'My skin colour has been a drawback'
Studying to be a doctor, Sendhil Ramamurthy's career in films and television happened, well, by chance.
His stint in TV series Heroes, says Ramamurthy, has been a milestone of sorts, exposing him to better roles, better films.
He will be seen in director Gurinder Chadha's forthcoming film It's a Wonderful Afterlife and Ekta Kapoor's Shor. Ramamurthy's also signed another television show, Covert Affairs, and tells Abhilasha Ojha that he continues to enjoy the process of acting and essaying challenging roles.
What made you sign Gurinder Chadha's It's a Wonderful Afterlife?
The foremost reason was that I could do it, especially given my hectic schedule of shooting for Heroes [a sci-fi television drama series]. In the US, we sign contracts for television shows, which can vary from a five-year to a seven-year period.
So, sometimes it's very difficult to take time out for other projects. I also didn't want to miss a chance to work with Gurinder Chadha. Her films definitely have a universal appeal. In fact, I saw It's a Wonderful Afterlife, frame by frame, at the Sundance Film Festival.
It is a nerve-wracking experience and I sat near the exit door, I was so scared. But it was amazing to watch the reaction of the audiences. They enjoyed it thoroughly, and that was so wonderful.
Image: Sendhil Ramamurthy
'My family is full of doctors and I was studying to be a doctor, too'
What sort of films did you grow up watching?
It's a little weird, but I actually haven't grown up watching too many films. I didn't watch Hollywood or Bollywood films. I was a tennis player and had no education in films, no knowledge and absolutely no inclination to get into the entertainment industry.
I was born in Chicago, raised in Texas, my family belongs to Bangalore and I do remember travelling with them -- and my sister -- to the city once every year. But no, watching films was never on the agenda for the holidays. My family is full of doctors and I was studying to be a doctor, too.
So, what made you take up acting?
Personally, I hated hospitals. I absolutely loathed them when I had to go there as part of summer jobs. So, somewhere, I knew that being a doctor for me wouldn't be very easy. I was also studying at Tufts University in Boston, and to get a degree it was compulsory to attend art classes.
I chose acting and later I was told that I had to be a part of a stage production. That's when I realised that I enjoyed the process of acting. I felt drawn towards the medium and that's why I decided to give it a genuine try.
Later, I went to Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London and subsequently joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Though my parents were taken aback at my decision initially, they supported me wholeheartedly once they found out how serious I was about it.
Image: Sendhil Ramamurthy
'Working with Shabana Azmi was a fabulous experience'
Has your skin colour been a drawback in the industry?
To be honest, yes. I was very clear at the outset that I wanted roles that could challenge me. I wouldn't do the typical Indian parts offered to me. I was very clear that I wanted roles of substance. It's a reason why I was unemployed for some time.
I borrowed money from my father and that's when I realised how supportive they were of my profession. I'm so grateful that Tim Kring offered me the role in Heroes. It's what really got me noticed.
Apart from It's a Wonderful Afterlife, you've also signed another Indian film, producer Ekta Kapoor's Shor. What made you sign these films?
Frankly, I wouldn't call Gurinder's film a "Bollywood" film. It's a British comedy where I play the role of a police officer who has to go undercover to solve a string of murders that are taking place just outside of London.
While trying to solve the mystery of the murders, my character falls in love with one of the suspects. I must add that working with Shabana [Azmi] was a fabulous experience, and since my parents are huge fans of her work, they came from Texas to London to meet her and watch her shoot.
I would like to do character-driven films, whether Hollywood or Bollywood, and that's why I signed Shor. I've also signed Covert Affairs, another TV show, shooting for which should start in Toronto by mid-April. Sadly, I will not be in Mumbai to watch the premiere of my own film.
Image: A scene from It's a Wonderful Afterlife