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Lokvani Talks To Sharayu Mahale

Ranjani Saigal

Sharayu Mahale is an LA-based actor, dancer, and photographer determined to break stereotypes and create nuanced portrayals of complex characters and stories in Hollywood. She came into acting through her training in Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of Smt. Jayashree Bala Rajamani. Since then she's studied acting at Yale School of Drama attending their summer Acting Conservatory, Beverly Hills Playhouse, the Stella Adler Academy, UCB Improv Comedy and more. Recent projects include starring in “Unmothered” a short film which won HBO's APA Visionaries award, workshopping a new play called “Women of Zalongo”, filming for Attaway General on Brat TV (stay tuned for a new season) and of course her own TikTok series “Bollywood on a Budget” which has attracted millions of viewers across the globe. She talked to Lokvani about her acting career.

 Congratulations on having a lead role in Unmothered that has won so many awards. Could you tell us a little about this movie and how people can watch it?

Thank you so much, I’ll try to tell you about it without spoiling the plot! “Unmothered” is about a rebellious Indian American girl who discovers a serious secret about her funny family when she returns to India to immerse her mother's ashes. This film won the HBO APA Visionaries award last weekend and is now available on HBO Max. I urge you all to give it a watch if you have a few minutes!

What are the other projects that you would like to share with our readers? 

I have been on two seasons of “Attaway General” on Brat TV, this is a medical drama for high schoolers which is available on Hulu and YouTube. I just finished workshopping a new play called “Women of Zalongo” about generational trauma through a few generations of Greek women. And if you’re looking for a good laugh and some nostalgia, you can find my series “Bollywood on a Budget” on TikTok where I recreate funny and iconic sequences from Bollywood classics!  

How did you decide to leave a lucrative career in corporate America and jump into the world of films?

Having grown up learning Bharatanatyam from Smt. Jayshree Bala Rajamani and being involved in our local Marathi Mandal’s productions, I always felt at home on stage telling stories. I loved the way that movement allowed me to express myself without words and weave intricate stories. Some of my happiest moments in life have been on stage so I knew I was passionate about the arts!

I went to NYU Stern to study business undergrad and thought that perhaps I could make a living working a 9 to 5 corporate job and pursue the arts as a part time hobby. However, at some some point after college when I entered the workforce, I started wondering why couldn’t I pursue the arts as my full time job? I didn’t want to live life feeling miserable in the office all day, only looking forward to the evenings and weekends. I wanted to live a life where I was excited for every day. So I gave myself a deadline of 1 year to understand what it would take to make a career out of acting and see if it was plausible for me. In 2018 I decided I was ready to dive in and pivot careers!

What advice do you have for other aspiring filmmakers, actors who may want to make such a switch? 

It is absolutely never too late! I have so many friends in the industry that started acting later in life and have still been successful. We are so used to thinking that acting is for young 20-somethings but it is not age bound. Just like any other career, if you dedicate time to training and taking classes nothing is impossible.

The second thing I would say is make sure to do your research. I’m fairly risk-averse in many aspects of my life- which I’m sure sounds ironic given that filmmaking is a fairly risky business- but I made sure to do my research and quantify as much of the process as possible. While acting is a creative process, the business side of administrating a career in acting can be fairly quantitative. I made sure to study acting, take as many classes as possible, read books about the craft, get experience on set, speak to working actors, listen to Entertainment Industry related podcasts, analyze and keep track of each and every audition to track patterns, and truly do my research before making the big switch. I wanted to be certain that if I was giving up health benefits, bi monthly paystubs, and yearly bonuses that I wasn’t jumping into it blind!

What is your vision for the future? 

The current landscape on TV is starting to change and include diverse voices and narratives. A few years ago Kunal Nayar on “Big Band Theory” was most people’s touchpoint to South Asian culture whereas now audiences have so many more names and shows to reference like Mindy Kaling’s “Never Have I Ever”, Riz Ahmed, Dev Patel, and more. My hope is that I can be a part of this new wave of educating and inclusivity in Hollywood. I want to see more South Asian women in leading lady roles in film and TV telling nuanced stories that change people's perspectives on stereotypes.

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