HOW I MAKE IT WORK...
TOLD SHE WOULD NEVER MAKE IT ON AUSTRALIAN TV, THE PERTH-BORN ACTOR, 27, TOOK MATTERS INTO HER OWN HANDS AND BROKE THROUGH IN BOLLYWOOD. SPEAKING UP, SHE SAYS, WAS KEY TO FINDING SUCCESS
Pallavi Sharda on making it big in Bollywood.
Growing up in Perth and Melbourne, I was always surrounded by a very vibrant Indian community. I learnt to speak Hindi and took classical Indian dance classes from the age of three. I was introduced to Bollywood as a little girl, and fell in love with the movies – they enchanted me. I decided I wanted to be a Bollywood actress.
But as the daughter of two professors, I was expected to do something that was academic. I studied law at The University of Melbourne, but also enrolled in drama school. I had a lot of self-belief and was really supported at high school, but was told by one teacher that it would be very difficult for me to get a job on a commercial network because of the colour of my skin. Their comments didn’t make me angry. They just validated my fascination with Bollywood, as I realised there was an industry where women who look like me, and spoke the same language as I did at home, would be welcomed.
At the tail end of my law degree, I found myself emailing production houses in Mumbai asking about opportunities. One day, somebody responded. In 2010, I packed my bags and flew to Mumbai to try to crack into the notoriously nepotistic Bollywood industry. I had no contacts or sense of what I was going to do over there.
Seven years later, I’ve appeared in almost a dozen films. Something I have become more passionate about since living in India is the role of women in society. I work across a few different charities that help underprivileged women, and recently played a sex worker in a feminist Bollywood blockbuster. I attribute my Australian upbringing for my strong values and my ability to speak up. When I arrived in India and spoke like this as a young woman, it was very confronting for people. Now I just have a reputation for being outspoken.
I was in Melbourne to film a small role in Lion and for my latest project, the ABC drama Pulse, I have been filming in Sydney. It’s really important to me to come home and contribute to diversity on screens here. I’m passionate about it; it’s something I’d like to help pioneer. There’s still a sense the protagonist can’t be brown, but I think we are moving away from that. I count myself lucky to be able to work in two countries.
Pulse premieres 8.30pm Thursday, on ABC TV.