Rising Star Karishma Bhandari: “If a character is written for a certain ethnicity and skin tone then give those people a chance!”

…if I could start a movement it will be like the ‘Me Too Campaign’. But mine will be that if a character is written for a certain ethnicity and skin tone then give those people a chance. How many lead South Asian characters/actors are there in Hollywood? Not many. So at least when there are […]

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…if I could start a movement it will be like the ‘Me Too Campaign’. But mine will be that if a character is written for a certain ethnicity and skin tone then give those people a chance. How many lead South Asian characters/actors are there in Hollywood? Not many. So at least when there are castings for their authentic ethnicities, cast them! Give them a chance too. We’ve seen the great success with movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther — it’s obvious that people are enjoying multicultural movies! Uniting is important and everybody being seen as equal is important too. The media is a huge platform to help each other, to love one another, so people can feel accepted. That’s why it’s vital to show individual beauty instead of disregarding it. With Aladdin I just felt like darker lead actors should have been given that platform to match the original; so all those young girls and boys who aren’t fair and are the same skin tone as the animated Aladdin and Jasmine can see actors looking like them on screen.

As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karishma Bhandari. A British Indian Actress from East London UK, chasing her dreams in Los Angeles. She started acting when she was 11 years old and spent some time attending a Stage School but never thought her dreams were actually possible. However, at the age of 15 she got invited to do her first movie audition. Since then she is a believer that she was given this talent of acting for a reason and she is determined to not stop until she makes a platform for herself!

Thank you so much for joining us Karishma! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been pursuing my acting career as long as I can remember. It all started at a very young age. I am an only child and during the younger years the television was sort of like my sibling. My parents both worked full time so when I would come home from school, I used to watch all my favourite shows. Some of which included The Simpsons, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, My Wife and Kids, That’s So Raven, Sabrina the Teenage Witch — I could go on! By the time my parents would come home it was time for them to watch their Indian programs; which I didn’t really fancy and their attention would go to that for the rest of the night. One night I recall saying, “I want to be on that TV Screen just so I can have your attention!” It seems silly now, but as a child it was a way of craving their undivided time.

As the years went on, one thing we always did as a family was go to the cinema. My Father loved Bollywood films and my Mother enjoyed watching both Hollywood and Bollywood films. The more I would go to the movies with them, the more I fell in love with the word “Cinema”. The stories, thrills, music, tears, all of it! I wanted to work on screen, it became a goal.

I knew what I wanted but didn’t think it was possible and perhaps a silly obsession. However, when I was 15 years old, a film director came into my school and was taking auditions for her next movie. I remember my teacher picking me out of my Drama class to audition and that is when I started to believe that this could be my reality. Since then I haven’t stopped auditioning and working towards my dream. I believe that as long as one keeps learning and believing in oneself, nothing is impossible. I’m not where I want to be yet but I’m enjoying the journey and experiences along the way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Meeting my new manager came about in a crazy way. I was moving into a new apartment in LA and my room didn’t have a TV, so I was actively looking for one online. One day I came across a lady on a Facebook group who was giving away one of her TV’s for free! So I jumped at the opportunity. When I got to her place she was kind enough to wait with me whilst my Uber arrived; we both got talking. She told me a little bit about herself and I told her about myself. Turned out she was a costume designer and we both had a passion for creating.

The Uber arrived but was too small for the TV so I had to get a new one, so we continued waiting giving us the chance to chat more. She asked me about my acting career and I explained how I wasn’t currently getting any auditions and it was frustrating me. She recommended that I contact her friend who was a manager. So of course, I went home and emailed over my headshot and resume and I instantly got a response and she was happy to set up a meeting with me.

I went in for the meeting and we instantaneously connected! Oddly enough she had been looking for a British Indian actress for some time but didn’t know how she would find one. She explained how she kept receiving breakdowns online for a South Asian actress, in her 20’s, with a British accent, so when she received an email from me, she was like, “Oh my God! You exist here in LA?!”. However, the most amazing thing about our meeting was when I asked her, “What made her want to be a manager?”, she explained how she made her decision to leave her previous job when a friend of hers sent her a video of Steve Harvey saying that, “You have to jump and take that leap of faith!”.

The craziest thing was, that same morning I watched that exact video on my way to meeting her! I had representation at the time but I wasn’t getting any auditions so I was confused on whether to take that leap with somebody new or not. But when we met I just knew we were meant to cross paths. It didn’t feel like a coincidence but fate! She is very supportive and has been great sending me out for auditions since! I’m so glad that the lady who gave me the TV unknowingly made this happen. It made me believe that God really does work in mysterious ways!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have a few funny stories but they weren’t really mistakes. For instance, this one time we were shooting a fight scene in London for a movie and whilst production was setting everything up, a few of the cast members including myself, were having a conversation and talking about our phobias. Our mic’s were still connected and the sound guy was listening into our conversation and decided to come by later and tease us about it. I said I was scared of spiders so he kept saying there was a spider on me and I would end up screaming super loud!

We did get him back though! Whenever he had his headphones in before a scene we would start telling him “yo mama” jokes through our mic’s. The funny thing was he couldn’t do anything about it and we could see his face going red each time from him trying to hold his laughter in. Sounds really ridiculous now but it was hilarious at the time, especially before a serious scene.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

So far this year I’ve really tried working on myself. Last year I had my O1- Visa for the USA approved and I was out in Los Angeles. My UK representation at the time was putting me forward for huge auditions for productions on Netflix, Marvel, CBS, etc. However, when auditioning, something didn’t feel right to me. From where I’ve been working in the UK Industry for many years, I realised that the whole style in Los Angeles was different — so I knew I had some new learnings to do.

Hence, so far this year I’ve spent my time educating myself about the US market. I was training at The Groundlings School and Margie Haber’s Acting Studio in Los Angeles and I’ve learnt so much! I’m currently in London now filming but I’ll be back in LA during episodic season; I’m so excited to use all the new tools I’ve learnt. I think it’s very important to invest in yourself and I’ve always wanted to be an outstanding actress, not just any actress. That’s why I believe education is very important; especially in the field you want to be in. Therefore, I’m really taking my time to learn and grow. Nonetheless, I did work on a movie called Tuesdays & Fridays which should be getting a world wide release later this year and working on an ‘Untitled’ feature film in London now for a 2020 release. So definitely something exiting things coming up!

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I have met countless interesting people throughout my life but a few years ago I worked with such a great Director. He was so supportive throughout the production, explained every detail and was always so happy and smiling. One day during lunch, we were chatting and he explained how he was battling severe depression and on medication for it. I was so shocked because I would never had guessed that in a million years because he was just so happy all the time!

However, it made me realise that you never know what somebody is going through internally. I admired him because he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself or showing negative emotions. He was using his time around people to be positive and portray good energy. That really opened my eyes. It’s so important to be kind to everyone through your walk of life, as you don’t know what others are battling on a daily basis.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

One has to be, to believe in yourself first. I know it sounds very cliché but until you don’t believe in yourself, and your own individual talent, you can’t expect others to believe in you. I also believe education is important. Just how a doctor needs to study in order to become qualified, I believe it’s important to keep expanding your own knowledge and learning about your career choice. That could be as simple as reading relevant books or watching YouTube videos — I enjoy learning new things every single day.

Also, don’t trust everything you see or hear, you have to take everything with a pinch of salt. As long as you work hard, believe in yourself, keep learning and being creative in your own unique way, then

it’s honestly just a matter of time until things work out. I once heard this quote from Steve Harvey, “If you keep waiting outside the barber shop, you will eventually get a hair cut”, therefore, if you keep on showing up, it will eventually happen for you, just put in the work and trust the timing of your life.

Lastly, learn to be patient! Just how nature has its timing, so do you! What I mean by this is that there’s no good with overnight success. When a plant grows it takes its time and the fruit is always the last thing to grow. If you pick it too soon you won’t enjoy the sweetness that a little patience will give you. Same with us! Patience allows us to learn and grow and shapes our journey. Take that time to improve, strengthen your foundation and become so good that you don’t need to chase success, instead it comes to you — and when you finally make it, it’ll be delicious!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think recently colourism has been playing on my mind, especially after Disney’s Aladdin has newly released. I was the only Indian/South Asian girl in my class growing up and in my neighbourhood, my surroundings, I could never be Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Belle to name a few. Every costume party, fancy dress at school, my lunch box, pencil case etc. had to be Princess Jasmine, even though I loved all the other princesses. I know it’s very diverse now but back then it was like a visual representation of the colour of my skin, who I looked like more and how my peers saw me. My hair was not blonde like Cinderella and my skin was not fair like Sleeping Beauty, so I could never be them. However, I was tanned like Jasmine and my hair was black like hers, so that was seen as suitable.

When the film released, myself and others I know from similar ethnic backgrounds were saddened that casting couldn’t find actors to portray the skin tones of the original characters. I say this because, when Walt Disney initially made the movie in 1992, each character was made how they were for a reason, which was to represent their culture. Jasmine for example, has been representing the many children, girls and women of that colour ever since. In the animation her dark complexion embodied her upbringing and background and it’s sad that an actress who could have naturally embodied and carried that significance wasn’t casted.

I’m very passionate about this because I myself have been to many castings throughout my career where I have been told to tan up, or dye my hair darker in order to ‘look’ more Indian, even though I am 100% Indian — did a DNA test! And there was a time where I use to hate going into castings because I always felt different compared to the rest of the girls around me. I got told I looked more Hispanic than Indian, which was great because it made me more ethnically ambiguous, but when trying to compete for roles of my own ethnicity, I just never looked the part. Hence why I feel that if in those circumstances they needed people to look more like that ethnicity then why with something on a greater platform like this was taken so carelessly.

In the South Asian community, it has been embedded that the fairer you are then the more beautiful you are. That the lighter your skin, then the more marriage proposals you will get. Still on TV they promote creams like ‘Fair and Lovely’ which is essentially indicating that you need to be fair in order to be seen as beautiful.

The team behind Aladdin had this amazing opportunity to have darker skinned actors to play one of the most iconic Disney characters, but still passed that onto much fairer actors. Which makes me think, could I be casted as The Little Mermaid then? Or is that not acceptable because my skin is darker and my hair is not red. If that is seen as a no go, then why was casting for this production not thought about accurately as well. Don’t get me wrong, they all did an amazing job and I loved the movie, but visually I was disappointed.

Therefore, if I could start a movement it will be like the ‘Me Too Campaign’. But mine will be that if a character is written for a certain ethnicity and skin tone then give those people a chance. How many lead South Asian characters/actors are there in Hollywood? Not many. So at least when there are castings for their authentic ethnicities, cast them! Give them a chance too. We’ve seen the great success with movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther — it’s obvious that people are enjoying multicultural movies! Uniting is important and everybody being seen as equal is important too.

The media is a huge platform to help each other, to love one another, so people can feel accepted. That’s why it’s vital to show individual beauty instead of disregarding it. With Aladdin I just felt like darker lead actors should have been given that platform to match the original; so all those young girls and boys who aren’t fair and are the same skin tone as the animated Aladdin and Jasmine can see actors looking like them on screen.

Also, something else that is very close to my heart is mental health and cultural marriages. I say this because I have seen my mother struggle in an arranged marriage that she has never been happy in. In my culture divorce is frowned upon and my mother being very traditional in her thinking has lived through an abusive marriage her entire life. I feel like more woman need to be well-informed and supported, that even though culture is very important but your quality of life, your mental health is just as important too. I know many women that have lived through not just physical abuse, but mental abuse, including myself. Therefore, if one day I can help someone see more to their life than being stuck then I would one hundred percent be a part of that movement. If I start talking about this now, this interview will probably turn into a book because I’m so passionate about this. However, I know my purpose in life and once given the platform, I know I will do everything to help, encourage and empower people around me so they can accept and love themselves exactly how they are.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone told me that I didn’t need to please everyone. Some people will like you and some people won’t — You just can’t take it personally because it’s not a popularity contest. Your job is to show up, put in the work, be yourself and leave the rest to God. The truer you remain to yourself the more natural it will feel. I remember when I first started, I would ‘think’ I needed to act in a certain way because that will help me get the job, which didn’t happen. I am a little goofy, I enjoy conversations with everyone, and trying to act like something different to myself just wasn’t sitting right with me. When I started to accept myself fully and embrace what I was bringing, then I was able to let my own personality shine, which was the true reflection of me.

I always thought of the audition process to be scary. Naturally when you want something, nerves can play a part because you start thinking about the ‘what ifs’. I now see the audition room to be a safe place because instead of thinking the negative thoughts like, ‘I’m not good enough’, I think of the empowering thoughts instead. For example, ‘I’ve been invited to audition, they obviously like something about me’. Also, ‘Why wouldn’t the casting director want me to do well? Of course they want me to do well!’. Think about it, the more actors they can present in front of the Director/Producer, the better. Overall, I now see it as a collaboration, they are there to see if I match the Director’s vision and I’m there to show them what I’ve created. So enjoy the process, don’t let it overwhelm you! And give yourself positive thoughts!

I now like to call myself a creator instead of just an actress. I say this because I love scripts and characters. When I’m given the opportunity to play, that’s giving me the opportunity to create. Before when I would say I’m an actress, people will straight away link fame to it, what I’ve been in etc. Like I have to be in something big in order to class myself as an actress. When I now go into the audition room, I’m there to create. It’s like baking a cake, adding in your own flavour and style and then sharing it with the people in the room. When I call myself a creator, no one can take that away from me. I’m so grateful when I get the opportunity to audition now because it becomes less about booking the job and more about having the chance to do what I love — and if I do book it, it’s like the cherry on top!

That’s why I believe confidence plays a huge part. You need to have confidence in yourself and believe your worthy enough. I know its very cliché but think about it, millions of pounds/dollars are invested in productions. You have tight schedules at times, fighting against sunlight etc. They need somebody who can adapt. If the script changes last minute, you have to improvise and that all comes down to your confidence and belief in yourself to do so. When you know you are capable, you know your talent and have water like ability, then you can mould into any circumstance. Your problem isn’t the lights, or the camera working — your job is to perform! Add the realism and entertainment in that scene so the audience can connect with you.

Another two things are DO NOT compare yourself to others and DO NOT listen to everyone either! When I mention comparing I mean that your story is completely different! It’s good to look up to people and see their journey, but your journey is unique to your life experiences. I know many actors who struggled, but everyone’s struggle is different. I believe life will give you what you’re ready for and what’s meant for you will never pass you. For example, like I mentioned before, I never wanted to just be an actress. I wanted to be an outstanding actress and be valued for my talent.

Earlier this year when I came to LA I didn’t get any auditions and I was pretty sad about it. But that time gave me the opportunity to study and that’s when I realised how little I actually knew. I wanted to be an outstanding actress, so life presented me with the opportunity to be outstanding. I used that entire time to study and just like that I got a new manager and agent and within a week I was sent out for 10 auditions. Ask and you shall receive right? But most importantly, when receiving make sure your eyes are open to see it. I could have easily looked at the negative in that situation because that’s how human behaviour tends to work. If somebody gifted us $100,000 and the next day took back $50,000 we would think about the $50,000 being taken away, not the $50,000 we received unexpectedly. That’s how our mind sees the negative first and not the positive! Of course, after some time you’ll realise you still have more than before but it’s about training your mind to see the good first! For example, after an audition, list all the things that went well, not where you messed up. Learn to see the good first and for anything else, see it as something you can work on improving.

I wish I could’ve been nicer to myself through the struggle. Even now to trust everything is happening for my ultimate good and not to overthink! That’s why comparing isn’t good, just because others are receiving what they want, doesn’t mean you won’t. There are people out there wishing they had what you have so always be grateful. I think I’ve said more than 5, but last but not least do not listen to what people have to say! The naysayers! You were given your gift for a reason. No gift is big or small. You don’t know what is happening behind the scenes. You don’t know who is talking about you, looking at your resume, trying to get a meeting with you. I’m not saying don’t take advise from friends and family, but people that try and distract you and let things like doubt creep into your mind, let that go — YOU DO YOU!

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Oh my! I have so many I live by. I think one that stood out to me recently that calms me down when all those negative thoughts come into my head is, ‘It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you know Whose you are’. I recently had the chance to sit in the audience for The Steve Harvey Show and a lady called Victoria Osteen was there as a guest and she mentioned that quote which was beautiful. She mentions it in her book too and it makes so much sense! Sometimes we worry so much about life. Why things aren’t happening the way we think they should and thoughts like; I’m getting older, nobody will want me, maybe this isn’t for me, creep in. We start making false accusations to ourselves of where we should be in our life and why we aren’t. And that small quote is saying ‘it doesn’t matter’ (powerful words!) because if God is yours and you are His then what’s there to be afraid of! I’m very spiritual so for me that helps me in difficult times. Sometimes even when I want to give up, I take a break and keep going, because I believe it’s okay to slow down, but not okay to stop. You have to keep going. Forward is forward at the end of the day and a step towards your dreams is still a step in the right direction. There’s no rush so enjoy the process.

And if you’re somebody who doesn’t believe in God then these 3 words — ‘it doesn’t matter’ are magical! Anytime negative thoughts come into your head that are stopping you from pursuing your goal — repeat that! For example, “Everyone in this class is better than me” — it doesn’t matter, you’re there to learn, think about yourself not others. “This person got called in for a casting but I didn’t” — it doesn’t matter, what is meant for you will never pass you. Even for simple things in life, like “I want to go for a run but it looks like its going to rain” — it doesn’t matter! If you want to run, then run! If it starts to rain, then come back and if it doesn’t then even better! We sometimes tend to overthink and complicate our lives. Taking care of yourself and your mental health is so important. What you feed your mind is essential, you’re with it forever, make it a good place to be!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It will always be my Mum. I come from an Indian family, born and raised in East London. My Mum came from India to England when she was 16 years old, a few years after my Grandfather passed away. She was the youngest sister out of 4 in the family and they were all married off except for her. She started studying here in London and use to clean hotel rooms to start with. I remember she use to tell me how she would make around £7 a week back then and she would send half of that to India so my Nan could take care of herself. For the first few years of my life I lived with my Aunt as my Mum decided to go to university to get a degree in order to give me everything I wanted in life.

My Aunt lived in Peterborough and my Mum was in London, she would work and study Monday- Friday, take a 3-hour drive to Peterborough Friday night, pick me up, bring me to London, spend the weekend with me and then drive me back to Peterborough Sunday night and do it all over again. This went on until I was about 4 years old, that’s when she was able to get a babysitter and afford to keep me with her. I know how hard it’s been for her, especially growing up on an estate in London where there was constant crime. I was around 5 years old when we moved from our small flat in Bromley by Bow into a house in Essex. However, we still had to live with racism, bullying, abuse and our house was attacked many times just because of our ethnicity. But she always taught me to be better and not bitter.

Even when people from our own family scold her for supporting my dream; she still stuck by me. You see, being from an Indian family, other family members try and put their input for my life. That I should become a Dentist, or a Doctor. “What is acting? It’s not a respectful career, there’s nothing in it.” But she’s always continued to support me. Whenever I wanted to start an acting class, or had filming till 2am in the morning, she was always there. She has never stopped me from going for what my heart desires and that’s why I will always be grateful that God chose her as my mother. She has always been a workaholic and I hated never having her around growing up, however, now I’ve understood the sacrifices she’s made for me and what its enabled me to do. I just hope one day I can give back and make her proud!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Can I pick one to have breakfast with, one for lunch and another for dinner? There are so many people I’m inspired by it’s hard to just pick one! I think most and foremost I love people who have a story. People who have experienced struggle. I love watching videos of celebrities who are successful now but once started from nothing and are the true definition of self-made. There’s something so interesting about each individual’s journey. For example, I love Oprah Winfrey, James Cameron, Steve Harvey, Shahruk Khan and their struggles but I also love people with an out bursting positive energy like Will Smith and Ellen DeGeneres. However, if I could only pick one, I think I’d love to have breakfast with Leonardo DiCaprio. He is doing such amazing work and has been for many years regarding global warming and I’d love the opportunity to just sit with him and pick his brain on that.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My Instagram and Twitter is @KarishmaB_

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