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‘I am not afraid to be brown,’ says Indian American Sahana Srinivasan, host of Netflix’s ‘Brainchild’

 

In an interview with the American Bazaar, Sahana Srinivasan talks about the show and her identity as a person of color, among other issues.

If you have a teen, tween and, of course, Netflix at home, you may have seen a few episodes of Brainchild, a new science show for kids that debuted on the popular streaming service last November. Produced by Pharell Wlliams, the show is hosted by Indian American actor Sahana Srinivasan.

Srinivasan is studying films at the University of Texas in Austin. While the show talks about everything that pre-teen minds would want to know, ranging from how the universe works to the truth about superheroes, what is also been talked about is the 22-year-old’s engaging and breakthrough role.

After all, it is not often that one sees brown women talking about science on TV. But Srinivasan remains unfazed about her ethnicity as she (rightly) believes it has little to do with the show.

“I am not afraid to be brown,” she says. “Sure, an Indian woman hosting a science show on Netflix is different from what we’ve seen before, but that’s something that excites me; I never once thought that my cultural background would inhibit the show’s success.”

The Texan says regardless of race, ethnicity or cultural background, audiences these days, including white people, are now realizing and are promoting the need for representation and diversity on screen.

“In the past, roles given to Indian people often fetishized our heritage, or portrayed us as a stereotype, (nerdy, thick accent) and never really the lead,” she says. “There was also the issue of whitewashing roles meant for brown people. People were so used to seeing a white person as the attractive lead role, and brown people didn’t get as much of a chance. Eventually, brown actors started taking matters into their own hands and began creating their own content.”

Srinivasan credits talented actors and comedians such as Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj and Aparna Nancherla, for paving the way for more brown artists to showcase their work.

Sahana Srinivasan
Sahana Srinivasan

“Hollywood’s perspective on casting people of color in non-stereotypical roles is changing, slowly, but surely,” she says. “However, in the end, our heritage matters, but it’s just one piece of the pie. I am very thankful for Atomic Entertainment, Netflix, and Executive Producer Pharrell Williams for giving me such a unique opportunity as Brainchild.”

Srinivasan says the show doesn’t emphasize her identity as a person of color.

“On the show, it’s clear that I’m a person of color because of what I look like, without even constantly wearing traditional clothing,” she says. “Other than that, the show doesn’t emphasize so much on me being brown. There’s much more to my identity than being Indian.”

Srinivasan, who was born in Houston and raised in Dallas, remains very close to her Indian roots. “I was born in Houston but raised in Dallas, Texas,” she says. “I come from a South Indian, Tamil-speaking family. At a young age, my parents noticed my knack for creativity, art, and performing, and encouraged me to take part in acting, drawing, dancing, and music. I would recite a scene or sing a song from a Tamil TV show or movie, which was comedic in nature.”

Srinivasan is also learned bharathanatyam, a classical Indian dance, while growing up. She recalls her unique arangetram, which is the debut solo performance. “In the first half, I danced. In the second half, I played pieces of various styles on the piano,” she says. “In between both parts of the show, I showcased a video which highlighted some of my film and acting work.”

On bagging the big show, word has it that Srinivasan got it when she sent an amateur video shot at home.

“I began taking film acting seriously at Cathryn Sullivan’s Acting for Film when I was 13,” she says. “There, I gained agency representation with Kim Dawson (Dallas) and Innovative Artists (Los Angeles), and began auditioning for projects. I faced rejection a lot, especially in the beginning. Sometimes I didn’t land a role for reasons that were not in my control.”

The actor says this helped her develop “a thick skin.”

“I got close on a few projects and I eventually booked a sketch comedy pilot and a supporting role in a feature film called Space Warriors, but Brainchild is my silver screen debut,” she says. “My agent sent me the breakdown/script for the role Fall of 2017; I taped the audition at my apartment and sent it in. Later, I flew out to New York for a callback and then I landed the role. A few weeks after that I was working on set in New York!”

About her first brush with the Big Apple she says, “I had never been to New York, so living there was a huge jump from living in Texas. Adjusting was initially difficult, but I quickly grew to love the hustle and bustle and refreshing honesty of New York.”

Like many Indian Americans, Srinivasan, too, is a Bollywood fan. On her other interests, she says, “When I’m not acting, I enjoy creating my own films. I recently directed a music video featuring my talented younger sister Malavi. The video presents modern hip hop dancing against the backdrop of an old Bollywood film. I also like doing standup comedy. Weight lifting is another thing I enjoy doing when I’m not performing.”

On what she wants to say to young girls idolizing her, she says, “Young girls are very passionate about science and math, and are extremely capable of becoming successful in those fields. Yet, the false idea that women aren’t as intelligent in math and science has prevailed. It hasn’t helped that TV shows and movies have often (especially in the past,) portrayed a scientist as a man. We need to remind people that historically, women have made some outstanding scientific discoveries. Seeing a woman who doesn’t resemble a caricature of a scientist host a science show can be encouraging for young girls who want to explore STEM related topics.”

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