Agent of Change
As long as Indians are trying to get their foot in the door of the Anglo industry, we will continue to get the stereotypical roles
Blurb: “I did not want to make my mum sad and I just finished high school to please her really.”
Hello Bollywood Popular Choice Award 2012 winner Sachin Joab talks to Tanu Kallivayalil about his work in the Australian film and television industry and how things need to change to reflect the modern reality of our multi-cultural society. He has been a tireless campaigner of this issue for many years now. He caused quite a sensation when he moved into Ramsay street in our very own Neighbours. The reactions were both postive and negative. In a significant turn in his career, he has been nominated for the Most Popular Actor at the 2013 TV Week Logie Awards. Winning the award could be a real landmark for our community and its future generations. You can make a difference by going online and voting for him. You even stand to win free tickets for the 2013 Logie Awards!
Sachin Joab came into our living rooms when the 24th Episode of City Homicide – Examination Day — went to air. He has since gone onto to work with many other productions – both Australian and international.
In City Homicide, he played the role of an international student caught in the middle of murder investigation where he is one of the suspects. He played his role (and accent) so convincingly that it was disconcerting to hear an Australian accent at the other end of the line.
So you put on the accent for the show? He laughs: “Yeah. A lot of people of the set were taken aback to hear me talk after the takes.”
Accents are his thing. As an actor from a non-Anglo background as he called it, that is an occupational hazard.
Born and raised in Melbourne, 30 year-old Sachin spent a lot of his childhood imitating the characters he saw on TV. “Most of the programmes at the time were American. I could imitate Bill Cosby from the Cosby Show which was Chicago-based. I would watch LA Law and imitate the characters there (who were from Los Angeles).”
So unlike a lot of Australian actors, he did not need accent training. “I could do a variety of accents including Scottish and Irish without much training. Drama school had dialect trainers but I found students would come to me instead.”
In such a scenario, how can new immigrants get a break? “Acting in general can be difficult and here accent is a massive issue. Unless you are from New Zealand or England, the accent change can be difficult to pull off. Take myself for instance, I get the stereotypical roles. I play the taxi-driver, international student, petrol station attendant. If I am getting those roles, what are the chances for someone from overseas?”
However, Sachin’s career has taken him a few places and New York is one place where he learnt the most. He talks about the journey.
Sachin says that he has been interested in acting since he was in primary school. “My parents divorced when I was five years old and ever since I was seven or eight, I felt that acting for the best outlet for me.
“My parents like a lot of Indian parents wanted me to do something credible. But I did not want to become a lawyer or doctor or something like that. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about.”
“In fact, I just finished high school because I did not want to make my mum sad,” he admits.
Soon after high school, he moved to New York for acting classes there. As an actor, it was his Mecca. “I always looked up to actors like James Dean, Brando who were from New York. It was always the ultimate destination for me.”
New York is historically a place where freedom of expression has been encouraged. Even during the segregation era, African-Americans used to flock to New York for new opportunities. These included writers, actors, poets as well as people who wanted to follow professions such as medicine, law and engineering. So Sachin felt right at home in the throbbing, multicultural city and could not help compare that to Australia.
“Coming from a non-Anglo background, it’s difficult to do something in Australia and if you do finally get to do a part, it was usually the stereotype. I made more contact, friends and got more work there than I had ever done here in Australia.”
In Australia, the acting schools spend an inordinate amount of time teaching actors to speak a certain way, according to Sachin. “However, in New York, if you speak with a certain accent, they encourage it. They are smart enough to release that your voice is attached to your emotions.”
Here in Australia, says Sachin, we all end up being different actors who sound the same. “The difference is not really appreciated.”
After weighing his options, he made the choice to return to Australia. “I joined the National Theatre here and after I finished, I started getting work in a couple of theatre productions and of films. I got an agent who saw my work.” And soon after, he got the role for City Homicide.
Having returned to Australia, Sachin saw the need to work to change the industry. He could see that nothing had changed in over 30 years and it was frustrating for him to see how the industry had changed in other parts of the world.
“The characters in any given show are all white. I find this unrealistic. I feel that the ethnic changes taking place in the society should be reflected on screen.”
English TV has managed to keep up with this, as has Canada or America. Sachin says,“I feel this is because industry is stuck in a time warp from fifty years ago and they want to remain there. The most frustrating thing is that these are based in Melbourne and Sydney and they are two of the most multicultural cities in Australia but on TV, this aspect disappears.”
This is due to very specific instructions from the producers. Briefs from producers specifically request white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed actors — whatever the part. “Roles for South Asians usually come up when they need overseas students, terrorists or petrol station attendants.”
Sachin’s plan is to try and work within the community instead of trying to get a foot in the door of the Anglo-centric film/media industry. He says, “As long as Indians are trying to get their foot in the door of the Anglo industry, it’s not going to change. We will continue to get the stereotypical roles. I have stayed back in Australia because I feel that I should be trying to pave a way for future Indian actors here. It’s a psychological thing. When the message is constantly sent out, then it can really change the way white directors think about Indian actors.”
“I am writing a script now which is loosely based on 21 Jump Street which is a cop show. It will be a bunch of ethnicities tied together to show how multicultural cops can get to places that white cops can’t. I can tell my own story that way”, says Sachin.
So what part does the Indian or the South Asian community play? “I would like to see the community investing money in their own productions. Indian producers should invest money in Indian projects from the Indian community. I am trying to do this with my script. I am trying to get as many Indians on board as possible. Finding directors and writers have been easy. To find good quality actors and Indians to invest is difficult.”
Sachin does admit that one aspect of the industry has changed in that it is more accepting of Aboriginal actors. He says, “Aaron Pederson is an Aboriginal guy who has managed to break the mould. He has got a few cop roles and is currently playing Det. Duncan Freeman in City Homicide.” However, he is probably the only Aboriginal character who has been able to do that.
“Casting agents have said that when they were writing, they thought of Aaron but producers were skeptical and felt the audience would not accept it. That is the same with Indians. You only need a few people to accept that Indians can do mainstream roles.”
And finally, have you been told that you look a lot like Sanjay Kumar from the Kumars at No. 42? Sachin replies, “A lot of people say I look like that guy. But when they meet me, it’s different.”
Headline: I am vocal on diversity issues
Sachin has been nominated in two categories. Seeing more of Sachin on TV will be good for him and for the community. Get online and get voting. And the best bit is that you stand to win a free ticket to the Logie Awards 2013.
Congratulations on winning the Hello Bollywood Popular choice awards. Why couldn’t you make it to the awards?
I was honoured to be nominated for the Hello Bollywood Popular choice award and felt humbled to have won it. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the award ceremony due to a family issue.
Tell us a bit more on how your career is progressing now?
Since Indus Age interviewed me after seeing me on the Seven Network‘s TV drama City Homicide, my career has been progressing quite well. I’ve been at Neighbours for nearly 2 years now playing Ajay the lawyer and family man. I was also in the 12-part mini series for Foxtel’s Movie Network called Conspiracy 365 playing the character of Bruno; a hardened criminal. Last month I was juggling Neighbours with a new 4-part mini series for SBS called Better Man playing the role of Detective Ramesh. That will air in 2013. Recently I was part of a feature film called The Legend Maker playing a passport forger named Ranjit. In mid 2013 I have some international career prospects.
What has been your experience in working with the Neighbours? Can you tell us how you found a role in the series?
My experience working at Neighbours continues to be a great one. Everyone from the producers, to the actors, to the crew have all been fantastic to work with. I continue to enjoy every moment with them all.
I originally got the role by auditioning as I would for any other role. Neighbours initially gave me the role of Ajay as a guest actor. Shortly after I was given the position as full time actor and I’ve been there ever since.
You have been quite vocal on diversity issues in Aussie films. How strong is the campaign for diversity in Australian TV and films?
Yes, I have been quite vocal on diversity issues in Aussie TV/film which is a continuing struggle. The campaign for diversity in Australian TV and film is present but nowhere as strong as it should be. I find many non-Caucasian people who work within the Australian entertainment industry or who are attempting to find access into the industry are somewhat afraid to speak up about equal acceptance even though they know the issue if fully present. I believe the main reason they choose to remain quiet is because they’re cautious that Caucasian people in the industry may not look favourably on such vocalisation. To me, when a clear injustice is taking place whether it’s against another race, sexual orientation, religious belief, colour, etc is something I have always felt compelled to address it; even if it means I have do it on my own.
Do you think in the age of Youtube and social media, finding a break in mainstream TV and Films is important?
To me it depends entirely on what you’re attempting to accomplish. If you’re simply looking for fame & fortune, then in the current digital climate there are numerous ways to reach an audience from youtube and other social media sites in order to gain a regular client/fan base. Such avenues could very well follow through into mainstream TV/film. In my case doing something creative was simply an outlet for me. I loved acting from a young age (as well as dance, singing, script writing, song writing, photography, playing instruments, etc) regardless of whether I became popular or not. They were all outlets for me. That’s the reason I began taking acting classes when I was still in primary school, through high school, attended drama school and graduated in acting. I did numerous theatre performances and independent films (back when we were all still using VHS tapes ha ha). Even after graduating in acting, I still continued taking drama classes while working professionally in the industry.
Have you tried working with film makers in India?
I haven’t really attempted to work with film makers in India but I’d definitely like to do so; especially those film makers from the arthouse Indian industry. Some of my most favourite actors have made many films within the arthouse field such as Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmai. I love the Indian arthouse industry because many of its films demonstrate an India which I’ve seen with my own eyes; as opposed to many other Indian films that seem as if they’re attempting to be European or American. We come from a beautiful unique culture which is one of the oldest on the planet so we should show it rather than trying to imitate others.
How can more Indians find work in the Australian film industry?
Truth be told, it’s quite difficult for not just Indians but non-Caucasians in general to find work in the industry. Hence my continuing battle within the industry in regards to minimal work for non-Caucasian actors. When a bit of work does arise for non-Caucasians, it is often a stereo typed role. If you’re Indian = taxi driver/call centre operator. If you’re Indo-Chinese = waiter in an Asian restaurant /martial artist. If you’re Middle Eastern = terrorist and so on. The only thing I can suggest is to really evaluate if acting is what you really want or could your ambition potentially be in writing, directing, editing, etc? Find out about the other careers within the Australian entertainment industry to see if you’re naturally geared towards them. Only pursue what you really want.
Why don’t we ever see Indians in Aussie commercials?
It’s for a similar reason to the previous question. We have very educated academic Indians within our entire Australian-Indian community i.e doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc but once again much of the Australian TV commercial industry only want to see “the Indian” in stereotyped roles. When Australian-Indians appear in such typecast commercials, there will be the odd person within the Australian-Indian community who will speak up against such stereotypes to have the advert removed. So basically on one side of the fence you have the Australian TV commercial industry who only want to see the Indian stereotype and on the other side of the fence you have educated professional Indians who are fully aware that they themselves and their colleagues are never represented in Australian TV commercials; therein lies the catch 22 problem – as a result of the TV commercial industry not being progressive enough to reflect ‘all’ fields of the Indian community with what is truly established within Australian society and at the same time not wanting to be labelled racist, the Aussie commercial industry simply play it safe and don’t include Indians in TV commercials at all. One of the only ways, this may change is if Australian-Indians specifically enter the creative department/marketing areas within the TV commercial industry itself to change things from the inside. If not, we all wait until the Australian TV commercial industry are simply ‘ready’ to represent what is true to life.
How do the 2013 TV Week Logies work? How can our readers support you in winning this award? What’s the significance?
The 2013 TV Week Logies Awards work by voting for your favourite TV people and shows in order for them to gain recognition within the Australian entertainment industry. If Indus Age readers would like to support me in winning this award, it takes 5 minutes online. All they need to do is go to www.tvweeklogieawards.com.au/vote click vote, then vote for all thirteen categories followed by your contact info. The people and shows are listed in alphabetical order. You can find me (Sachin Joab) in the first category – Most popular Actor and the fourth category – TV Week Gold Logie Award. For your chance to win two tickets to the 2013 TV Week Logie Awards, type the word ‘gold’ in the codeword section.
The significance of voting is so that the people and shows which the Indus Age readers vote for may receive more work within their industry; therefore the Indus Age readers get to see more of their favourite people and shows on TV.
How can Indus Age readers see more of you and find out about you?
If Indus Age readers would like to see and know more about me, they can find clips and info at the following sites.
Sachin Joab clips and overall information
Sachin Joab interviewed on the set of Neighbours
Sachin Joab examining racism on Insight SBS
Sachin Joab speaking at the Australian High Commission launch of Racism It Stops With Me.
Sachin Joab in a radio interview with Nihal from BBC London
Sachin Joab on set article from Neighbours
To all Indus readers, I appreciate your support. As always, thank you.