Sendhil Ramamurthy: From Heroes to Shor
Sendhil Ramamurthy, the geneticist from Heroes, is ready with his second Bollywood outing with Shor In The City, out this Friday.
Sendhil started his acting career with theatre. In the late 1990s, he played a small role in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Ayub Khan Din's East is East. Later on, he went on to play small roles in films and television, until he hit the jackpot with the show Heroes. This was followed by the show Covert Affairs.
In between, Ramamurthy has worked on two films Gurinder Chadha's It's A Wonderful Afterlife and this week's new release -- Krishna DK and Raj Nimidoru's Shor In The City.
Aseem Chhabra spoke to Ramamurthy in New York City about his experience of working on Shor in Mumbai and his other projects.
You have now done two Indian films? Why this choice now?
Well, they were very different films. Gurinder's film was British, fashioned after the Ealing comedies, whereas this is part of Alt Entertainment strategy to bring a different kind of cinema in India.
Image: Sendhil Ramamurthy
Photographs: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
'I was lucky to have worked with Gurinder Chaddha'
The reason I ask is because you play an Indian character in both the films. You have played Indian characters on television too, but your nationality was not the focal point there.
Yes, I was lucky to get a chance to work with Gurinder and when this came along, Raj and DK flew to Los Angeles and met my agent, manager and they gave a copy of their short Shor (a 2008 short film before the directors made the feature last year), which was wonderful. They also gave me the script. I watched the short first and said yes. I knew they had a great eye and Tushar Kanti Ray (Dhobi Ghat) their DP (Director of Photography) is just brilliant.
It was a no brainer for me. I wanted to go to India and work on a film and I had been waiting for something like this to come my way. It has a crossover potential, but it will also appeal to Indian audience. The lead character in this film is Mumbai. It is quite lovingly shot and depicts the good and the bad sides of the city.
The character you play in Shor is similar to you, an NRI, who struggles with his Hindi.
And that originally wasn't quite the character when they brought the script to me. The character was supposed to be quite fluent in conversational Hindi. My family doesn't speak Hindi at all. We speak Kannada and so there had to be a change, because it was just so hard for me to learn Hindi.
Also, I think it added to the outsider element of this character. It's going to provide some comic relief to the audience seeing this fish-out-of-the-water kind of character. His naivet is staggering but there's something that happened in the US and he's running away from all that to start a new life. But what I like about the character is that whatever may have happened that he ran from, this time he stakes his claim.
Image: A still from It's A Wonderful Afterlife
'Shor In The City has crossover potential'
What was it like working in India? This was your first time working there.
It was a four week shoot. It was totally different than anything I have done before. It was so chaotic and so damn noisy. I don't know how any of the sound came out. Here (in the US) when we shoot on the street, we have policemen who shut the place down. There it was like 'wait until that rickshaw passes and start talking.' But the sound guys were brilliant. Obviously the noise adds to the film.
Raj and DK have spent a lot of time on the film. I think they brought a different sensibility to it based on their experiences here and still kept it an Indian film about Mumbai. I think it will connect with the people.
What's it like having two directors?
They go through their shots together, but then Raj is the one who talks to the actors and they really delineate their roles but they also almost finish each other's sentences. They are onboard with everything. I was concerned but they were on the same page at all times.
Image: A still from Shor In The City
'Heroes was that one break that everyone needs'
Let's talk about your television work. What did Heroes do for your career?
Everybody needs that one break, one opening and what you do with that is up to you. I tried to use it to make sure I don't do the same thing again and again that I get good roles but I do not repeat myself. Heroes kind of enabled me to do that. I get inside the doors now because of Heroes. Besides, I've also made some very close friends.
There was a time actors would graduate from television to films. But now things are changing. Is there a particular path you are following?
I've come to realise that there are no rules. You cut your own path. Right now I have the privilege to work in both television and films. I haven't done a play for a while, but I would like to do that soon. But I am really happy with the work I am doing. It's good television.
What do your parents do? Do you have any siblings?
My parents are both doctors. I have a sister, who is also a doctor.
Oh wow, so you were the black sheep in the family.
Yes, I was although now they think everyone should be an actor! It took a little bit of convincing them but they were really understanding paying for drama school, etc. The typical Indian parents that everyone thinks of -- they weren't that. They supported all the plays I did and came to see my act. I certainly wouldn't have gotten anywhere without their support.
Image: Sendhil Ramamurthy in Heroes
'The language will always be a barrier for me'
Has it become easier for Indian American actors in the US?
There is no question about that.
Is it still a struggle?
Oh yes, acting is a struggle whether you are white, black or brown.
But look at Meryl Streep. She can take two years off and then she gets two films and Oscar nominations for both.
Oh if I can be a tenth of Meryl Streep, I will be a happy man. In general if you are lucky to be working as an actor that is great. But it is also a struggle, especially if you are an Indian.
Has there been more interest in you in India? Are you getting scripts from Indian filmmakers?
A lot of interest. But the language will always be a barrier for me. It would be unrealistic of me to go there and hope to become a huge Bollywood star. That's not on the cards. But I am looking for opportunities in India. Some of the projects are in English. I am quite picky and nothing has attracted my attention yet. But I will go back when the right thing comes along.
Image: Sendhil Ramamurthy
Photographs: Jason Kempin/Getty Images