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The Malayali quotient in Hollywood

Melanie Kannokada, model and Indian-American actress. Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Melanie Kannokada, model and Indian-American actress. Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Destiny, for the Malayali-American actor and model Melanie Kannokada, was not a matter of chance. It was more of a choice, not something to wait for but to achieve. How else could one explain why a mechanical engineering graduate from Stanford University chucked a top management job with McKinsey & Co. in New York to pursue acting, her heart's desire?

Melanie found the management job ‘intellectually fascinating' but not something she wanted to do ‘getting up every morning.' She explored acting after she left college and moved to NY. “I found myself so immersed in arts, especially acting that I decided to take it up seriously. In between, I was hosting television shows, especially ones for the South Asian market, got picked up by another network, a larger show, it was all happening…,” says Melanie who was in the city on a holiday with her parents and brother.

The holiday was cut short as Melanie had to fly back to Los Angeles, where she stays now, for the shoot of NBC's ‘Parenthood' in which she plays an important guest role.

“Things began falling in place gradually. I had completed college and had time off. The Miss India-America win happened (2007) and that win brought me a few modelling assignments. When I moved to NY for the McKinsey job, with this title as part of my resume, some doors opened. Most of the modelling jobs were for Indian designers and brands. It was nice but a small market. Quickly I got an American agent and that put me in proper casting with some top international brands. It was exciting. I was not thinking of big bucks for I had my job too.”

In the four years Melanie spent in NY she did a lot of television shows, short films and her first feature film, ‘Bicycle Bride.' Then, before she moved to LA, Melanie shot for another film, ‘Love, Lies and Seeta.'

Born to Malayali parents Suresh Kannokada and Sujatha at Buffalo Grove, a small suburb in Illinois, Chicago, Melanie always had this urge to go independent. And perhaps got her first chance to ‘fly out' when she toured with the karate team. A second degree black belt, she was part of the United States junior side that competed in various tournaments held in Brazil and Venezuela.

From then on Melanie has not looked back.

A Miss India-America crown, being named one of 2010's Most Sexy and Successful by the Anokhi Magazine, walking the ramp for top American and Indian designers, cover model for 2008 Desi Club swimsuit calendar, Melanie was the first American girl of Indian descent to be chosen as the face of international brand campaigns. LA was the place she really had to be!

Hardly a week in LA, Melanie landed an important role in CBS's ‘Rules of Engagement,' alongside comedy legend David Spade. She then booked a guest role in the ABC family show, ‘The Nine Lives of Chloe King' and was selected as one of the five faces of Bare Escentuals international ‘Be a Force of Beauty' campaign.

Melanie has modelled for some major corporate conglomerates such as Nescafe, Verizon, Glamour Magazine, P&G, and Herbal Essences.

“For everything I did I had to audition. Nothing comes easily. You need to prove yourself. Like for the Bare Escentuals campaign it was a very selective casting process from almost all modelling agencies in LA. It was blind casting. And after the filters five of us were picked I had three major television commercials running at the same time, along with the shows. So looking back at last year, early days in LA, I think I feel very blessed.”

Social responsibility

Despite a busy schedule, Melanie takes time and uses her network to help the less fortunate in society. She is a core team member of ‘Hospital for Hope,' a non-profit organisation dedicated to the construction of a self-sustaining hospital in Jharkhand. She also has hosted and involved herself with several charity events for philanthropies benefiting those in need across the globe.

Melanie thinks that it is hot time for young Indians in Hollywood. “What's great about being Indian in America now is that there is a lot of intrigue and interest. Everyone is starting to get onto these major shows, and casting directors, writers are bringing in Indian roles.”

Also unique is her surname, one that Melanie still retains. “People ask me whether I'm Japanese and very often it becomes a good point to start a conversation. I'm proud of my name. It may be hard to spell, to pronounce, but no other artiste is going to have it,” she says with a laugh.


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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 11:03:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-malayali-quotient-in-hollywood/article2872388.ece