“I think the first question my parents asked was his acting number one or school number one, what’s number two? And so you just really need to make that decision for yourself. And once you start prioritizing, you know, where does hanging out with friends, where does that fall?” 16-year-old Avantika Vandanapu, the breakout star of Disney Channel’s film Spin told Aaurshi Diya M. of Bharat Times, speaking exclusively via ZOOM from California.
Spin is Disney Channel’s first film with a South Asian in the main lead.
Born in San Francisco, 16-year-old Avantika Vandanapu, is now based in Los Angeles, California which seems to have helped her exceptional talent to bag the role. Avantika plays Rhea, a high school student who discovers a flair for mixing tunes and DJing.
Avantika is not new to entertainment. Her fans remember her performances in the North American edition of the reality series Dance India Dance Li’l Masters which earned her the nickname of mini ‘Madhuri Dixit’. Avantika is proud of that compliment even today.
Spin is not her first acting job. At the tender age of 10, she landed her first acting in Telugu cinema. She has done roles in American television series Diary Of A Future President (2020) and Mira, Royal Detective (2020).
Unlike Australia which is clearly lagging behind, Spin breaks the stereotyping of migrants being left out from the productions in the US. It is being seen as a huge milestone for the South Asian migrant community’s journey in America.
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Excerpts from the interview with Aarushi Diya M.
Tell us a little bit about this movie. Give us a little insight into your character.
Spin covers the journey of Rhea, who is young, ambitious girl was also really loyal and faithful to her family and friends. And it kind of covers her journey of coming of age and discovering her passion in music, and how she kind of navigates and juggles to all these things that are going on for her, like DJing coding waitressing at her dad’s restaurant, and responsibilities to family and friends. So really, it’s just a story of a girl empowering herself through finding her voice and learning how to prioritize sometimes her passions before others.
What was your favorite part of filming?
My favorite part was definitely the people. And I say this all the time. Because I truly think that people make the movie, the team makes the movie and everyone on this phone was just so amazing. And honestly, you might seem like a cliche answer, but you can’t say the same for every project that you work on. But for spin, especially. Everyone was so amazing. And to come out of quarantine, where we were kind of isolated and didn’t have social contact with many people. It was great to come into such a welcoming warm group of people. And really spend a good time with them.
How was your experience actually filming during COVID?
It was really interesting. I definitely think we were so lucky that we even bought to film in the first place considering so many people were being laid off of their jobs and struggling to find work in and of itself. But that aside, I think it was really interesting because acting is such an emotional, and I feel like touch based and connection based art, that to do it while social distancing and wearing masks. Most of the time, other than actually filming, it was just really interesting. But I think cast and crew adapted as much as possible, especially crew, they were extra extra cautious so that actors could have a little bit of leeway. And I think that’s so incredibly nice of them to do considering their jobs are a lot more labor intensive than cast is. So I truly did enjoy working on the project, even though it was during COVID. And we had our own bubble to kind of stay within. So all in all, I definitely don’t think the experience was that much compromised because of the pandemic.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, where did you grow up and how is your family supported you throughout your journey.
So I grew up around San Francisco, California. So not Los Angeles based but a California native. And I kind of grew up around tech industry and where a lot of Indian people were, and they were pursuing tech. So it was kind of a very different thing for me to be like, Oh, I want to pursue arts and to be a voice for about it. Um, I wouldn’t say that it’s different that I wanted to pursue arts because I know a lot of my friends who did want to pursue an artistic career, but could never really speak up because of the circumstances that were surrounding them. So that also comes to my upbringing, which was really progressive and really liberal and my family did embrace artistic passions I had, and I was allowed to take classes and, and really think about having a serious career as long as I also maintained a good education as well. So that kind of speaks to my upbringing. And I think it’s really shaped me to be like, a flexible person and an open minded person. Because in the midst of kind of a very orthodox Indian community, my parents were breaking barriers in the fact that they were like, decently comfortable with sending their daughter into the entertainment industry.
You are playing an Indian American in the movie. And so as a result, you’re going to have a very varied audience. How do you expect the responses to be different from young Indian audiences compared to young Indian American audiences?
Um, I think young Indian audiences are going to find the culture of this movie slightly different because I think Indian American culture is also very unique. But I think they’ll find familiar aspects in characters with immigrants from India like Noni and I think they’ll find familiarity in the food and in Holi, and I think for young Indian women this film is a great learning experience to offer a deeper insight into Indian culture. And it’s just a really great way to showcase kids how they can incorporate Indian and American culture and stay true to their identity. And I think their responses will be similar in the sense that real struggles are quite universal. So I think people will be able to relate to it. And this stigma that all Indian parents are unsupportive of their of their kids is also something that’s prevalent in India as well as in America. And this movie kind of breaks that stereotype. So I think that sense of relief, or that sense of refreshment of Oh, we’re seeing something different on screen, that will also be I think, consistent to Indian viewers, and Indian American viewers.
And your experience working with Meera Syal, and Abhay Deol, two very experienced actors, I’m sure you had a lot to learn from them.
So Meera ji was so so amazing. I looked up to her, I still look up to her a lot. She’s so hilarious. And she just has a presence on set that kind of draws you to her. She’s very mesmerizing, and, and very captivating on screen. And I think that’s something everyone can learn from her, especially actors. But at the same time, she is really humble, she’s super down to earth. And I think it helps when sometimes you see a person like that on screen, and you get a little bit intimidated by their presence that helps when the person is so polite, and so down to earth. And so earnest, and she always cracked jokes with me. So that always made me feel so so comfortable. I just feel really glad that I was able to have that time with her. From Abhay also I think I learned a lot. And I really do. I grew up watching his films. So it’s very exciting that he got to play like a family. Like it’s just very exciting that he’s part of an already such a monumental film. And he has a very interesting approach to acting. And he’s a firm believer in living in the present. He loves to improve and he loves to come up with spontaneous stuff. So it is so interesting to see this actor that you saw on screen, see how they are behind the scenes and see the kind of effort they’ve put in. And he’s a very hardworking person. And he’s very humble and down to earth, which I think was great, great, because when you have, like this iconic person that you look up to. He was amazing…
You have definitely become quite the young star. And for all our young listeners out there today, can you tell us how you’ve been able to balance your schoolwork and all these other commitments?
It really is about prioritizing and having a good support system around you. And one, I think it really helps that I live in Los Angeles, where I have a group of actors who are juggling education and acting, and they’re all around me. But at the same time, I was able to do this when I was in India as well, where I didn’t really see that community of actors. Which brings me to my next thing, which is prioritizing. I think the first question my parents asked was his acting number one or school number one, what’s number two? And so you just really need to make that decision for yourself. And once you start prioritizing, you know, where does hanging out with friends, where does that fall? Once you start prioritizing things, you’ll know how much time to dedicate to every activity. And that way you can have your cake and eat it too. You can do everything, maybe not to the extent of which you want it to do but you will be able to manage both.
Spin is directed by Manjari Makijany, another woman of Indian descent working both in Bollywood and Hollywood. Manjari is daughter of very famous Bollywood actor Late Mac Mohan aka Samba.