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Did you know Ms Dewey was Indian?

Text: Farida Hariyanawala

Janina Gavankar loves to juggle tasks. In the one hour our interview by telephone lasted, she had managed to make her bed, brush her teeth, cook up some breakfast and play with her dog (an English setter) -- all while chatting nineteen to the dozen. And on most days, she loves to just come home and watch a movie on her couch while doing Sudoku at the same time.

Glance at her resume and you realise that is just the sort of girl she is. Within a short span of time, she has dabbled in music, theatre, television, new media and films of various genres that include horror and comedy. And with her recent role as Papi on The L Word, a television series on the Showtime television channel in America, she has joined the bandwagon of a growing number of Indian faces in Hollywood.

"The L Word has definitely been my biggest break, letting me play someone entirely different from myself," says Gavankar, who debuted in Season 4 and is keeping mum on whether she will appear in the next season. "We are not allowed to reveal that," she laughs. The series follows a group of Los Angeles-based friends, some of whom are lesbians, as they navigate their careers, families, friendships and romantic entanglements. Gavankar's character, Papi, is a flirty, gregarious Latino girl who competes with another of the show's characters for female attention.

A classically trained pianist, vocalist and orchestral percussionist, Gavankar grew up in Joliet, Illinois, though she currently lives in Los Angeles. She has been part of a pop group called Endera -- 'It wasn't just another cheesy little pop group,' she says, 'these girls could really sing! -- signed to a subsidiary of Universal Records. She has also done a music video called Tell Me What, with former Viva girl Pratichee Mohapatra, in India.

"I did opera first and always wanted to be a singer. But in high school I discovered musical theatre, and found the character work in these productions very exciting," says Gavankar, who went on to major in theatre performance at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where she was studying. "At the same time, I was auditioning and doing commercials, theatre and independent film projects," she adds.

Gavankar, whose father is Indian and mother half Dutch-half Indian, says she wouldn't describe her parents as 'typically Indian'. "Whatever that is," she laughs. "They are typically Indian in the sense that they support their kids' pursuit of excellence throughout their lives. So when I decided I wanted to be an actor, they said, whatever you do, we'll support you 100 percent but you have to give 110 percent. If I had wanted to be a doctor, they would have supported that too."

Photographs courtesy Janina Gavankar

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