South Asian women, especially of Indian origin, taking center-stage in global titles like “Bridgerton” and “One Day” was long overdue, says Indian-American actor Avantika, who plays Karen Shetty in the new iteration of the popular teen comedy “Mean Girls”.

This is not the first acting gig for the 19-year-old, born to an Indian family in California. Avantika made her debut with 2016’s “Brahmotsavam”, a film in her mother tongue Telugu.

“It has been a long time coming considering we are a large population with so many incredibly, beautiful, and talented women. It was time that a community of 1.5 billion people was represented on the global (stage),” the actor said.

Crediting the women paved the way for actors like her to come up, Avantika said she and her contemporaries hope to do similar for “future generation of South Asian women” so things are a bit easier for them.

A still from ‘Mean Girls’

A still from ‘Mean Girls’

“It’s amazing that Indian women have kind of been able to shine their light in Hollywood… I feel honoured to be a part of this legacy,” she added.

Growing up on films such as “Matilda” and “3 Idiots”, which she described as a heartfelt portrayal of the human condition, propelled Avantika’s love for cinema.

“‘Matilda’ shaped my interest in wanting to be in films. ‘3 Idiots’ is a classic, it was such a big film for me. I am inspired by heartfelt movies that feel like a true representation of what it means to be human and what it means to live,” she said.

“Mean Girls”, directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr, is billed as a new twist on the 2004 modern classic which comes from the comedic mind of Tina Fey.

The new film follows Cady Heron (Angourie Rice), who joins her new high school’s elite group ‘The Plastics’, run by Regina George (Renee Rapp) and her minions Gretchen (Bebe Wood) and Karen (Avantika).

When Cady falls for Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), she is at loggerheads with Regina. As Cady sets out to take down Regina with the help of her outcast friends Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), she must learn how to stay true to herself while navigating high school.

Avantika landed the role of the gullible Karen, played by Amanda Seyfried in the original movie, through a standard audition process.

Thinking she had “completely bombed” her audition, she sent a message to a fellow actor on social media whom she had never met before but had seen her work.

“I wrote ‘I don’t know if you can sing, I know I have never met you, and this might sound weird but I just got an audition for Karen in ‘Mean Girls’ and I am definitely not going to get it. But I think you should ask your team for an audition’,” she recalled.

When the actor didn’t hear from the “Mean Girls” casting team for four months, she “assumed” she was not going to get the role.

Avantika said she was shooting for her upcoming film “Tarot” when she got the good news that she had made it.

“It was an offer from Paramount and the team of ‘Mean Girls’. And, I have never done a callback, so I wasn’t really processing any of it. It never felt real until I showed up to rehearsals and Tina Fey was in the office next to me. I was like ‘Oh, it’s actually happening now’,” she added.

A still from ‘Mean Girls’

A still from ‘Mean Girls’

Receiving Seyfried’s blessing during the release of “Mean Girls” was the icing on the cake.

“It was wonderful to kind of get her blessing and know that she was supportive and encouraging of my participation in the film. She had a lot of faith in me, especially when reprising an iconic character like this. There is this sense of hesitation and fear that comes with living up to the legacy before you and her being supportive of me meant a lot,” she said.

Avantika also fondly remembers her initial years in the Indian film industry. Besides “Brahmotsavam”, her acting credits include “Premam” and “Manamantha” in Telugu and “Boomika” in Tamil.

It may be like a “blur of positive memories” for the actor, who was barely 10 at the time, but she remembers “Brahmotsavam” stars Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Kajal Aggarwal and Naga Chaitanya (“Premam”) being supportive.

“Samantha, Kajal Aggarwal were lovely and kind. It meant a lot to me as a young girl who was struggling with the way she looked. Samantha is doing incredible things and so is Kajal and so to continue watching them succeed is inspiring. I remember Naga Chaitanya being so lovely to me on set.”

Up next for Avantika is the Disney+ series “A Crown of Wishes”. She is also set to make her Hindi debut with Nitya Mehra’s Prime Video show “Big Girls Don’t Cry”.

“There are 100 per cent plans to work in India. But it’s a different beast. There’s a lot to battle that goes beyond talent to work like nepotism, colourism. I don’t have that necessarily going in my favour.

“That being said, I have an Amazon Prime show coming out in a few weeks called ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ by Nitya Mehra. I hope that will kind of be my debut in Bollywood even though it’s on OTT.”

Paramount Pictures released “Mean Girls” in Indian theatres last month.



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