Indian American actors Parvesh Cheena and Sonal Shah speak of the show’s importance for immigrant kids.
Indian American actors Parvesh Cheena and Sonal Shah voice the recurring roles of Manish and Poonam, the bumbling bandits in Disney Junior’s all new animated series, Mira, Royal Detective.
The duo will make their debut in the Friday, April 3, episode of the coming of age animated adventure series especially for immigrant kids. The series opened around the world on March 20.
It is perhaps for the first time that a children’s series in American entertainment shows Indian culture and traditions as the mainstay and the focal story line of the series.
As talk of cultural representation and diversity gains grounds in Hollywood and around the world, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Disney Junior’s Mira, in some ways catalyzes the process.
RELATED: Mira, Royal Detective with all Indian cast premieres in March (February 14, 2020 )
As Mira, Royal Detective, continues to wow South Asian kids in America with its synchrony to the culture they may have seen at home, it also offers American kids a refreshing cultural experience of sounds, sights and music.
Cheena (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Shah (Scrubs) catch up with the American Bazaar on working with a mostly South Asian American cast and why Mira as a series is important in America today.
Both Cheena and Shah have been part of mainstream American TV shows in the past. While Parvesh is best known for his role of Gupta in NBC’s sitcom, Outsourced; he has also appeared in ‘Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ and ‘The Goldbergs.’
Sonal Shah is remembered for playing Dr Sonja ‘Sunny’ Dey in the final season of Scrubs. Besides doing many theater productions in Chicago and Los Angeles she has also appeared in ‘Superstore, ‘Spaced Out,’ ‘New Girl,’ and many more shows.
The two actors originally raised in Chicago also talk about the experience of lending their voices to the lovable ‘baddy’ characters Manish and Poonam on the show.
Amid a lock-down across states in America due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are promoting the show from home with a tinge of regret at not being able to do so in person.
“Well, these are tough times but we were lucky to have a big premiere of the show, before the pandemic hit us,” said Cheena.
“As of now, yes, we are doing promotions from home, often talking to journalists and publicists at home but I guess that is important for now and has in fact been a norm for some time now.
“I mean, it’s not unusual to be talking to press around the world over the phone. Today we are doing it within in the country too but this is something that we have done before too so it is all okay at the moment.”
“It is unfortunate that this pandemic hit us and all our lives are stopped in some ways,” said Sonal Shah. “But if there can be any good during this time then I would say I am happy that the series debuted at a time, when kids needed something to keep them busy.”
“Most of them are out of school currently and we are at least happy to offer them something new that they can find both entertaining and educative.”
What is important to talk about the series is that it’s not just another children’s show. In an effective way, the series marks the coming of age of Indian culture in America.
With Indians forming one of the largest minorities in the country and making their presence felt in almost all professional spheres, it was important to have a show to represent the culture in all its glory.
“Yes, the most important part remains that the show celebrates the culture, music, dressing,” said Cheena. “We have progressed beyond a point where we were trying to find justifications to show an Indian character or were trying to assimilate. Here is a show that is as Indian as it gets and it’s for everyone to watch.”
Both the actors feel that it is a great thing for Indian origin kids growing up in America today to have a show like that. Something both of them did not have the luxury of growing up with, while in America.
“Not only that, the show features other important details like Indian Muslims or Indian Sikh boys with a ‘jura’ on their head.” said Cheena.
“I mean an American kid could look at that and say, hey he looks like Gurpreet in my school. These are significant changes.”
“I was raised as a Sikh and not many people in America knew about Sikhs with juras on their heads and it wasn’t uncommon to be made fun of and other kids wondering if there’s a ball on the head,” added Cheena.
With the series addressing these important issues in a fun manner, both Sonal and Parvesh wished they had a show like this during the ’80’s.
But Sonal also points out, “What is extremely interesting is that besides showing a magical culture, which one is bound to enjoy regardless of the background, the show also tackles very universal themes of empowering girls, helping a friend and saving the world through kindness.”
Working on the show with a predominantly South Asian cast while bringing in this important change was one of their most memorable experiences. Both actors maintain being on the set was like being with a group of friends.