There is a new South Asian star in Hollywood – the 16-year-old Avantika Vandanapu, who plays the protagonist in the upcoming Disney film, “Spin.”
The film follows an Indian American teen, who discovers her artistic side through DJ culture and learns she has a passion for creating mixes that blend her Indian heritage with her other influences – all this while living with her multi-generational family.
Vandanapu spoke to SEEMA about the film as well as her body of work in India, which spans the Telugu and Tamil film industries.
Vandanapu’s journey thus far has been marked by milestones that would be the envy of any teenager. However, the first step in her career came through dance. For, much before her acting career kicked off, Vandanapu was learning Indian classical dance.
“I started dancing when I was very little, and it helped me a lot in terms of acting, because it is a form of expression,” she says “I used that to perform in front of people and gained confidence and became comfortable.”
“Since classical dance and the Indian film industry are so entwined that learning these forms definitely helped me to get opportunities in India,” Vandanapu says. It continues to be a part of her life today.
“I learned Kuchipudi and Kathak, and still train to this day,” she says. “Dancing somewhat grounds me and adds consistency in my life. Since acting can be so hectic, it is good to have this one routine that remains the same,” she says.
Vandanapu admits that dance also directly helped her to transition to an acting career in southern India.
After her talent was showcased on various TV dance shows, she got offers to act in Telugu films, getting roles in blockbuster films like “Brahmotsavam” and “Manamantha.”
Vandanapu stayed in India for a few years to work in the Telugu and Tamil film industries.
She recalls, “I sent my performance tapes, and also auditioned for roles in India. In India the process is a little different and a lot faster. Once you get one opportunity, it is easier for you to apply for other opportunities, unlike in Hollywood where you have to go through the standard audition process every single time.”
Unlike many South Asians who place a premium on education and little else, Vandanapu’s parents not only allowed her to pursue her dream but also encouraged her.
She says, “My family is very supportive of my acting career. I feel very lucky that I have a support system around me that allows me to be able to do what I want to.”
After working awhile in South Indian cinema, Vandanapu got herself an agent to get her into Hollywood.
“I followed the standard Hollywood process,” she says. “My agent got me the audition and I went through that whole process and got the role. It was so great. It is every child’s dream to work in a Disney film. Being able to do that so early in my life … I am so happy I have to pinch myself to check if it is true.”
During the conversation, Vandanapu also gave said she had another Hollywood project in the works, “Senior Year,” with Rebel Wilson.
“Spin,” which releases on August 13, 2021, is shot in Toronto and is directed by Manjari Makijany (daughter of acclaimed character artist Mac Mohan aka Samba from “Sholay”).
Vandanapu talks about her experience working with an Indian crew, and with Abhay Deol (who plays her father in the film)
“Well, working with everyone was so surreal,” she says. “It was so great. They truly are so nice to work with and I feel so blessed that I got to work with them. I feel very lucky.”
To get into the role, Vandanapu had to focus on the similarities and differences between herself and Rhea, the character she plays.
“The differences were in our interests and sense of humor,” she says. “The similarities are that we are very loyal, determined, and extremely passionate.”