Pallavi Sharda didn’t have to look far to get into character for “Wedding Season.” The Australian actor and dancer stars in the Netflix rom-com as Asha, a New Jersey-raised attorney being pressured by her Indian parents to find a man and get married. To get them off her back, she convinces one of her set-ups (Suraj Sharma) to pretend that they’re dating during a summer wedding season.
“When I read the script, I just thought, ‘I know this story,’” says Sharda, who is best known for her Bollywood career and television work in Australia. “I know this woman. I have friends that are this woman. I have family who grew up in Jersey, like a lot of my cousins are from this part of the world. And my grandparents migrated to the U.S. in the 1980s. All of my maternal cousins are Indian Americans.”
I caught up with Sharda from her native Australia as she was getting ready to fly to the U.S. to promote the Tom Dey-directed movie.
Congratulations on the movie. I watched the movie with my aunt, who is an 80-year-old Jewish woman from Long Island, and we loved it. We were laughing.
I’m so glad to hear that. That’s all we want.
It’s a very universal. It’s not like Jewish moms don’t pressure their kids to get married.
It’s not just a South Asian thing. Every parent is concerned about the future of their children and their happiness. And I think that’s the whole point. It’s about them wanting to see my character happy.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
When I was about three years old. I had been inspired as a young girl by Bollywood because there were these magical goddesses on screen who looked like me and transported me into this world, which was in such stark opposition to my Melbourne suburban life. It gave me a glimpse into what was possible, even though it was fantasy and dream-like.
Tell me about the first audition you ever went to.
I was 20 and it was in Mumbai. It was a sweaty, hot, smoldering day. I had no idea about how the city worked. I had no idea about transportation. I had no money and someone said it’s walking distance from my hotel guest house where I was staying and I walked to this place, but I was like dripping in sweat within about 30 seconds with eyeliner running down my cheeks and me just asking vendors, street food vendors, “Where is this place?” And eventually this meandering journey took me to a little bungalow, like an old Catholic bungalow in a suburb in Mumbai. And it just had an “audition” sign sort of tacked on this screen outside. And there was this languid ceiling fan in this room with hundred of people crammed into it. But I booked the job. I booked my first ever audition.
What was it for?
It was a commercial for a mouth freshener. I had such little experience.
How did you tell your parents you were going to Mumbai to be an actress?
I did articulate that when I was a kid, but obviously they were like, “She’s going to grow out of this.” Then I was at law school because we do law school in undergrad in Australia. And I was studying media and law and I started taking acting classes part time because I felt like a bit of a fish out of water at law school. I was in my final year, and a professor had come from India to give a guest lecture on a law subject that I was interested about Indigenous rights. This light bulb went off and I was like, “Oh, that’s how I get to India.” So I went to speak to this professor. I said, “Can I come and do a paper with you in India?” And he was like, “Sure, of course, come on. Come on down.” So I told my parents, “I’m going to go study at this university in Delhi for a semester.” I went to the university for one day. I paid the admission fee. I got my ID card, and I left the campus, and I flew to Mumbai, and I never went back again. A few weeks later, I’m auditioning for this mouth freshener commercial.
So are you a lawyer?
By training. I never practiced, but I have a law degree.
Let’s talk about a post you did on Instagram in June where you talked about being South Asian and a woman of color and being told early in your career that there wasn’t a place for you in Australian entertainment.
When I was going to drama school part-time, a teacher or someone who was leading a class that day, looked at me and said, “I don’t think you should get your hopes up for seeing yourself on the screen here.” And it was a screen acting class! I remember not being surprised or disappointed. Just going, “Oh, that makes sense.” And then I was looking at my double degree because media was the other degree I did. I love writing and speaking and performing, so I thought broadcast and the media and expression through that mode might be an option. But it was the same messaging. That is when I just realized that if I wanted to work in a way where I’m seen, where the gifts that I have, that I believe I have, can be seen, I have to go to India or Asia or somewhere else.
Will we see a “Wedding Season” sequel?
There is not a complete story without the actual wedding is all I’ll say. We joked about it on set. We story-boarded it in our minds. Let’s put it out there. I could not imagine anything more incredible than getting together with that team again.
Thanks so much for chatting with me. Hopefully, next time we meet it will be in person.
Absolutely. I cannot wait for that day. Thank you so much for your time. Say hi to your aunt for me.
She’s going to be 80 next week.
Well, happy birthday to her and give her all my love. And if she’s ever doing a trip to Australia, there’s a warm Indian meal waiting for her. And to you as well, always there for you in Melbourne on arrival. That’s what we offer as a family.
This interview has been edited and condensed.