Way more competitive for minority artists in all fields of show business: Puja Mohindra

Indian American actress will be seen in the horror trilogy film ‘Muck’.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The upcoming Hollywood horror film Muck, starring rising actress Puja Mohindra, is aiming for a summer 2014 release date and will be one of the first feature films ever shot, finished, and distributed entirely in 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) resolution.

Puja Mohindra
Puja Mohindra (courtesy of her Twitter account, @PujaMohindra)

Originally from Chicago, Mohindra knew she wanted to be an actress from a young age. She attended Northwestern University for her undergraduate studies, earning her degree in broadcast journalism. She then went to San Francisco, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree from the prestigious American Conservatory Theater. After her schooling was done, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actress, where she has built up a considerable resume of television appearances and theatrical productions in just about five years.

In an interview with The American Bazaar, Mohindra talks about how she came to join the cast of Muck, what it’s like to be an Indian American actress in today’s Hollywood, and why she thinks it’s best for those in the entertainment industry to maybe take a step back from L.A. and New York if they really want to see the best results.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did you become involved with the movie Muck?

There was an audition process that I had to go through. [Writer/Director] Steve [Wolsh] is very detail-oriented, and did an entire nation-wide search to cast this movie. He and the casting director concentrated primarily in New York and Los Angeles, and he’s actually from San Francisco, so I imagine they probably looked there as well. Almost all the actors in the movie come from New York and L.A., and we shot the movie in Cape Cod.

I auditioned in L.A., but then came back to Chicago right after that to work on some other projects of mine. But Steve and I kept in touch after that initial audition, talking about the role and going more in-depth as to who this character is, and so on. So I auditioned in May, about two years ago, and then by June or July I knew that I was in, and then we shot it that fall, starting in September. And it was around this time that Steve realized he wanted to do a trilogy, so the movie we ended up shooting first is actually the second movie chronologically.

So without giving too much away, are you going to be in all three of those films?

Yes, I’m going to be in all three of them. Some of the people that we worked with on [Muck] got killed off because, well, it’s a horror movie – some characters are obviously going to die. But I already know that I will be in all three films, and we’re actually preparing to shoot the next installment this fall, most likely in September again.

Your character in the movie is of Indian descent, and you obviously are in real life, too. Was that always the case, or did the character get re-written after you were cast to incorporate the fact that you’re Indian?

PujaIt wasn’t re-written, the character was Indian all along. That’s what I thought was actually the coolest part of the whole thing. I even asked [Steve] about that when we were discussing the character and the script, because it’s one of the very few times I’ve ever seen an Indian character in a story which really doesn’t even address the fact that [he or she] is Indian. The character’s ethnicity really doesn’t play into the storyline at all. I mean, there’s some back-story related in the movie – she’s originally from India, she’s the girlfriend of the lead character, things like that – but the movie is really an ensemble piece about a group of friends getting into this kind of horrific situation, so the movie never really dwells on the fact that she’s Indian.

Was that aspect of the character appealing, or important, to you? Was it a big motivating factor in taking the role?

Oh yeah. Most of the time, when I see a script or a casting call, the part is kind of generic, like they’re just looking for someone of any ethnicity. And even on those occasions where they’re specifically looking for someone who’s Indian, it’s almost always because of something that has to do with the storyline. Like the fact that the character is Indian is necessary because of something in the story, whether it be something about her family, or her romantic life, [etc.].

This [the Muck script] was really one of the first times I’ve ever seen a script that was so minimal in terms of dealing with the fact that one of the characters is Indian. Like I said, there’s some very small background stuff about her family in India and so on, but otherwise she basically just happens to be Indian. And she’s a fleshed-out, integral part of the story; in fact, she’s really one of the leads. And to me, that was probably the coolest part of the script.

Do you find that there are more roles out there for Indian-origin actors in Hollywood, and specifically, for Indian American women? In your experience, are there more opportunities for Indian American actors, or are jobs still hard to come by because most roles are meant for white actors? 

I think it’s hard to get work as an actor in general, regardless of your ethnicity or where you come from. At the end of the day, this is a really competitive business, and I’m not saying this just for Indians, but for minorities in general – if you are a minority looking for work in Hollywood, it’s going to be even more competitive. Film and television have definitely done a better job, because there are now a lot of diversity initiatives and quotas that need to be met, but television is ultimately run by advertisers. Their money pays for the networks to create these shows. And there are figures and statistics out there, where people have analyzed the demographics of TV shows and compared them to real life, and they just never match up. The world we live in is not the same as the ones on TV, because there’s still a relative lack of minority characters on these shows.

About two months ago, when I had moved back to Chicago, I went to speak at a performing arts school in the city. And the majority of the students there are African American. And as I was talking to them, they told me that they look at the glee club at their school, and then they look at the show “Glee” (also about a high school glee club), and they told me “our glee club looks nothing like theirs,” which is completely true. This is by no means a criticism, and I’m an eternal optimist, but it’s definitely way more competitive for minority artists in all fields of show business – actors, writer, directors, designers, and so on.

Aside from your career as a film actress, you’ve also done a considerable amount of theatre; now that you’re in Chicago for the foreseeable future, do you see yourself concentrating more on theatrical pursuits rather than film work?

Not necessarily. When I came to Chicago, I had just finished a web series [“Friendly Confines”] and a one-woman show [“A Good Dive”] in L.A., and those experiences really taught me that my writing and my acting really go hand-in-hand with each other. I consider myself to be a writer/actor/producer, and writing can really be done from just about anywhere. So it was a conscious decision to come back to Chicago, which is my hometown, and is where my family is. It was going to be a temporary thing at first, but now I’m 99% positive that this is going to be for good.

It’s also easier, from a producing standpoint, to be in Chicago. In L.A. it just gets crazy when you’re doing things like location scouting and so on. I’m really trying to do another web series, from a separate script that I’ve written, and in putting that together I realized that it’ll be much easier to produce from here. But even for my film work, I haven’t left that at all – now, I just commute to L.A. or New York for those kinds of things. My base is in Chicago.

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