Tag Archives: #nbc

Connecting’s Parvesh Cheena Acts to Quell Xenophobia

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.

Actor, Parvesh Cheena.

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.

Mahesh Pailoor’s TV Debut on ‘The Blacklist’

Raised in a small town in Maine, born to immigrant parents, it has indeed been a long journey in filmmaking for the Indian American writer and director, Mahesh Pailoor.

Having studied filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and later honing the skills from various film schools, Mahesh did his first short film, Little India in 2001. It premiered at SXSW and screened at different film festivals around the world. He has also directed award-winning documentaries, commercials, and branded content.

He moved onto, Brahmin Bulls in 2013 that garnered him many accolades, which had a notable cast including Sendhil Ramamurthy, Roshan Seth, and Academy Award Winner Mary Steenburgen. The film won the Audience Award at the San Diego Film Festival, the Jury Prize for Best American Indie at the Sonoma International Film Festival, and was released theatrically in the US and the UK.

On May 1st, 2020, he made his episodic television directing debut with NBC’s The Blacklist.

“I always wanted to be known as a visual storyteller, creating as many unique stories as I can. It has been a long journey so far and the goal was always to break into TV, meeting and networking with acclaimed directors. This Emerging Director program opened up a new universe for me and I would love to venture more in this space. Hopefully, this opportunity will pave for others,” opined the director.

Mahesh was chosen from 500 applicants for the NBC’s Emerging Director program, the network’s annual initiative for ethnically diverse male and gender non-binary directors. 

Celebrating its 10 year anniversary, the program aims to increase representation among scripted series directors. It took Mahesh years of hard work, perseverance, and rejections before this golden opportunity knocked at his doorstep. 

“I have been eyeing on this program for a while and had even applied once long back but did not get through. Though many networks offer such programs, the one offered by NBC is one of the best amongst them mainly because they offer lots of support, opportunity to shadow the directors, and then guarantee an episodic directing credit. The entire process involved the submission of my work and different levels of interviews. Once selected, my work was then sent to its different shows for the various teams to review. I was lucky enough to be chosen by the episodic directors of The Blacklist to shadow them,” said Mahesh Pailoor.

The Blacklist — “Brothers” Episode 718 (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Lauding the team, Mahesh claims the experience on The Blacklist set in New York as invaluable, which helped him learn more about the nuances of television direction. “The shadowing experience was really amazing, especially to work with such experienced directors. Right from being on set, pre-production to post-production, it was great to have the first-hand experience. I got to work with them twice before embarking on my own directorial debut,” he said. “Once the crew knew me, they were really supportive as I ventured into directing. They were very cordial and rooted for me, which was the best part. The entire period with the team was phenomenal. To be a small part of this incredible series that has been running for seven seasons with remarkable characters, was an enriching experience,” added Mahesh.

Fascinated by his father’s video camera, Mahesh was attracted to the craft of storytelling at a very young age of 12. The captivating power of visuals made him realize its potency in communication and connecting with the minds of people. “The great stories around and the visual medium always inspired me.

Growing up, I realized the need for having more stories that I could relate to and which later steered my path into filmmaking,” recollected the director. Speaking further on how the representation of Indian Americans in Hollywood and American TV space has been evolving, he added, “Earlier, we could not relate to any characters on screen and the representation was very less. But things have changed over the last 3-5 years with more Indian Americans not just behind the camera but also in front of the camera. Even programs like NBC’s Emerging Director makes it more welcoming for all. Changes are evolving but still, there is a long way to go.”

Aiming at the television space for his immediate future plans, Mahesh is currently looking out to venture further into episodic direction. He is also co-writing a dramatic feature, an immigrant love story based on true events, which he also plans to direct with half setting in India and rest in the US.

Foreseeing a remarkable era for creativity and cinema, Mahesh concluded, “This is a golden time with so many digital platforms evolving, we get to watch such amazing content, accessible to all from anywhere around the world. The geographical barriers are disappearing and with the advancement of technology, anyone interested can now make a movie even with their iPhone and broadcast it. My advice to upcoming filmmakers is to grab this promising phase. Don’t wait for someone to say yes. If you have an amazing idea to share, then just do it. There is no need for a big crew or equipment, you can make something with friends. The goal should be to passionately follow your dreams and you will definitely find your way.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.