With “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife” premiering this week and a new TV series lined-up, Chicago-born Tamilian Sendhil Ramamurthy has a lot to look forward to
It's 10.30 at night in LA when we manage to speak to an exhausted Sendhil Ramamurthy, done with the day's interviews and trying his best to not let the hoarseness in his voice show. “Anything for the film,” he says, speaking of Gurinder Chadha's It's A Wonderful Afterlife in which Sendhil plays a British cop. He's dejected that he won't make it to India for the promotions or the Mumbai premiere on May 7 (though he is flying to London this week for its premiere) as he begins work on the new NBC series “Covert Affairs”. Needless to say, he wants to pack in as much as he can from overseas to familiarise with Indian audiences.
If you are still wondering Sendhil (who?), then the introduction goes thus. This man of Indian origin is all the rage in the U.S., thanks to a television series by Universal-NBC called “Heroes”where he plays a geneticist by the name Mohinder Suresh. Incidentally, this role was initially etched out for a 55-year-old, but Sendhil's audition and screen test turned the tide in favour of this much younger person.
The Tamil boy was born in Chicago after his physician parents migrated from Bengaluru. If fate had not intervened in the form of a necessary class involving introduction to acting, then Sendhil would have gone the medical way. But here he is: Making his own space in the acting world in the U.S. and ensuring that he stays miles away from stereotypical ‘Indian' roles.
“I don't find them interesting,” he says of stereotypical Indian roles that Indian actors abroad mostly get. “But acting is horrid business; sometimes you just need the work to pay your rent so I don't fault Indian actors who end up taking those roles. I have just been fortunate that I don't have the compulsion to accept roles defined by my ethnicity.”
While his role in “Heroes”stands out among the many he has done for “Casualty”, “Guiding Light”, “Ultimate Force”, “Grey's Anatomy” and “Numb3rs”, Sendhil's wheel of fortune is once again expected to turn with his two films: Gurinder Chadha's It's A Wonderful Afterlife and DK and Raj's Shor. In Gurinder's IAWA, Sendhil plays an undercover cop who is sent in to investigate a spate of murders in an Indian neighbourhood. The film stars Shabana Azmi as a mother who is obsessed with the idea of getting her daughter married. “It's a romantic comedy with two parallel love stories: between me and the daughter, and the mother and the daughter. Gurinder makes unabashedly commercial films and I think it's not a bad thing to do.”
Ask how he fitted into a Gurinder Chadha movie that has all the ingredients of a pot-boiler complete with song and dance sequences and a loud Punjabi flavour to it, and he cannot suppress a chuckle. “If you are asking me whether I did a jig in this film, the answer is yes but only at the roll of the credits in the end which is mandatory in all of Gurinder's films. But there you have to do your own thing not be your character in the film. So that was fine! Fortunately for me and the audience, my role didn't demand me to shake a leg,” he laughs.
Shor, on the other hand, is a gritty drama involving three storylines — two in Hindi and one in English. Shot in Mumbai early this year, the film is expected to release by year-end. “What made me pick up Shor,even when I didn't know much of the directors, was I realised that they had the potential to make a fabulous film when they showed me a short film on which they have based it,” says Sendhil.
The actor is interested in doing roles in crossover cinema, notwithstanding the length of the role. “I really don't care if it is the lead or a supporting role or even a cameo. The script has to speak to me. Otherwise an office job is a much more stable option than acting. Also the director should be someone I can trust,” he says.
New TV show
There's a lot of excitement this year for the actor as he embarks on a new TV series, titled “Covert Affairs”,playing an American CIA agent. “It's a very different show from ‘Heroes' as the latter was a sci-fi theme, while this belongs to a sleek sexy spy genre. We begin shooting on April 20 and it will take the next five months.” So does that signal the end of “Heroes”? “No decision has been taken on the fifth season yet. But I was looking to do something new and ‘Covert Affairs'came along. Thankfully, it was the same studio producing the two series and I asked if I could switch. But I may be asked to guest act in ‘Heroes' to wrap up my character.”
And if that's not all, Sendhil even has a Hollywood film waiting in the wings. But hush! We'll have to wait a while before we get the details on that one.