Sheetal is on the cover of India in New York. Read their article:


It is not a big deal for a star to take up yoga and meditation after arriving in Hollywood. But Sheetal Sheth is knocking at Hollywood’s gates inoculated with the concepts of dharma and nirvana.

The twenty-something actress, the lead in award-winning films, ABCD and American Chai, which open late this month, spent a summer in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in her mid teens exploring the tenets of Jainism.

“Like my brother and sister, I was raised a Jain,” she says. “But my parents could explain only a few things about the Jain religion.”

She was hungry for more.

She says she not only found a wonderful Jain instructor who helped her rediscover Jainism but also brought home life-long lessons.

“I am an extremely neurotic person,” she says chuckling. “But at the end of the day, because of my religious training, I get to see the big picture. From time to time I tell myself there are larger goals in life.”

“I have a focus because of my religious background,” she explains. I tell myself, there is so much above you.”

“Jainism helps her define her career and values,” she adds. “This business is not easy,” she says. “I remind myself that there is a bigger focus. Each morning I would like to wake up thinking that I would be able to make a difference, however small… that I am becoming a better person.”

Many Indian parents do not give their American-raised children enough credit, she feels.

“We are going to be fine,” Sheth, who has a degree in acting from NewYork University’sTisch School of the Arts, says with a firm voice. “We believe we know our roots.”

“We make efforts to keep in touch with our culture,” she says, adding that she was active in the Hindu Temple in Allentown, Pennsylvania during her school days. At NYU she was one of the leaders of a student organization called Shruti.

“We will make sure our kids know about India and Indian culture,” she continues. “We may not be able to take our children every year to India as many Indian parents do. But we will surely want them to see India – and belong there.”

Sheetal wanted to be an actress from her school days. What did her parents say when she decided to study acting?

“Like most parents (who have heard such announcements from their daughters), they were thrilled,” she says.

She chuckles, adding, “No, they were initially worried. They suggested I was not using my full potential, that I should double major.”

She remembers telling them she would consider their suggestion, but as her studies continued, she was convinced she wanted to be nothing but an actress.

“After I graduated, my parents wanted me to go to grad school,” she says. But she knew in her heart she would be an actress. “It was not a hobby for me,” she says.

Her parents – Rashmi Sheth, a chemical engineer, and Rekha, a bank official –say they marvel at their daughter’s determination.

“Once she has made up her mind, she will follow her goal single-mindedly,” her father says. “But she never loses her head and when things take some time she never allows herself to be frustrated.”

She is in what is probably the most competitive field,” Rashmi Sheth says. “But she certainly knows where she is going.”

Over two years ago she started with ABCD, but the film, which traveled to a number of festivals includ-ing the ones in Austin and London last year, is getting a commercial release just now.

Sheetal can hope from now on things are not going to take a longer time.

She is glad that the film in which she made her acting debut and her work has received acclaim from a wide variety of publications including Screen International, a respected British publication.

“Extraordinary,” wrote Peter Travers of ABCD in Rolling Stone magazine. “Funny, touching, haunting.”

Last year, American Chai was voted the best film by audiences at the Slamdance festival in Utah.

She is glad both movies are being released around the same time. For no two roles could have been similar, she feels.

Neena in ABCD is strong minded but very volatile, promiscuous and makes bad decisions. In American Chai, Maya is also strong minded but she is extremely sweet.

“Everybody has their own growing to do,” she says. What does she expect the film to do for her career?

She is not just looking at h career, she says. She is looking at the efforts of all desi directors America who are making films like ABCD and American Chai. We tell the world, “Here is our story…”

“In the near future, we hope we have created such an impact that we get to play parts that are suit- ed to us, that we play non-Indian or non-Asian parts.” Sheetal plays one such role in the NBC televi- sion film,The Princess and the Marine.

Sarita Chowdhry, who started playing an Indian in Mississippi Masala, played such nationalities as Mexican; Kabir Bedi played a Lebanese in a Hollywood televi-sion movie; Naveen Andrews is playing non-Indian parts too, like in the forthcoming Rollerball. Sheetal hopes films like ABCD will spur Hollywood to rise above stereotypes and create Indian parts that are not one-dimensional.

When will Hollywood create parts that are different from heavy accented cab drivers and shop owners, she wonders. “These characters are very real and part of our culture,” she admits, “but these characters are not everything.”

Where is her personal life headed? “My parents would love to see me married,” she says.

“But I don’t want to fall into the trap many well educated South Asians born and raised fall into… like in India… Marry at a certain age, have a child in a few years… This troubles me.”

“I would certainly wait,” she says. “I want to marry the right person and at the right time.”


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Dated: November 2, 2001