Category Archives: Personality

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.

"Don't complain, don't explain, just do something"

Tanya with "Waiting for him"

Tanya with "Waiting for him"

It is a nondescript salon tucked away in a strip mall on the long stretch of El Camino Real. You may have even passed it on your way to the various Indian restaurants that litter the Mountain View/Sunnyvale corridor. Inside, stations are set up for manicures, pedicures and haircuts, just your everyday beauty parlor offerings.

But just a glance at the walls will tell you that this is no ordinary shop. One wall has a cubist rendering of a reclining woman. On another, the liquid eyes of a young couple stare out from a pair of paintings. An easel on the corner has a painting embellished in gold flakes.

This is the Spoil-Me Salon, home to artist Tanya Momi whose nimble fingers are equally adept at threading eyebrows and wielding the paintbrush. Hers is a remarkable story.  Born to an intellectual family in Chandigarh, the shy Tanya found expression in art, showing an early talent. She did her studies in the field and participated in several competitions, winning prizes and acclaim. She became a docent at the Chandigarh art gallery, happy to spend her leisure surrounded by the works of masters.

"Wounded"

"Wounded"

Her family found her a match in the US and that’s when the long nightmare began. Rigid and orthodox, her in-laws refused to allow her to pursue her passion, treating her like an “educated maid”, in Tanya’s own words. She took on the role of a dutiful wife and mother, sublimating her passion and desires for nearly 2 dozen years. She was not allowed to make friends, to drive or to step out of the house to shop. After several years a kind neighbor suggested to her that she might want to take a short course and become a manicurist. When the in-laws were convinced that she could bring in a decent income, they consented. Tanya jumped at the opportunity. “Painting is painting,” she reasoned. “So what if it is on nails instead of canvases.” Soon she had a huge list of clients among whom she made many dear friends.

When the evidence of abuse at home became evident, her friends gave her the courage to break out of her prison. With the help and support of friends and parents, Tanya finally separated from her abusive relationship and started out on her own. Clients donated easels and paints and encouraged her to go back to her first love, painting.

circle-of-trust

"Circle of Trust"

The Spoil-Me Salon is in the process of renovation, but I took a tour of Tanya’s works, currently stored in an anteroom at the salon. The repressed passion of 2 decades bursts out of every painting. Vivid and earthy, each painting has a message. After her divorce, Tanya was shunned by the women of her own community and propositioned by the men and the pain of those encounters is captured on many canvases. A beautiful one called “Circle of trust” is a poignant reminder of the support that only women can give other women. An extra long canvas called “Everytown and Country Therapy Sessions” questions why therapy should not be more easily available for the many wounded souls our modern lifestyle creates. Many paintings display cherished passages from the Guru Granth Sahib, whose inclusive messages are a balm to Tanya’s heart.

Tanya at work

Tanya at work

It’s been only 2 years since Tanya resumed painting, but she has over 200 paintings to show for it. She works like a woman possessed, sometimes painting up to 8 hours a day till her fingers cramp. She experiments with many styles from cubism to impressionism to portraits on commission. Her paintings have been featured in many international tours. One set of paintings is currently traveling with Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women Art Exhibit.

Tanya Momi rebuilt her life after a traumatic marriage and divorce and in her own quiet way she helps other women do the same. “Women come into my life through the salon,” she says. “They are like the missing puzzle pieces of my life.” Through her work in the salon and her paintings she reaches out to offer comforting messages of hope and renewal. This Muy Thai kickboxing enthusiast has a full plate – working full time, painting full time and enjoying every moment of her busy life. “Don’t complain,don’t explain, just do something,” says the irrepressible Tanya Momi.

More information on Tanya can be found at www.tanyamomi.com. She would love to be contacted at tanya.momi@yahoo.com. And do step in Spoil-Me Salon if you feel the need for a little pampering.

Tanya will also feature in a panel discussion in a segment  on “Following Your Bliss” organized by Narika in a South Asian Women’s Conference on March 21st, 2009.

Interview with Dya Singh

By Vidya Pradhan

He is a quiet phenomenon. Dya Singh may not be part of the spiritual mainstream yet, but the jovial singer attracts capacity crowds as he makes his way around the world, singing shabads, kirtans, bhajans and semi-classical film songs with the underlying purpose of spreading truth and goodness. The message is simple, the delivery full of joy and music.

I attended a special performance by Dya Singh and his multi-ethnic troupe at the Sunnyvale Temple last week. Accompanying him were his daughter Parvyn and three of his finest musicians – Dheeraj Shrestha, Andrew Clermont and Josh Bennett.  Even with such a small entourage, through sheer strength of talent and creativity, the evening was rich with both musical substance and spiritual feeling. The songs ranged from a multi-religious chant( the audience provided the choruses of “Hare Ram” and “Allahu Akbar”) and a fiery, improvised version of Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj that had us clapping several times through the performance. The solo riffs by the talented accompanists were breath-taking as they switched between the didgeridoo and the mandolin, dilruba and guitar. Parvyn’s pure voice provided a haunting harmony to the powerful vocals of Dya Singh.
I chatted with the singer a few minutes before the show began to find out a little more about what makes this energizing personality tick. Continue reading

Generation "O"

By Vidya Pradhan

Her grandmother is Indian; grandfather Jamaican. Her father is Italian/Caucasian. No prizes for guessing who she’s supporting in this year’s Presidential elections in the US.

23-year old Meena Harris is part of Generation Obama, a media and technology-savvy group of young people who are changing the dynamics of politics and political campaigning in this country. Continue reading

An en'chant'ing CD for your kids

By Vidya Pradhan

For Hindus, the single syllable “OM”, repeated the right way, represents the creation of the universe and the sum of all existence. Om is a mantra, a hymn( shloka) or phrase that is supposed to raise consciousness when recited over and over. Mantras have power and meaning independent of the understanding of the person chanting them if chanted the right way, so say the scriptures. Nina Patel has experienced this for herself.

Continue reading

What’s your father’s name, and what blood type are you?

By Isheeta Sanghi

College in India is something that would never enter the mind of an Indian American. Because really, that’s why our parents moved to the States, (besides the whole ‘chasing the American dream’, that is). My parents moved to California for that, well that and the great weather in Sunny San Diego. The thought of college in India sounded twisted to me; it was like some sort of joke that just wasn’t funny at all. When my Dad drove me out to the Integrated Institute of Learning Management in Delhi I remember just thinking about the my situation in total disillusionment and disbelief. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t happening, that I was going to go back to the States and finish my degree, that my parents were just tricking me trying to see how hard they could push me into saying that I wanted to stay. Continue reading

Chai with Manjula

By Vidya Pradhan

Manjula Gupta is no stranger to philanthropy. Once a software entrepreneur in the valley, she became involved with the American India Foundation (AIF) in its nascent years. As a volunteer Chair for the India Community Center, she worked to bring the community together by starting programs such as the weekly karaoke club. In the course of her varied experiences, she tapped into the rich vein of philanthropy that runs through the successful Indian American community in the Bay Area. “There are so many Indian Americans doing amazing work,” she says. “I found that there was a need to give them a platform.”
When the mayor of Milpitas approached her to start a community based program, she found her calling. “Chai with Manjula”, a TV show focusing on Indian American good Samaritans, now airs in 11 cities throughout the area.( More cities are being added.) Continue reading