(L to R) Palomi Ghosh, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Kani Kusruti
There is such a thing as the Mira Nair school of actors, and it is doing very well. Among those who have graduated from it are Denzel Washington and Lupita Nyong’o. Its most recent students are not doing too badly either. Two of them have been selected for the first BAFTA Breakthrough India awards. Tanya Maniktala was the suitable girl in A Suitable Boy (2020), Nair’s adaptation of Vikram Seth’s book for BBC. And Palomi Ghosh played an 88-year-old character in a fat suit in the 2017 musical adaptation of Monsoon Wedding (2001) at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Ghosh, a singer and actor, who graduated in applied mathematics from the University of North Carolina, has delivered a string of fine performances, in Rajat Kapoor’s Kadakh (2019) as Ranvir Shorey’s lover, and now in Prashant Nair’s striking series for SonyLIV, Tryst with Destiny. Playing Kuber’s girlfriend Laxmi, who wants a good life and believes her policeman boyfriend is not ambitious enough, she says: “Laxmi is not good or bad, just grey.” Ghosh will soon be seen in Gandhi of the Month with Harvey Keitel. The actress who did all the singing for Kajol’s character in the film, Helicopter Eela (2018), also does a lot of voice work for ads and movies. With credits such as Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Hotel Salvation (2016) and Sujoy Ghosh’s Typewriter (2019), Ghosh is happy to be patient and wait for the right parts which are aligned with who she is as a person.
The Female Gaze
Kani Kusruti has just been nominated for the best comedic performance in Disney+Hotstar’s OK Computer (2021), and couldn’t be happier. “Women can be funny too,” she exclaims, “sadness and rage are not the only tools we have to fight hardships.” Kusruti, who plays Ahalya, a Dalit woman subject to abuse by the upper-caste men of the village in Nair’s Tryst with Destiny, is shooting for Abhishek Chaubey’s series with Manoj Bajpayee, and will be in the second season of Subhash Kapoor’s Maharani, as an IAS officer who advises the woman chief minister. Kusruti, a vocal critic of mostly misogynistic Malayalam cinema, says every film doesn’t need to have a message but it should certainly not be offensive to marginal people. The real opening up of the female imagination is happening in the fine arts, she says, pointing to the representation of women artists at Lokame Tharavadu in Alappuzha and Ernakulam, curated by Bose Krishnamachari. The daughter of a social activist mother and human rights activist father, Kusruti (a surname she invented for herself) is a shapeshifter with a strong foundation in theatre across the world and a votary of aesthetic diversity in genres and expressions.
Brown Girls in the Ring
If Diwali achieved a sudden resonance in Hollywood this year, much of the credit goes to Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Mindy Kaling, two women who are leading the way in creating an ecosystem where diverse stories can be told. They’re bringing Indian food and fashion to the fore while also crafting a place for themselves in the entertainment Hollywood makes for the world. A crucial aspect of this is the demand, hitherto invisible, from the rising Indian demographic, which is the richest ethnic group in America. So, not surprisingly, Kaling’s Diwali-eve party was sponsored by two strong votaries of the brown dollar. Meena Harris, Kamala Harris’ niece, runs Phenomenal, a clothing company for brown women, which has now diversified into entertainment. And Deepica Mutyala, who began by doing make-up videos on YouTube, has founded a brand called Live Tinted, specifically for brown women. Both Live Tinted and Phenomenal were supporting partners of the party where the emerging female brown power was evident—from late night talk show host Lilly Singh to actor Poorna Jagannathan.
Did You Know?
App makers are the new heroes of Bollywood movies? Hum Do Hamare Do has Rajkummar Rao playing a techie whose virtual reality app helps people in overcoming travel FOMO while Meenakshi Sundareshwar’s Abhimanyu Dassani is an engineer who designs an app called Together, which helps people suss out the moods of those they wish to interact with. Ideas to be used perhaps?