Interview with Karma Calling's Parvesh Cheena
The only feature film screened twice at the AAIFF 2009, Sarba Das' Karma Calling follows the story of a Hindu family in Hoboken, New Jersey, in denial about their credit card debt. We caught up with Parvesh Cheena, who plays the villainous call center operator, Peter Patnick (or Promod Pattanayaka).
On how he got involved in Karma Calling
Parvesh Cheena: I’m one of the co-founders of Rasaka Theatre Company in Chicago. Barnali Das, who plays Sonal, suggested we do a stage reading of Mausi, her cousin Sarba’s play. At first, I was the narrator Ganesha. I think that was 2003 or 2004. When I was moving to Los Angeles, Sarba was like, "All right, let me know when you get in town," she took me to lunch, and we’ve been friends ever since. We did a short for Film Independent's Project Involve, which eventually became Karma Calling. And that’s the first time we had the call center aspect of it. It wasn’t in the original Chicago reading. Sarba and her brother, who co-wrote the script, literally had a conversation with the guy who they modeled the character after. My character [Peter Patnick], and the call center, that part of the script was all brand new after I came to L.A.
On playing Peter Patnick
PC: Every time I do a pure Indian character, as in someone from India and not Indian-American, I really model him after the men in my family. In this case, I modeled Peter Patnick after my cousin who likes to mimic Americans. It’s kind of like African American comics who do the “white guy” voice—that’s my cousin doing his white voice. So it’s an Indian-American imitating an Indian imitating an American. I’m also good at playing annoying characters, as my friends will gladly tell you.
I liked being one of the villains in the film. So much of the Raj family, everything is just circumstantial, the credit, the debt. Now with the economy, everyone wants to burn Bernie Madoff because they finally had a guy like, “You are one of the reasons why.” When you don’t have that, there’s a lot of frustration, so in the film he’s just involved in one of those backdoor credit schemes, with the India Mafia boss, where they take cash from people and erase credit on the books. A little power can go a long way for those kind of people.
On American and Indian accents
PC: Being an Indian American actor, with the kind of transition climate we have going on with more Asians in film and media, initially, I think you do have to play Indian characters, the immigrant types. I think now we’re really on the cusp where you can be seen as just Indian American. When I first got to L.A. -- and this happened a little bit in Chicago too -- the question was always “Accent or no accent?” -- and we would try both. A British-Indian accent is more educated. A harsher accent is someone who went from their native tongue in India and came directly to the States.
I think for most of us Indian American actors, you have to do it, but it''s not in a derogatory, against-my-race kind of way. It's a good thing. It will get you more work if you can do the accent, but also it’s in your repertoire. It’s like being able to do a British, South African or Irish accent -- it’s just another tool in the trade.
Click here to go to Karma Calling's official website.
Click here for APA's interview with director Sarba Das.
Click here for a Q&A with actor Barnali Das
Published: Friday, August 14, 2009