January 17th, 2007 11:15 EST
Purva Bedi Is Cast as Lead in LESBIAN FILM When Kiran Met Karen
You may have already heard of the upcoming film When Kiran Met Karen because of its controversial subject - a BOLLYWOOD actress in New York falls in love with her female co-star while shooting a film in which she plays a lesbian – and because of who's playing the lead. Or rather, who's not playing it.
Bollywood actress Perizaad Zorabian made international headlines in July when she turned down the role due to her “own personal inhibitions about playing a lesbian”, even as she acknowledged, “Kiran is a fantastic role for any actor who has the courage to think with an open mind.”
There has been much anticipation since then over who would take the lead. Now, in an exclusive interview with AfterEllen.com, director Manan Katohora reveals that the film's star will be Indian-American actress Purva Bedi (American Desi, Green Card Fever
In an interview with Bedi this week, she told us, “The other actress, Perizaad Zorabian, who is a lovely, lovely person and a lovely actress — she's coming from Bollywood, and there is not a single actress … living in India … who cares about her career there who could play this part.” Bedi added with a laugh, “'Cause I know that the director met with people and talked to people there and everyone — you know, the second they even read the synopsis were like, ‘sorry.'”
But Bedi herself, who has built her acting career in the United States, does not feel the same stigma that Zorabian did. “That's one of the reasons I really want to do the movie … 'cause you know that once the movie's made, everyone in India 's going to watch it,” Bedi said. “I want to make this movie so that actresses there can start to play those parts and not be so scared of it.”
Unlike Katohora's previous film, Arya
, which was a straight-to-DVD thriller, When Kiran Met Karen
is targeted toward a “global audience … and will be a theatrical release worldwide,” said Katohora in an email. “I have started the dialogue with several Asian distributors back home and some niche distributors here in North America .” The film is co-written by Sumita Sheth (executive editor of egothemag.com
magazine) and Katohora, who also directs the film.
Currently, Katohora is assembling a production team and the rest of the cast (Bedi's love interest, who is slated to be a Chinese-American woman, has not yet been cast) and is raising funds to begin shooting. “It's not a big budget film,” Katohora stated. “The story, the script doesn't have a huge setup. We can make this film in $400,000. Most of the preproduction is done, so as soon as we raise that sum, we are ready to shoot.”
He intends to have the film ready for the festival circuit beginning in summer 2007, and plans to undertake a five-week shoot in and around Manhattan. “I know it's a cliché,” he admitted, “but the city does play an important role in the narrative.”
That narrative centers around Bedi's character, Rachna, who plays a character named Kiran in the movie within the movie. “When you meet her, she is in an über-heterosexual relationship,” Bedi explained. But after she finds herself attracted to her co-star, a lesbian who plays a character named Karen, she begins to question her sexual orientation.
“Through the course of exploring the character [that she plays], she begins to explore that side of herself and goes to a place that's scary for her because she's never seriously considered being a lesbian — or even bisexual — herself,” Bedi said. “She's really,
I think, bought into the heterosexual paradigm … and only seen that as a possibility. Then when she starts to explore the other side, it's really threatening but exciting.” Adding a twist to the tale, when Rachna falls in love with her co-star, both of them are in relationships with other people.
In addition to dealing with the issue of infidelity and her sexuality, Rachna has to grapple with her cultural background and the ways it intersects with these issues. “The other really sort of huge thing for Rachna is, I think, expectations with being an Indian American woman,” said Bedi. “There's a lot of pressure from birth to get married and to fit these roles, fit these responsibilities of, you know, get married, be a good wife, be a good girl.”
Bedi continued: “So even though she's an actress — which is like a huge thing — she's an actress who's a good girl, who has a boyfriend who she's been with for a number of years, who she even lives with, you know, who she'll marry. There's this one scene where she goes to a wedding — and this is very typical, you know — six aunties and seven uncles and three cousins ask, ‘When are you guys getting married?' Which is what all Indian women of marriageable age put up with.”
Bedi admitted she has been lucky in that her family is more progressive than some Indian-American families. When she was cast in the role of Rachna and told her parents about it, they jokingly offered to help finance the film.
“I was very lucky to be born into a family where my father's mother had been an actress and ran a theater company for 30 years in India, and my mother, when she was a teenager, was an actress. [She] left it behind to pursue academia, but was also a novelist and a poet.” Bedi was born in India , but her family moved to the United States in the late 1970s. Perhaps taking a cue from her female forebears, Bedi says that she has wanted to be an actress since she was 5 years old.
“I wanted to be other things too,” she acknowledged, “like, you know, a lawyer and a clown and a cop … but some of those things fell away and some of those things stayed.” She attended Williams College in Western Massachusetts , where she double majored in theater and economics. “I'm a good Indian girl, and so while I was passionate about theater, I had to have a nice econ practical thing,” she said with a laugh.
After college, despite her interest in acting, she did not immediately pursue her dream. “I don't think I had the courage to say ‘I want to be an actor when I graduate,'” Bedi admitted. Instead, she became a management consultant. “And then after a year I was like, OK, life is too short. I need to follow my heart. And then I started acting.”
One of her first roles was a lead in the Indian-American film American Desi, in which she played the perfect Indian-American college student. Subsequent lead roles in other South Asian films, such as Green Card Fever (2003) and Cosmopolitan (2003), directed by Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn), followed. Bedi has also had roles on several prime time television shows, including guest-starring stints on Strong Medicine and The Drew Carey Show.
Though she has played roles ranging from medical student to potential terrorist, the role of Rachna is the first time that Bedi will be portraying a woman grappling with her sexual orientation. “I am at the beginning of a journey discovering who Rachna is,” Bedi said. “Part of my research is just figuring out how, for the character of Rachna, I can get into her shoes in the most personal way.”
She added with a laugh, “Which doesn't mean that I'm necessarily gonna make out with lots of women.” But Bedi freely recalled studying radical feminism in college and said, “If you're a fairly open-minded person, in life one explores other things.”
Unlike Zorabian, Bedi is not afraid to stir up the waters in the Indian community with her role in When Kiran Met Karen. In fact, the actress seems to almost relish the possibility that they will be forced to see a different side of her. “The Indian community—a lot of people know me from American Desi, which was a romantic comedy set at a college campus where I play the perfect Indian girl,” Bedi said.
“And after the film, I remember my aunt called me up and was like, ‘You played the perfect Indian daughter that everybody wants to bring home.' And so what I love about this movie is that it's just gonna turn everything on its head. … I remember thinking, ‘Well, I'm not the perfect Indian girl. Maybe you all think that, but that's not me.' So this is just sort of like, I'm crossing to the dark side according to Indian standards.”
Bedi laughed a bit nervously and concluded, “I hope people still want to see my movies after this.”