what would he be like?

Someone extremely patient, deeply thoughtful, very hard working and full of passion for what he wants to do with his life. I’m very attracted to people who are as driven as I am. That’s a deal maker for me.

So have you met that someone?

I’ve been very lucky to have met some really great people in my life.

Anyone in your life like that right now?

(Laughs) I know what you’re doing. I’m very lucky to have some great friends.

So that would be a yes?

I’m very, very, very lucky!

What’s next on the drawing board for you?

To find another project like Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World that I can sink my teeth into. I’m looking at a lot of projects right now so let’s see what the future brings.

First published in the Winter 2006 issue. www.AnokhiMagazine.com

Photo Credit:
Photos: David Ferrua

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