Yet Another Indian-American Actor Lands Role on Primetime Network Television in ‘Pan Am'
Network and cable television continue to dip into the expanding talent pool of Indian- and Pakistani-American actors to fill lead and key supporting roles in their primetime programming. As the new fall lineup of television shows unveil themselves throughout the month of September, ABC’s Pan Am takes flight with Indian-American actor Kal Parekh joining the crew (which includes the likes of Christine Ricci, Kelli Garner, Michael Mosley, and Mike Vogel).
Essaying a new phenomenon that was sweeping the nation and the globe about 40 years ago, Pan Am
chronicles the heyday of one of the world’s most popular airlines at a time when air travel was on the verge of becoming an integral, efficient, affordable, and safe way to connect people to the cities of the world.
Set in the 1960s in a manner similar to AMC’s Mad Men and competing against the likes of NBC’s The Playboy Club, Parekh, who plays a navigator named Sanjeev, said Pan Am is as majestic a show on television as the airline, formally known as Pan American World Airways, was in the skies.
“I talked to my cousin’s parents after I booked the show, and they told me that their first trip from India to the United States was on Pan Am,” said Parekh, who was born and raised just beyond the shadows of New York City’s skyscrapers in northern New Jersey. “They told me how glamorous and luxurious it was to travel on the airline.”
Indeed, Pan Am, the airline, was the gold standard of air travel during the commercial escalation of connecting from city to city via the blue skies. It was an airline that had first-class service and top-rate amenities aboard each plane. There were lounges and luxury seats, for example. Flying was no longer just a means of transportation but a borderline fantasical experience.
In explaining his thoughts of what Pan Am represented to air travels during the peak of its existence between the 1960s and the 1980s, Parekh added how the women hired to serve as stewardesses endured a rigorous hiring process, being judged on their substance of personality and level of education.
“At that time, flying was an adventure in and of itself; it was an exciting time. The world was changing. Pan Am was bringing the world together,” Parekh told this writer.
As the television show will be fictionally taking audiences behind the scenes of the Pan Am phenomenon of the 1960s, Parekh takes on a supporting role as a navigator -- back then, an integral member of the cockpit crew who served alongside the pilot and co-pilot.
The number-three person in the cockpit of the Copa Majestic (the name of Pan Am’s specific aircraft featured on the program), Parekh’s character, Sanjeev, serves as a conduit between some of the show’s other protagonists.
“He instigates conversation and has very dry humor. Sanjeev knows some of the stories going on between the pilot and co-pilot,” Parekh explained of his character.
It was a character that Parekh had auditioned for earlier this year. During pilot season, Parekh was informed of Pan Am casting auditions and decided to give it a shot. He explained that the entire process went by pretty quickly.
“The audition went well. I didn’t expect it to happen, but it did. A week later, I was doing costuming and makeup,” Parekh said, adding how he met with the show’s production and creative team almost immediately after he read for his role.
Making his acting debut as the lead role in the Hindi film Khel Shuru, Parekh explained how he faced a different set of challenges, such as learning a new language. Moving on to other films such as Karma Road, Parekh quickly realized acting was the career for him.
Soon, Parekh was landing roles in prominent television programs such as Heroes. Now, he finally has landed a recurring role on a much-anticipated network television program.
While he has been acting for a few years now in both Hollywood and Bollywood, Parekh is a tad anxious to see how Pan Am is received by audiences and critics alike. For him, he sees his role on Pan Am not only as the next logical step in his budding acting career, but also as a litmus test of how well he is able to carry a substantive character.
“This is kind of my first television role. Initially, for a new show, they don’t know what an actor is going to bring to the role,” Parekh said, adding how television is much different from film, where actors do not have to invest so much time into their characters. “I have to figure out the role as we are filming. You’re developing these characters over a long period of time.”
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts with a degree in Animation, Parekh hopes Pan Am will indeed be around long enough for him to fully explore his character and further establish himself as a solid actor.
'Pan Am' debuts on September 25, 2011. The show may be seen each Sunday on your local ABC station at 10:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. Central).