Wedding Season’s Pallavi Sharda On Netflix Fame, South Asian Representation & Leaving Australia To Make It
The fake romance trope may have been around for years but the truth is, we can't get enough of it. Netflix's new film, Wedding Season, is just one recent example, where characters Asha (Pallavi Sharda) and Ravi (Suraj Sharma) pretend to date during a summer of weddings after facing parental pressure to find spouses.
As you've probably guessed by now, things get messy when their feelings turn real — but that's exactly the spectacle we're tuning in for.
"I think everyone loves to fall in love," the movie's female lead, Pallavi Sharda, tells Refinery29 Australia over Zoom. "We can call them tropes, but they work, and clichés are clichés for a reason.
"It's a way in, but I do think Wedding Season deviates from that as well."
She's right, because while there are hundreds of rom-coms that follow this addictive and endearing format, Wedding Season also cements itself as an enriching story of migration, culture and connection between two Indian families (Asha's and Ravi's) that's all too familiar to South Asian people living in western countries. It's not uncommon to grow up in an Indian or Sri Lankan household and face pressure from your parents (and a dozen aunties and uncles) to have an arranged marriage and pursue a conventional career — which both Asha and Ravi come up against in the film.
With a white male director at the helm of a movie featuring a string of Indian wedding scenes, Sharda says it was important to her that she worked with the production team to ensure the story was told authentically and respectfully.
"My goal is that no South Asian person should watch the film and be like, 'They got that wrong, that doesn't make sense or that's inconsistent'," explains the 32-year-old Indian Australian.
"I remember when Neighbours had cast South Indian-looking people but their surname was Kapoor, and they look racially different to a Punjabi family. [I thought] why have you just slapped on the name?" she recalls. "I think there's a real role for cultural consultants today."
While Wedding Season may be her first Netflix original project, Perth-born Sharda has been acting for over a decade, making her start in India's film industry called Bollywood, before starring in Hollywood movies like Lion and Tom & Jerry, and most recently, Foxtel's Aussie courtroom drama, The Twelve.
The acting world is a tough game, but it's even harder if you're a person of colour (POC) and Sharda learnt that pretty quickly at the start of her career.
While studying law and media/communications in Victoria, she did a showreel-making course, and it was there that she received some harsh comments that many POC in the industry can relate to.
"I was told by the teacher that I couldn't dye my hair blonde, so I shouldn't bother sending it in to camera-facing networks," she recalls. "So all of these subliminal messages were being passed down to me."
Struggling to find opportunities in Australia, she moved to India where she began pursuing media and acting roles while completing her final semester of law school
"There was just this thing going [on in my mind]: 'Hold on. Why put a ceiling on yourself? You have this childhood dream. You've always wanted to be an actor."
I was told by the teacher that I couldn't dye my hair blonde, so I shouldn't bother sending it in to camera-facing networks.
But it's not lost on her that for someone who was born in Perth and raised in Melbourne, it's rather ironic that she had to move overseas to get her big break and wait over 10 years to finally act in her home country. And even when she entered the acting world in India, she often still felt like an outsider as she wasn't born and brought up there.
"I lost years of my life, and I lament that," she says. "I do wonder what it would have been like if I could have been a 17-year-old girl in Australia who went, 'I want to be an actress. I'm just gonna do it.' [But] I didn't get to do that.
"What people often don't realise is that the path I took was quite treacherous. Not only was it long-winded geographically, I ended up in a very disadvantaged situation when I turned up to India as well because I was outside of the nucleus there."
Despite Bollywood serving as a launching pad for her acting career, she's more recently moved away from India's film industry to focus on projects in the west. It was a difficult decision to make because of the complexities of being a woman of colour in Hollywood, and an Australian-born Indian woman in Bollywood.
"I said, 'Do I want to be a woman in India or a brown woman in the world?' And it was almost a question of which is more challenging. Which is the one that's going to cause me less trauma? Because living as a woman in India was very challenging — I was up against the stigmas that were attached to a woman who thought and had a brain. I was heavily ostracised for that at times," she explains.
Promoting Wedding Season which co-stars How I Met Your Father's Suraj Sharma marks a positive and nerve-racking time for Sharda, especially because of Netflix's ability to make you go viral so quickly.
"I have been a little bit nervous," she admits. "It's the first time in a few years that I'm sort of leading the film as the 'heroine'. And I guess that is a little bit scary, but I think it's good that it's scary because I love the beginner's mindset that I always have.
"This is a new phase and it's a new journey, and I feel very blessed."
Above all, Sharda hopes this film not only resonates with rom-com buffs, but also brown women in Australia who've often struggled to see a multi-dimensional woman like them on the screen.
"I just hope people realise I'm Australian. For me, the Australian Indian identity and putting a stamp on that is so important."
Wedding Season premieres on Netflix on Thursday, August 4. Watch the trailer below: