By Mara Keen
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2.
She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year.
Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally streaming now. The film stars Elizabeth Banks, Zach Galifianakis and others. Sweta plays Neeti Kumar, the unconventional and supportive mother to Maya Kumar, played by Geraldine Viswanathan, the nerd who helped Ty Warner make millions selling Beanies.
She co-produced and co-wrote a short form web series called Struggle City, which won Best Web-series at the Vegas Movie awards 2020. She loves working and being on the Board with her local non-profit Rivers Edge Theater Co. and has been in several of their productions since the pandemic. She’s also collaborating on Remarkable Women: Out of the Shadows, a global documentary series about untold stories of women, both contemporary and through history.
Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.
Sweta, what inspired you to start your career in TV and film?
I was only 14 years old when I started. It was a print advertisement for a big ice cream brand. And it was simply to make some pocket money. Back in Mumbai, India being insanely patriarchal, this career wasn’t considered appropriate for women. I come from a long line of engineers and doctors and that’s exactly what they expected of me. And because I was studying to be a lawyer this wasn’t a path I intentionally chose. But once I started there was no looking back.
One thing led to another and after a decade of cameos, tons of pilots and hosting shows, I finally bagged my first series regular role on the most popular primetime drama on Indian television. Another 10 years later, I was a household name. It was like the universe always had a plan all I had to do was lean in with trust. Fortunately, I had the support of my incredible mother, despite resistance from all others in my traditional family.
I see you have a new film, The Beanie Bubble, that released recently in theaters and is now streaming! What can you tell us about it?
It’s a very special film for me. I was a part of this film right from its table read. When David Rubin from Firefly casting asked me to read for this, I was going to be on holiday in PR for my husband’s 50th. We had one small hotel room and had to tape the entire audio separate from the video recording on Zoom. My manager, my husband, and I hustled for hours trying to figure how many devices we would require. Thinking back about this makes me laugh. Little did I know it would be a film with some of my favorite actors Elizabeth Banks, Zack Gallifianakis and Sarah Snook. Another audition and a live callback later and I was cast. I’d also never done a biopic or shot in Atlanta or with two directors together on set (a couple, Kirstin Gore and Damian Kulash), so this was a first for me on many levels.
What do you love most about acting?
Being able to access parts of myself I never knew existed. Every character you portray helps you dig deeper into so many facets of yourself. Like an onion, every layer feels like a new territory waiting to be explored. And like most actors who are passionate about what they do, I love telling stories. I love the challenge of visually creating what one just sees as words on paper. Acting is so intricately nuanced and yet so profoundly simple.
In addition to acting, I see you also write and produce! Please tell us more about that.
I’m actually dabbling in all of the above, including editing which I absolutely love and self-taught myself during the pandemic (for my sanity) with my cooking show on YouTube. I constantly need to feed this insatiable creative monster within me that’s always hungry.
Producing a play in India was very different and creating content for this market is also a whole new challenge. I’ve been in a Sundance Co//ab class writing and rewriting. And now with creating social media content for the docuseries I’m working on a whole new skill set.
It’s a very exciting time for me, one I’m thoroughly making the most of. I’d seriously love to learn all of it, every aspect of filmmaking if it were practically possible in one lifetime.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start each day at 6:30 AM dropping off my precocious nine-year-old daughter to the bus stop, followed by a cup of hot masala chai along with chanting my Buddhist mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, where I focus on everything I need to accomplish and appreciate everything I have. Then some yogalates, then scene study, whether for a class or a self-tape that’s due. If I have a self-tape, I do vocal warm-ups and work with a coach if needed. Or run lines with another actor friend, read a play, edit scenes for the tape, or other admin stuff that we actors constantly need to keep up to speed with.
I also do a stage combat class in the city and Zoom acting workshops with casting directors or acting coaches once a week. And then I work on dinner, fetch my daughter, and play board games with my family before I end the day with either a meditation to unwind or watching a lighthearted show on TV.
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Myra Velasquez! Myra Velasquez is an indie filmmaker and playwright whose films have been screened across the country and abroad. Some of her awards include the Lawrence Kasdan Narrative Film Award, the Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, the BIFF Golden Honu Audience Choice for Best Short, the HIFF Gold Kahuna, and the BIFF Family Favorites. She has also been a finalist for the Sundance Lab, the BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award, the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Big Apple Screenplay Competition, and a Cinequest Short Screenplay semi-finalist, among other notable mentions. Myra spoke to us about her latest audio drama, the best (and worst) advice she’s received, and what she hopes audiences will take away from her work.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Kilara Sen! Kilara is a Japanese female stand-up comedian and actor, moving to New York this summer. Kilara currently is hosting "Japanese Whisky Lockdown" and "Japanese Whisky World" on Dekanta TV. She also appeared on international TV such as Asia's Got Talent, Paul Hollywood Eats Japan, and Welcome to the Railworld. Kilara is gender non-conforming (she/they), a "hikikomori" survivor (a form of severe social withdrawal), and had a wonderful year at Historically Black Colleges. Based on her experiences, she shares her strong and funny voice on mental health, feminism, and diversity. She believes that everyone should be as special and unique as a unicorn. Also, she is the voice breaking stereotypes of Japanese women: the New Pink. Kilara thinks of herself as a Pink Unicorn. Kilara spoke to us about breaking down stereotypes, community support, and finding liberation through comedy.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Shiqin Gao! Shiqin is an award-winning NYC-based filmmaker whose versatile range includes but is not limited to directing, editing, sound recording, and producing. Learn more about Shiqin as we chat about her distinct style, the genesis of some of her most intimate projects, and her collaborations with some rockstars and other remarkable artists.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Priya Mishra! Priya is an award-winning screenwriter and director. She wrote, directed, and co-produced her debut short film Bath Bomb in 2019. Currently, Bath Bomb and Only Business, the second film she directed, are both having successful runs on the festival circuit. A queer second-generation Indian immigrant, and a girl who lost her mom during her junior year of college, Priya’s work centers love, grief, acceptance, social-critique, and embracing your anger. Priya hopes that her work will make audiences feel more connected with other human beings, more angry at the state of the world, and more willing to improve it by embracing vulnerability and kindness. Priya spoke to us about identity, wildly fun times on set, and exploring grief through her creative work.READ MORE