Pallavi Sharda and Claire van der Boom in ‘Pulse’. (Photo credit: Daniel Asher Smith)
When the Casting Guild of Australia named Pallavi Sharda among its 10 Rising Stars of 2017, the recognition was arguably long overdue.
The Australian-born actress, of Indian heritage, made her Oz screen debut in Boyd Hicklin’s 2013 comedy Save Your Legs! several years after launching her career in Bollywood.
She played an Indian international student in Melbourne in Garth Davis’ Lion and earlier this year starred in her first TV series, ABC medical drama Pulse, produced by Clandestine Beyond
“It’s been a long slog for me,” Sharda tells IF.
“Hopefully this is the start of an interesting new chapter or supplementary chapter in my journey.
“Last year I made the decision that it was time that I should be able to work at home. One reason, which I am very passionate about, is multi-cultural representation on our screens and finally diversifying the way we look at Australian stories.
“I’ve done the hard yards in India. A lot of people knew about my work but thought I was really interested solely in Bollywood films, which is not the case.”
In her latest Bollywood film, director Srijit Mukherji’s Begum Jaan, she played a sex worker from Punjab during the partition between India and Pakistan.
In Pulse, she played the mean-spirited Dr Tanya Kalchuri, who clashed with second-year doctor Frankie Bell (Claire van der Boom) in a western suburbs teaching hospital.
“Claire is such a wonderful actress. It was very inspiring to work with her, seeing someone come to work and be in almost every scene,” she says. “I also enjoyed venturing into Harris Park, an Indian area near Parramatta, looking at newer migrant communities and re-learning about Australia.”
She also relished the chance to work with directors Peter Andrikidis and Ana Kokkinos, who each have different styles. Andrikidis enjoys the pace of television and has a different way of getting the cast to deliver their dialogue, while Kokkinos brings a cinematic edge to her direction.
The Perth-born, Melbourne-raised Sharda is now working on a Bollywood project, which is under wraps, and writing a book – a cross-cultural memoir about her experiences of growing up in Australia as an Indian-Australian, and then going to India as an Australian to work in Bollywood. Entitled ‘Which Way to Bombay?’ it will be published by Hardie Grant next year.
Sharda is an advocate for inter-cultural relations between India and Australia, and is on the board of a number of NGOs involved in women’s rights and education in India.
While she is pleased with the progress towards increasing Australia’s on-screen diversity, she says: “I don’t think we are at a stage where we are interested in seeing people from all different nationalities or backgrounds on screen. It’s always ‘look at that person, they’re not from the mainstream.’
“But I think we are going to get there and it will happen quickly because of the dedication I have seen amongst the film and television community in the last few months particularly. Australia is really turning its mind to its audience. I turned to Bollywood when I was young because I did not see a reference point that I related to on Australian screens.”