Indian-American Actress Pallavi Sharda on Being an ‘Outsider in Bollywood’

by Jinal Shah

Pallavi Sharda had a bumpy start to her Bollywood career, but this Indian-Australian actress is determined to cement herself in the industry as a powerful performer with her next film. The “Besharam” (2013) and “Hawaizaada” (2015) actress is set to play a pivotal role in “Begum Jaan,” a period drama starring Vidya Balan.

Sharda, a trained Bharatha Natyam dancer, was recently in New York City to participate in the Daybreaker dance movement. Brown Girl Magazine caught up with her at her dance studio in Manhattan to discuss her upcoming film, her role in the Oscar-nominated film “Lion,” her journey to Bollywood and her experience working in an industry that is notoriously nepotistic.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming film, “Begum Jaan.” What attracted you towards this role?

“Begum Jaan” is a Hindi adaptation of stellar Bengali film “Rajkahini.” It is a very women’s centric film and that is what attracted me. I’ve been working overseas and was coming back to an Indian film after a very long time so it was very important that I played a role which resonated with me, my own believes and my idea of what we as actresses should be portraying, especially if we want to make a difference in the society. [My character, Gulabo] has a lot of grit, she has a very interesting graph, a greyness to her character and is an interesting juxtapose against the other characters in the ensemble film.

And obviously being able to work with Vidya Balan was something I really wanted to do. She is amazing as an actress and as a person.  I have a lot of respect for the fact that she is someone who came from outside the industry, that’s been my journey and so to work with people like that was very refreshing.

Can you share with us your experience working on “Lion?”

“Lion” is phenomenal. I have a lot of respect for the director, Garth Davis. He is also from Melbourne so there is always a bias there when you come from the same hometown. Also, I knew Saroo’s (Brierley) story, I read his book. For me the story of a boy of Indian origin, who grew up in Australia, looking for home immediately resonated. It was different in some ways, but I too went in search of my homeland. I packed my bags and left for India when I was very young. A lot of it was to do with my Bollywood dream but somewhere it was also a question of identity. And I, as a first-generation Indian-Australian, am very passionate about telling those stories. It is phenomenal that the story about cross-cultural heritage is being told in this way on a big stage and in front of so many people.

Can you talk about your journey, why did you want to become an actress? And why Bollywood?

I dreamt of being a Bollywood actress since I was very young. I watched my first Hindi film when I was two or three years old. My father was a film buff and for him, Bollywood was a mechanism to teach my brother and me about our culture and our language. I was hooked because I always loved rhythm and dance and Bollywood provided me that in a way it was relatable and exotic and different being a brown girl at school. I was really enchanted by it, as it happens with many diasporic audiences. Bollywood becomes that connection with India and it really was for me. As a kid, I used to walk around with bindis, chunnis and chudiyaan and would say I want to be an actor and a dancer and somewhere I really started to believe it and it didn’t go away. As I grew older I stopped talking about it but I silently harbored the dream and made a plan to escape after I finished law school.

Growing up, you had a certain image of Bollywood. Did that change when you entered the industry?

Yes, I guess. You think of [Bollywood] in a very idealistic way and when you go there you realize it’s an industry like any other. It has its own ways of working, has its own politics and biases. I really went there with rose tinted glasses thinking, ‘I am a dancer and an actor and here I am guys, I know you have been waiting for me!’ But it was very different, people were very protective of their space and I understand it because everyone wants to work and keep the work and sustain themselves.

But I really believe that if more people were allowed to work then more work would happen and more films would be made. Unfortunately, when you come from nowhere you don’t have a foot to stand on and have that conversation with anyone. You are viewed as just another girl who wants to come to Bollywood because it makes you famous and glamourous. But that wasn’t the reason I came to Bollywood. I always say I had a more glamorous life growing up in Australia then I did when I moved to Mumbai.

So how did you manage to bag roles then?

It was hard. I knocked on doors, made cold calls, I did everything I could. I made lists, pretend to be someone and sent out emails recommending me to people, I attended press conferences pretending to be a member of the press. The things I did at the age of 21 were ridiculous but I was determined. I was literally a girl with my bags at Mumbai airport once. I just turned up! I told my parents I was going to go to JNU to do masters and went to Mumbai instead. I don’t know where I got that courage from.

Kangna Ranaut recently mentioned that Bollywood is largely nepotistic, what is your take on that?

It is nepotistic. I arrived at a time when Bollywood in its traditional sense was still at its peak. It was still about the hero system, it was about the glamorous heroine and not having a mind of your own when you walk onto the set and I had bad experiences voicing my opinion, I still have them. When people do wrong by you and you call them out they don’t like you and don’t want to work with you. I still experience that and I think it is really unfair.

It is really brave and very necessary for someone like Kangana, at the level that she is, to say what she said because she is obviously been through a lot and I relate immensely to what she must have been through. I think the more actresses support other actresses, the better. The more you are threatened by new people and hold on to the work and space to yourself, creativity is lost. If you kill the creative energy or creative people because you are mean, it’s never going to serve the industry or the art.

One of the hottest topics in Hollywood lately has been the “F” word. What is your take on feminism? Are you a feminist?

I am a feminist. I believe in furthering the status of women in society. I think it is very important that we don’t forget, don’t become complacent about how women are treated. Equality, equal pay, equal rights, are very important. Particularly living in India I am very aware of the discrepancies between how women and men are treated, how women and men are valued as children, how victims of assault are treated. As a woman, it is very important for me to fight for women’s rights. I have experienced women not supporting other women and I really believe that is one of the worst things that can happen.

Can you tell us about your future projects?

I have a travel show on Discovery, which is a sort of documentary around me and dance. The show tracks my journey in Asia from Delhi to Bangkok. I also have an Indian music video releasing in few months, then I am flying to Australia to start my first ever TV series in a leading role. Later in the year, I have lined up an international feature film.

Here’s our ‘Rapid Fire’ round of questions:

Good script or good director? Good director

Favorite genre? Comedy

Describe Bollywood in one word? Colorful

One Bollywood role you wished you were offered? Chandni

Fame, money or critical acclaim? Happiness

If not in the film industry, where would you be? I’d be a yogi in a forest


jinal shahJinal Shah is a New York-based freelance writer, who specializes in news, health, food, travel and lifestyle. She loves to travel (paid for or otherwise) and knows the difference between a traveler and a tourist. Shah also believes that the best stories come from Mumbai’s locals. And when she is not writing, she can be found on the sidelines observing people and the world at large.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’: A Perfect K Jo Showcase Celebrating the Filmmaker’s 25 Years in Cinema

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.

“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.

The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.

K Jo

Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.

[Read Related: ‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra]

Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.

There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra,  and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.

K Jo Rocky aur Rani

Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.

Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.

Stills Courtesy of Media Global House



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By Anushka Suharu

Anushka Suharu is a British Indian journalist, with a Masters in Interactive Journalism (City, University of London) and a BA … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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A post shared by Smriti Mundhra (@smritimundhra)

At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi on ‘Ghoomer’

“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.

“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.

[Read Related: 5 Tidbits About Bollywood Royalty Abhishek Bachchan For His 41st Birthday!]

Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.

And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.

Take a look!

The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global. 

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›