Being connected is crucial in the time of the 2020 pandemic!
We all have been through a strange time period. When the virus came to our shore, everything shut down in shock. The initial week or two of isolation was like an extended holiday. For those of us who could stay home without having to work, this was an escape from reality. We divulged in home-cooked meals, lazy afternoons, boisterous evenings filled with board games, binge-watching TV shows, or reading. At my home, we fashioned our timetable around morning yoga, the adulation of Hercule Poirot, long meandering walks up the mountain, boomerangs of plated food, categorizing the flora and fauna around us. Despite Covid 19 raging in the world around us and contrary to health guidelines, We longed to take a break from ourselves and to connect with our friends. Misery seeks company! The human angst and the hysterical response to the global tragedy appear to be the premise of the show.
The plot of NBC’s Connecting urges us to be aware of our diversity as a country and how we got there. The NBC original showcases American history and our civil rights. So we hope to be informed in a lighter vein as we follow the lives of six friends. The show is innovating in the use of Zoom, filming the actors in their own homes. The time period is through early March 2020 and it will take us through our surreal day to day experience in the United States through our Presidential elections.
I am sure all of us remember our early experiences of fumbling with zoom, from connecting and using gallery mode to changing backgrounds and sharing screens and all the faux pas. I am certain we are going to find it very relatable and hilarious like the Saturday Night Live skits about Zoom Call, Zoom Church, and Zoom Catchup. Most of us are on tenterhooks about not getting infected but at the same time, we are becoming Zoom savvy not wanting to be out of step with our fellow men! My experiences connecting with my grandson in India are interesting enough to fill a book because of the time difference, spottiness of the internet, his interest in playing games on the phone while talking to me, and lately a fuzzy camera because of disinfecting the phone with sanitizer.
Parvesh Cheena told me that he was absolutely delighted to be accepted in the series, Connecting, on his birthday. The gregarious actor plays “Pradeep” a gay man who lives in Los Angeles with his adopted children. He shares his exertions on home-schooling his defiant brood with his friends, while his friends share their domestic woes, breakups, and other dramatic personal events. Parvesh has modeled his character after his college roommate who has adopted children.
While doing the series, Parvesh realized that society is better equipped to deal with the previous pandemics (the Bubonic Plague of the 1600s, the Influenza of the 1950s, and even the SAARS of 2009 ) because of our access to the internet and social media. We can smile and laugh on video chats, offer our condolences, and give virtual hugs, but I reminded him that in older times, people had access to books and creative geniuses like the Bard churned out King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.
As an Indian, I am proud of young people breaking the conventional career choices of our generation and finding their niche in acting, dance, literature, music, and politics. I wanted to study interior design but my persuasive father made a compelling argument for me to become a physician. It has been a rewarding profession but my creative instincts have found an outlet in the arts that covers the walls of my home.
So I agree with Cheena’s encouraging words: “It’s never too late to try!”
He is an interesting person in his own words composed of “a quarter “Chicago” pizza” and in my words “three-quarters of bonhomie, gratitude, and ebullience”. It is hard to come across someone who is authentic and polite. I was intrigued by his journey as an actor. You might remember him from Outsourced as the preposterous busybody Gupta and as Sunil Odhav in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Parvesh recalls that he had to invent himself into an Indian culture that he was not familiar with. His parents came from North India in the 1970s in the time of Nixon and Lyndon Johnson but Parvesh was born in the US. At that time, scientists and engineers from the East were building America, and yet actors were not mainstream. Indians were depicted as a cabby, a waiter, or a doctor, so Gupta in Outsourced, although not culturally accurate, heralded a change.
I shared my experience with him from the 1990s, when strangers in New York would ask me if I knew a “Rajiv” in Los Angeles. Or was it okay to take the chicken out of my tomato broth or would I eat dessert as my main course? I was often floored by such quixotic questions but Parvesh has a generous response to this inane curiosity. He says, “People are just trying to connect.”
At the end of the day, Parvesh imagines himself as a storyteller rather than an actor. He was happy to share that the first role he played on stage was in his school play where he was cast as King George the III. Although the only word he spoke was “hmm”, he fondly recalls how his Nani made him a red cape lined with gold. Ever since that time he dreamed of connecting with a wider audience! He is ecstatic to represent mainstream Indian Americans because he wants to raise awareness about other ethnic groups in society. He is acting to quell xenophobia.
I know that Parvesh has a golden future as a comedian. Comedy is a difficult genre because it requires clever material, timing, and an honest perspective. He has a natural talent for it and I was touched by the positive energy exuding from Mr. Cheena in Connecting, restored by a cup of coffee. He was just a regular down-to-earth guy in Los Angeles, requesting everyone to “mask up” and stay safe. I was a pathologist/ correspondent listening to him in my parked car outside the hospital and we were connecting so effortlessly on a gorgeous fall day. Since our interview, I have already recommended the show to many of my friends and I am excited to see their Halloween episode on October 31. Hope all of you do the same – social distancing while CONNECTING.
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.