For Pallavi Sharda, being the lead of Netflix’s latest hit rom-com Wedding Season—which has been lauded as a win for South Asian diasporic representation in the mainstream—means more than just starring in a hit film.
Sharda plays Asha Maurya, an economist working in microfinance who is sick and tired of being bothered by aunties with the infamous question: “So, when are you getting married?”
When Asha’s parents secretly make her a dating profile and set her up with Ravi, played by Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi, How I Met Your Father), she hatches a plan to fake date to get the aunties and their parents off their backs during a summer of back-to-back desi weddings. Soon enough, the fake love turns into a sincere one but tensions arise when secrets are revealed.
5XPress sat down with Sharda to talk all things Wedding Season, representation and romantic comedies.
Sharda shares that she makes an effort to read all the messages and letters that have come her way since the release of the film.
The part that struck her most? The number of people who felt so represented by Asha’s character arc.
Despite the fact that her parents are far too scared dare o set up a secret dating profile for Sharda herself, she spoke candidly with me about how Asha’s acted as a mirror for so many South Asian women in the diaspora.
“The specificity of the messages that I've received around someone who's gone through something that Asha has gone through, or if it's just finally being able to watch two brown leads in a traditional Hollywood rom com,” she said.
Beyond everything else, Wedding Season is a classic romantic comedy through and through. It’s got two gorgeous and deeply charming leads, the ever-satisfying fake dating trope, and a swoon-worthy profession of love.
Still, given the fact that Wedding Season centers around two North Indian characters and their families, and made an earnest effort to display the unique marital pressures within the South Asian community—its being hailed as a win for representation.
For Sharda, given her experience in the industry, Wedding Season feels big.
“Sometimes I don't think people quite understand what it's like to have been sitting outside of the realm of that ever being a possibility for you for so long, and then [to] move past that threshold,” she said.
But having brown people at the centre of the film isn’t enough for Sharda, or for brown audiences either. When films try to tell our stories without doing their homework or due diligence, we can tell.
Sharda explained how when we see cultural inconsistencies, it prevents us from buying into the world that filmmakers are creating.
“I don't think people realize that jarring feeling [we get when we notice those inconsistencies], and what that does, because it's like we're still not being seen. We’re still being grouped, we're still being made to feel like we're a monolith.”
What felt different about this project compared to so many others that have come her way and slightly missed the mark, was the openness from director Tom Dey, who brought us Failure to Launch, to encourage Sharda’s creative input.
“[Dey respected] my expertise as someone who's culturally nuanced and able to communicate that articulately. It was a flow, there was no animosity around that it was all collaboration,” Sharda said.
Sharda’s career, similar to her co-star Suraj Sharma’s, has been expansive—extending beyond industries, genres, and mediums. She’s worked in Australian television (Les Nortons), in feature Bollywood (Besharam, My Name is Khan) and Hollywood films (Lion, Tom & Jerry).
Through it all, she’s been a vocal advocate for nuanced and accurate representation of South Asian characters in mass media.
Sharda speaks with a great deal of intention and care when it comes to building infrastructure that supports equity in representation in media.
“Since I've been an actress, particularly since the language of diversity and inclusion has erupted in our zeitgeist, I have had a critical eye on it, because I know that that can also lead to tokenism that can lead to the optics of representation,” Sharda said.
Sharda has also been committed to playing characters that she connects with—regardless of industry or location.
People often ask her the differences between working in Bollywood and Hollywood, which she understands. But for her, while, “the craft of filmmaking is universal,” her deep connection to her Indian heritage means that telling Indian stories that exist beyond the barriers of industry, language and genre is a deeply intimate experience.
When she’s able to have her creative passion and cultural expression align, it’s a beautiful thing.
“[People] may not understand the beauty of matching up your experience with your longing. When those two things marry, there's that combustion of love and energy inside of your heart space, and you're like, ‘Oh, wow, I get to, like, really enact this thing that I love so much,’” she said.
It’s here where we talk about the power of crossover cinema, a term used to encapsulate an emerging form of cinema that crosses borders, and where her education in media and communications becomes particularly evident.
Sharda tells me about how she did an ethnographic study of South Asians across Australia in her undergrad to break down the idea of South Asia as a monolith.
“I spoke to Bangladeshi Bengalis, I spoke to Sunni Muslims, I spoke to Ismaili Muslims, I spoke to South Indian people, Sri Lankan people,” Sharda said.
Since then, Sharda wanted to know what media makes South Asian people feel truly comforted and accurately represented.
“I just was like, where do you feel belonging in on-screen representation? Is it through Bollywood? Is it through Western media? Or is it when someone from the diaspora or broadly speaking, presents our stories?”
We quickly digressed into a conversation about South Asian media, exchanging recommendations of films and movies that have resonated with us over the years.
Sharda’s heart swells for the work she does, and the love radiates off of her. Her admiration for media goes as far back as she can remember, and she’s willing to do the work to become a part of projects that she truly cares about. Wedding Season is certainly a testament to that.
While Wedding Season is a huge step for the romantic-comedy genre, one thing is for sure— Pallavi Sharda is in it for the long haul.
We can’t wait to see what she does next.
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