A Royal Pain: Reshma Shetty breaks the stereotype of Indian actors on American TV

divya-and-hankRoyal Pains is a new summer series on USA Network. Despite having a medical theme, the show is more of a fairy tale, a light-hearted look at the life of the super-rich. Recently unemployed( and unemployable) Dr. Hank Lawson finds a gig ministering to poor little rich people and discovering that the very rich are also human, after all. In tone and treatment, Royal Pains is closer to USA’s other popular serials Psych and Monk rather than medical dramas like E.R. and House.

divya-and-hank2Reshma Shetty has a starring role on the show as Divya Katdare, who finagles a job as the reluctant Hank’s assistant in Episode 1. Not much is known about her character, except that she is well connected in the Hamptons and despite having some medical knowledge, does not fall into the typical Indian TV stereotypes of doctor/7-11 clerk.

So what is Divya’s back story?
RS: We’re going to learn her back story so I can’t give too much away. Around episodes 8 and 9 we should be getting more of the story. I hope a lot of people are curious. There are some things we do know. Divya has obviously grown up internationally. Her family moved around a lot. Her father is a businessman who works in Mumbai, London and New York. Her family is very well connected in the Hamptons. She is very much a girl who has a dream and you’ll find out more details later.

Did the writers take your own history into account while developing the character?
RS: The really great part about a new show is that the writers and the actors are always collaborating. They welcome my input. I suggest sometimes that “this is not how Indians would think, or how they would act or behave”; what are the expectations from an Indian character beauty wise and career wise.
The character was not specifically written for a British girl and I auditioned in an American accent. They enjoyed my natural speaking voice. So they changed the character so I could speak in my normal voice. Every new script you get to know her better.

Katdare is a hard name to pronounce.
RS: It is, it is. The original name of the character was Divya Sharma but I was not comfortable with it. I suggested but my boyfriend’s ( Deep Katdare, from American Desi) last name. His family had anglicized it to be pronounced as “cat dare”. (The irony is) that when we picked Katdare as my character’s last name, the pronunciation was changed to “Kuhdaaray” which is a lot closer to the original.

divyaHow did the role in Bombay Dreams happen?( Reshma played the role of Priya in the touring version of the play).
RS: I was in opera school in Cincinnati. I had heard about Bombay Dreams while I was still in school. When it went on Broadway, I sent in my materials to David Grindrod who was casting for the London replacements. His partner office in New York asked me to audition, just to be heard. I flew in from Cincinnati, saw the show and I auditioned for the ensemble track though I couldn’t dance, because (eventually) I wanted to try out for Priya. I didn’t make it then but once I graduated, I auditioned again and got it. It was one of those surreal things. Life is very funny … everything happens at the time it’s supposed to happen. I am a big believer in watching out for signs.

It seems like your perseverance made it happen, though.
RS: I believe that if you work hard at your craft and respect your craft, talent rises. Persistence is a big thing and as long as you try to be the best you can be, you’ll make things happen.

Has music taken a back seat?
RS: It has. People don’t get the fact that even in musical theater or in opera, you have to take acting classes. I always wanted to be an actress as an undergrad. It is not a big leap but a different asset being brought to the surface. I do miss singing on the stage. You have people’s reactions in a moment. But it wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do.

Is it easier for an Indian actress to get a role in television these days?
RS: I played in Rafta Rafta off Broadway and Sarita Choudhury played my mother. Her  Mississippi Masala was the first time I had seen an Indian face in an American movie. We always work in the footsteps of our ancestors. What I’m doing will help an Indian actress 10 years form now. There are lots of Indian faces on television these days. There’s Parminder Nagra( E.R.), Sendhil Ramamurthy( Heroes). I have a good friend called Zahf Paroo, who’s in an upcoming show called  Defying Gravity on ABC. There seem to be more interesting character parts for men, though.

Why?
RS: Indian women easily fit into roles requiring ethnicity and exoticism. Men seem to find roles that are less ethnic and stereotypical. But Divya Katdare’s character is based on one of the writers’ best friends from college so the role was specifically written for a smart Indian woman. I think it’s getting better.
The role I have in Royal Pains is not very common. The family is (made up of) wealthy, attractive smart people. They don’t fall into the stereotypes of an Indian family. I hope that it continues and manifests in more roles and leads to better roles. I am proud of being Indian but I don’t want to get roles because of that.
Divya Katdare has gone to business school. She is a different kind of girl.  I think it is changing, slowly and we are the ones who are doing it.

How is the show doing?
RS: We are doing well. Our pilot was highly rated. Our ratings actually increased the second week and kept going up.

Has the show been picked up for next year?
RS: I don’t know. We are still filming. The cast and the crew are one of the best I’ve ever worked with. I loved every single person on the show. It is an absolute honor and delight to go to work every day.

2 thoughts on “A Royal Pain: Reshma Shetty breaks the stereotype of Indian actors on American TV

  1. Pingback: Water, No Ice » A Royal Pain: Reshma Shetty breaks the stereotype … | India Updates

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