Breaking the Mold: Namrata Singh Gujralby Henna Singh
Beautiful, smart, talented, and successful - and in Hollywood, of all places. Too good to be true, right?
Wrong. These words describe Namrata Singh Gujral, an actress based in Hollywood who not only has her Screen Actors Guild card but also runs her own production company called American Pride Films. The company's newest feature - Americanizing Shelley - is a film Namrata co-wrote partly because she saw that there were no movies that were commercial but still addressed the issues that Sikh-Americans face today.
When asked whether she has experienced any typecasting in her career, she confessed that when she first started in the industry, she was asked to go on twelve auditions, each one for a role of a wife following her husband around. She was actually required to cry at her auditions because that was an important aspect of the melodramatic roles.
Needless to say, it became boring pretty quickly: it was clear that there was no dearth for roles for the stereotypical Indian wife.
It's not that Namrata didn't want emotional roles. She just wished that roles for South Asian women were of the same caliber as the roles offered to other actresses. Namrata found the solution in casting a wider net for good roles. Consequently, she has played Latin-American and even Persian women.
Namrata has achieved great success considering the short time that she has been in the industry. Not only has she acted in "House of Sand and Fog" starring Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, but she has also had a recurring role as a nurse on the popular soap opera "Passions". She has also been in a Bollywood film called Kaante.
"In Bollywood," Namrata says, "it's a lot easier to get roles."
Bollywood makes many movies but making it in Hollywood is much more difficult and more of an accomplishment. "The reason," she continues, "could be because most Bollywood actors lack formal training and have trouble connecting with the audience." Though she was offered roles in Bollywood, Namrata decided that she would rather work in Hollywood.
She was showcased recently as part of the "Sikhs in Hollywood" panel at the Gala preceding the recent Spinning Wheel Film Festival held in Anaheim, California. It was at the festival, Namrata points out, that she had a chance to meet likeminded individuals - people who knew that you didn't have to preach to an audience in order to teach them something. Namrata says she was blown away by the quality of the films she saw that day.
"Whether they were long or short, they were polished and it was clear that a great deal of thought and effort had gone into them", she adds.
Namrata is qualified to make that judgment because she studied film at university and graduated with a 4.0 - the highest mark one can get. She knows what makes a film good or bad and applies these judgments to any roles that come her way. Besides her academic accomplishments, she has become somewhat of an icon in the Sikh-American and Indian communities. She has been invited to speak on panels on being a Sikh and Indian working in Hollywood.
In 2005 Namrata was also a member of the US Republican Party's panel on the Entertainment industry at an annual convention, where she shared the podium with Vice-President Dick Cheney. And, oddly - but understandably - was declared the GOP "Babe of the Week" at the convention! [For "Beauty and Brains", explain the Republican web-sites.] She spoke about the need to support ventures such as her production company which aims to be inclusive and, at the same time, make pro-America films. It was Namrata's chance to show the Party that not only did people in Hollywood care about America, but so did Sikhs and other visible minorities.
Also, being a member of panels where she speaks directly to South Asians and Sikhs is "a great honour", says Namrata, and quickly adds that she welcomes every opportunity to counsel others who hope to get into the industry. She admits, however, that besides talent one needs luck as well to get your foot in the door.
Namrata has a passion for making films for the new generation. She knows that the last thing most people want when they go to see a film is to be blatantly educated by it. Namrata realizes that, primarily, audiences want to be entertained - if they learn something along the way, then that's a bonus.
It's this principle that she applied when making Americanizing Shelley. The movie is a romantic comedy, but Namrata hints that audiences will, along the way, also learn a little bit about Sikhs. The film, however, does not market itself just towards the new-American communities - Namrata is confident that the film is one that the general population at large will want to see.
Conversation about this article
1: Rami (Canada), March 31, 2007, 3:01 AM.
I've seen the trailer for Gujral's latest film and there's nothing about it to make us feel proud. It's the stereotypical portrayal that these holly/bollywood types are known for. Fake beards, fake accents, fake turbans and pure comical mockery of everything related to the community. Nice to know this movie will only reinforce the weird stereotypes people believe about us. "Americanizing Shelley" is basically a rip-off of "Bend it like Beckham". It's the same old story found in these desi crossover films of an Indian woman who finds love with a "western" man who then liberates her from the backward ways of her people. Yes, liberating her from wearing a Punjabi suit to donning a bikini...go, Hollywood feminism! This film does nothing but humiliate the Sikh community.
2: Weerinder Singh (USA), June 10, 2007, 7:52 PM.
Rami, I have actually seen the film and it is not bad. There is nothing wrong with a Sikh girl wearing a bikini (it's actually one of the best scenes in the film) or falling in love with a "western" man (as you put it). It's 2007, for crying out loud! But, if you're of a conservative bend, then I can see why you wouldn't like to watch this film ("Americanizing Shelley") or "Bend It Like Beckham" - both of which are made by Sikhs and are good films, in my opinion. I am a Sikh and recommend this film to anyone who wants to watch something fun and entertaining. Furthermore, if you liked "Bend It Like Beckham", then this film is also for you.
3: Greta (New Delhi, India), September 15, 2010, 11:20 AM.
I've known Namrata Gujral since 1984 when she began working at the Taj Intercontinental at Man Singh Road in New Delhi, after graduating from college. Her father, a Sardar, was the army security commander in Sikkim in 1985. Her mother is also Sikh and she has three younger sisters.