Global Desis - By Viral Bhayani & Nona Walia
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Indian actors are making it big on American prime time. Viral Bhayani and Nona Walia profile some of them

October was a lucky month for Indian actors on American prime time. Five of them were introduced in the space of a month. On October 6, Anjul Nigam played Rahman on NBC's Silver Strand; four days later, Ravi Kapoor was Dr Sid Shandar on ABC's prestigious new drama Gideon's Crossing; Meera Simhan (who will also be appearing on six episodes of Gideon's Crossing) played the recurring role of reporter Andrea Bhutto on CBS's The District; on October 12, Purva Bedi played third year medical student Priya Shailendra on the season premiere of NBC's ER; and finally the next day, Kal Penn (who will appear alongside Purva in Piyush Dinker Pandya's much-awaited film, American Desi) appeared as a guest star in Warner Bros' Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. Add to that, Ajay Naidu was the man behind the scenes on NBC's Lateline show.

No longer are Indians being shown as snake charmers or cartoons (literally) like Apu, the character from The Simpsons. Like Ajay Mehta who has carved a niche for himself in American television, doing guest appearances till now for sitcoms like the The Nanny and The Soul Man. His next big project will be in HBO's Sex and the City opposite Kim Catrall. He's also made guest appearances in several popular television sitcoms and dramas including Growing Pains, Murphy Brown, Sisters, Parker Lewis, Blossom, and ER. Anjul Nigam has played diverse roles a Bangladeshi Navy Seal officer, a medical resident, a nerve gas smuggler and the brother of a taxi driver in NYPD Blue. Says he: "I don't mind playing a taxi driver as long as the role has some depth in it."

Purva is a classic example of how Indian Americans have got to the point of getting what they want. As founder and co-artistic director of Disha, a new South-Asian theatre company in New York, she is an actress of the hour, adept at many media.

Purva's growing career in film, television, and theatre has seen her playing even a lead role of Nina Shah in the soon-to-be-released college-based romantic comedy American Desi here she plays a freshman in New Jersey who teaches a confused young Indian-American about his Indian culture. Purva also appears in Wings of Hope, as Reena Khan, the supportive sister of a young alcoholic (Ismail Bashey) who works to keep her family together. She describes ER as her biggest role.

The way she got it, she says, is really a matter of serendipity and alignment. "I was in Los Angeles for just four days for a screening of my movie, American Desi. I called up a casting director who happens to be an Indian, Sonia Nikore, to invite her to the LA screening. Sonia knew my work from East is East. When I spoke to her, she told me that she had just recommended me to the head of casting at ER for the role of a medical student. They needed me to be in town on the exact two days that I was to be there. I attended the audition, checked my messages on my cell phone and found out I had got the role."

Besides that, Purva played the lead role of Annie/Mala in Vasarma's Lovers, a short film about reincarnation directed and written by Madhurika Sona Jain. The film has been extremely successful at festivals and was screened in New York, London, St. Petersburg, Philadelphia, and Japan. Purva plays two characters: a young Indian bride in the year 1750 and a yoga instructor in present day New York City searching for her soul mate.

Her other TV credits include playing a recurring nurse on the CBS daytime drama, The Guiding Light, and the lead voice of the 20/20 story on acid victims in Bangladesh. If that was not enough, Purva is already a big name in the theatre scene she's established a strong presence in New York City. She played Meenah Khan, the sassy sixteen-year-old tomboy, in the critically acclaimed off-Broadway hit, East is East, a co-production of the Manhattan Theatre Club and The New Group directed by Scott Elliott.

She also created the lead role in the two-woman play Clothes, a stage adaptation of a short story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She feels part of a large trend: "More and more Indians are appearing in the American media and that is because of hard work from many sides the Indian actors who are trained and skilled and are following their dreams."

She feels there is greater interest in diversity on screen because of pressure from ethnic organisations. "Other minority groups: African-Americans, Latinos and Asians all of whom have been in the US for a long time have been pushing for greater minority representation in film and television for years. Some of their efforts are starting to pay off and Indians are benefiting from the hard work of these other minorities." All that's needed, she feels, is an Indian activist organisation to join the fight that has been fought by the other groups.

Courtesy Sunday Review, Times of India.

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