Indiana Mehta, who had a small role in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, is excited for her Hollywood debut, Work It. The 29-year-old has shared the frame with Sabrina Carpenter and Liza Koshy in this dance-comedy film. The choreographer-turned-actor had initially auditioned for a non-Indian character but after she showed her jazz, bhangra and garba moves during the audition, the role was changed to that of an Indian girl.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Indiana opened up about how she grabbed the chance to feature in the film which releases on Netflix on August 7 and her journey from being a choreographer in Mumbai to living her dream of being a part of Hollywood. Excerpts:
Tell us about your role in Work It.
My character Priya is a high school student who is good at studies, skating, hip hop, Bollywood and Indian dancing. She is going through the whole millennial phase and loves being on her phone and capturing all moments. She has a very blunt and sassy humour. I am grateful that I got to represent my culture and dance in its true form in the film.
Indiana Mehta (second from right) on Work It poster.
How did you land the role in Work It?
Initially at the audition, I submitted a dance video for an ensemble in a dance team. Post video round, I was invited for an in- person choreography round under choreographer Aakomon Jones, director Laura Terruso and the producer. I was extremely nervous as I had researched the choreographer and his work (Pitch Perfect, Black Panther, Oscars) and thought to myself that he certainly expects a really good standard of hip hop. I told myself to just go in and dance your best.
When it came down to performing in front of the panel, I was in a group with two really tall, incredibly talented male hip hop dancers. Again, that sparked nervousness. But I gave my 100%. Post choreography round we were given an option to showcase any freestyle, or flips/tricks/acro. I was like meh… I don’t stand a chance in front of these dancers. So I backed out. The whole time I kept telling myself, “What are you afraid of, since when do you care about what other people have to say.” So I was like maybe I should go and do Bollywood as no one will attempt that style. The ‘Chris Brown’ song was on repeat and I said this will be pure embarrassment to dance Bollywood to a Chris Brown song. Then I thought “maybe that’s the reason they’ll hire you because you can do different styles!” So I ran to the audition room, took my shoes off and broke out into jazz funk, bhangra and finished with garba followed by a standing ovation from the entire panel and fellow auditioners. From there I was called in to read for a role, which at the time was a non-Indian character. Then from one round to next, I got closer and closer to the last round when I received a new script with my character name Priya.
How has your family reacted to your Hollywood debut?
My family is extremely thrilled and over the moon. My parents and my brother have supported me in every possible way to choose dance as a profession. They’ve seen me training and trying out at auditions for the last 11 years. Signing this film was literally a dream come true. When I called them at 2 am (IST) on May 27, 2019 to share the news of the film, they couldn’t stop crying. Emotions and pride can’t be described in words.
You had a small role of a dance teacher in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. How did you land that role?
Funny story…. I was in my 3rd year of dance training at Laine Theatre Arts when my agent sent me to audition for a small role in a Bollywood film. I was excited not only because it was for a Bollywood film but also because it was my first ever audition for film and TV. I went into the audition room with no expectations, there was a camera and two British women from casting. I started to teach a dance class although I went a little overboard by going – “Areeyy aunty idhar bhi thumka”, “uncle thoda aur kamar hilao… arey naagin dance shuru ho jao.” I could see the two women cracking up even though they didn’t speak a word of Hindi. Few days later, I got a call from Dharma productions to say how much they’d loved my audition tape and soon they’ll reach out with shooting details.
Indiana Mehta (extreme left) and Ranbir Kapoor in a still from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
Have you faced racism for your ethnicity?
Fortunately I haven’t. Maybe to some extent in England, when my agent would bracket me into a certain stereotype. To be honest, everyone from the choreographer, to the director to Sabrina Carpenter to Liza Koshy, were all very supportive of my culture and appreciated my skills and were always up to learning more about India and our dance forms.
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What difficulties did you face during your journey from being an assistant choreographer to Hollywood?
I enjoyed learning about the process of choreography and how it was more about the whole look of the act over just the dancing. The set, costumes, entries, exits, the whole package. But at the same time I missed being on stage. With my training in jazz/contemporary and other western styles of dance, it felt like I had limited opportunities in India. I knew I needed to explore more, hustle more, audition more. Therefore, I chose to leave India and moved to Toronto in 2018. Since being here, I’ll say I’ve had at least 50 rejections. But I was fortunate enough to get auditions, which apparently is a big deal in itself. I seem to be on the right track, I just got to keep at it. And that’s what I did. I picked up odd teaching jobs, worked at a shoe store, did Uber eats etc. until I was at the right place at the right time.
Tell us something about your choreography work in India.
It wasn’t easy getting choreography work in India. I’ve done a lot of projects for free or was extremely underpaid. I would be called to be a body in the room to choreograph on. But you do it because connections are important. No matter how big or small the choreography job, ‘No one will ever have the budget for that’. But I was fortunate I got to assist on Nach Baliye, Colors TV awards and other smaller international school shows.
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