Film star Purva Bedi, who straddles between Los Angeles and New York, and
has starred in hits like 'American Desi' and 'Green Card Fever', prays for a little
more anger within the South Asian community.
urva Bedi is running against time these days. Stuffing her duffel bag with essen-tials
and a chaotic travel itinerary, she has been cutting through the belly of U.S.,
promoting her latest film Green Card Fever on the east and west coasts. If she
could, she would hold the clock that always runs ahead of her schedules, but Bedi
is snug that her passion for films and theater did not remain a hasty signature
in the wannabe roster. The neon signs of her latest film flicker against the New
York skyline and Bedi makes a spirited pitch for Green Card saying it is not just
an American Desi clone dealing with culture clash, it is an exploration of every
immigrant’s dream of acquiring a green card.
film that opened in August in theaters worldwide revolves around a young Indian
immigrant who overstays his visa in an effort to get the green card. Still wet
behind his ears, the protagonist gets caught in the muddle of naïve suggestions
and unscrupulous taxi drivers and lawyers. Hilarious on the surface, the film
explores love, lies, and the law through the eyes of an immigrant. These days
Bedi is sitting pretty, elated at hitting a resplendent milestone in her career.
Not that she has forgotten her faltering steps into the professional world
of acting. Having majored in economics and theater, Bedi did not take the plunge
into acting immediately. Instead, she walked the beaten path, pursuing a career
in the corporate world that paid for her bread and butter and that extra dollop
of her favorite ice-cream. “It was very scary when I decided to leave the corporate
world and follow my dreams of being a professional actor. I knew I was going from
a great salary to an abyss of no salary, but I took the risk and went ahead with
it,” she reminisces.
Her first major breakthrough was Vasarma’s Lovers,
a short film about reincarnation that was directed and written by Madhurika Sona
Jain. Bedi plays two characters—a young Indian bride in 1750 and a modern yoga
teacher searching for her soulmate in a melee called New York. The film that earned
rave reviews in films festivals in New York, London, St. Petersburg, Philadelphia,
and Japan opened the doors for brighter arclights and enormous applauds. Bedi
had arrived on the scene.
Adulation was waiting in the wings when Bedi
accepted the role of Neena Shah in the romantic comedy, American Desi from writer
director Piyush Dinker Pandya. Bedi and the film became poster material for the
new wave of Indian-American movies that spawned an industry feeding on the culture
clash between Indian parents and their U.S.-born children. The film that played
to packed houses from London to New York to Singapore also brought an Ammy nomination
for Bedi in which she was pitched against Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Liu, and Zhang Ziyi
in the Best Actress in a Feature Film category.
American Desi was just
the beginning; several other films followed in its wake—Wings of Hope, Green Card
Fever, Eastern Son, The Arrangement, and Emperor’s Club. With great ease Bedi
moved from films into prime-time television doing stints with The West Wing, ER,
Saturday Night Live, The Guiding Light and Strong Medicine. But Bedi is also angry
because most Indian-Americans end up with blink-and-you-will-miss-me kind of roles.
Why? “Because Hollywood never writes with an Indian-American character in mind.
If they need color they would throw in a Black or a Latino character but not an
However, she does admit that there has been a little change in
the attitude of the producers after Sept. 11. “They suddenly seem interested in
Middle Eastern characters. That is how I got the meaty role of the guest lead
Yasmin Fayed on Lifetime Television’s Strong Medicine.” But if Latinos can create
a splash on primetime television why can’t Indian-Americans? “Because they are
not angry enough.” Angry? “Yes, because they are not angry enough,” reiterates
Bedi. “The Black and the Latino actors and writers mustered their talent and strength,
walked up to Hollywood and screamed ‘Dammit! Give us a role’ and they did. Even
if we are angry, our anger is so scattered that it does not create a dent in the
noisy world,” she adds.
With the sole purpose of getting heard in the
hullabaloo did Bedi start Disha, New York’s first South Asian theater group. “The
mission is to create theatrical voice that is very South Asian in idiom and inflexions,”
says Bedi who wants to take Disha to the West Coast also. She tries to convince
me that there is immense hunger for South Asian theater in New York and the audience
is large, but regrets that “of late it has all been quiet on the Disha front,
though I do plan to rev it up soon.” But there is a lot of chatter for her on
Flitting between New York and Los Angeles, Bedi has prestigious
productions under her belt—as Meenah Khan, the teenaged tomboy in off-Broadway
hit East is East, as a dreamy servant of the Chandy household in Rice Boy, and
as the lead role in the two-woman play Clothes, a stage adaptation of a short
story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Trained at Williams College, The British
American Drama Academy, and The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare Lab, Bedi has done
a number of shows with David Herskovits and Target Margin Theatre including The
Five Hysterical Girls Theorem, The Seagull, King Lear, and A Family Affair.
in India and having spent her childhood in Brussels, Bedi moved to U.S. when her
parents migrated. “That way even I am a first generation immigrant,” she says,
identifying with the plight of Indian-American immigrants in the U.S. That is
why she played safe when choosing her career. “I was always fascinated by acting
but I double majored in economics and theater just to make sure that the bread
remains buttered on at least one side.” Confessing that there was parental pressure
to choose a more conventional path, Bedi adds: “My parents were very worried,
but they also encouraged me to follow my heart.”
Perhaps that support
made Bedi’s journey into the world of celluloid easier, smoother. She is basking
in the glory of the arclights and waiting for her new releases Cosmopolitan, written
by Sabrina Dhawan and directed by Nisha Ganatra of Chutney Popcorn fame, and Keshni
Kashyap’s Good Stuff in which she plays the role of a former beauty pageant queen
who’s life and marriage have gone steadily downhill.
The chirpy Purva
Bedi however has a pet peeve. Placidity. She prays for a little more anger within
the South Asian community. That, she thinks, is the only way to ensure a handprint
on Hollywood’s hall of fame.
in India Currents (USA), October, 2003