Why meeting Aishwarya Rai and Dev Patel were the highlights of my year

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Leeshie with Aishwarya Rai

This year has been intense, and along the spectrum of sheer happiness and thrilling times to dark, and difficult periods, I’ve experienced a lot of the extremes sitting on either end.

Professionally, it’s been quite an eventful 12 months for me. I was promoted at Daily Mail Australia, before making the switch to Yahoo!7Be in November.

Whether it’s been in the newsroom or on the red carpet, both companies have given me an array of opportunities to soak up the showbiz goodness of this industry.

In April I was privileged to interview Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai for Daily Mail Australia and MailOnline India, and just this month I chatted to Dev Patel face-to-face (best Christmas gift ever).

I’ve been fortunate to interview so many famous faces these days, but meeting these two identities held a certain significance in my heart.

I was just chatting to someone the other day about the ethnic media personalities in the industry whom I take inspiration from.

There’s not actually that many who come from a South Asian background. Yes there’s Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn, Lily Singh and Aziz Ansari abroad, and the likes of Indira Naidoo and Jeremy Fernandez in Australia, but there’s not that many.

My heart sings when I see someone else repping the “curries” and kicking some serious goals in this tough industry, because I can relate to and appreciate the efforts they make to face the challenges that stand in the way for ethnic minorities.

When I interviewed Aishwarya and Dev this year, it was so reassuring to see these incredible humans from my motherland, challenging stereotypes and becoming immensely successful in their lines of work.

As a Longines ambassador, Aishwarya has proved beauty transcends countries and cultures

As a Longines ambassador, Aishwarya has proved beauty transcends countries and cultures

Aishwarya came out to Sydney as a fashion ambassador for watch company Longines, indirectly promoting the notion that beauty is global and transcends skin colours and cultures.

Not only is she a household name in Bollywood, but she has managed to forge a career in Hollywood with roles in Pink Panther 2 and Bride And Prejudice.

I’m also super thrilled that Priyanka Chopra and Deepik Padukone have recently followed in her footsteps, and just quietly, they are next on my dream-list of people to interview.

But I must say I really cherished interviewing Dev. From becoming an Oscar-winning teen sensation for his Slumdog Millionaire role, to dancing his way to our hearts in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise and now nailing an Australian accent in his latest film Lion, Dev has proved his versatility as an actor, and the fact that ethnic minorities can make it in the biz.

Back in 2010, Dev told The Guardian: “Because Slumdog was such a big hit, there was a lot of pressure in terms of what I did next.

“For my second film, I wanted a role that would stretch me, but all I was getting offered were stereotypical parts like the goofy Indian sidekick.

“Asian actors tend not to be sent Hollywood scripts that are substantial or challenging. I’m likely to be offered the roles of a terrorist, cab driver and smart geek. I want to show that I have versatility.”

Then in an interview with The LA times earlier this year, Dev touched on the issue again when speaking about his Lion role.

“Everyone will pigeonhole you into, ‘Oh, he’s playing an Indian guy. The movie is kind of set of India and there’s poverty, so it’s like ‘Slumdog,’” he said.

“It’s such a shame. That’s just naiveté to me. It just takes away from all the hard work.”

Interviewing Dev Patel at the Lion Sydney premiere in December 2016

Interviewing Dev Patel at the Lion Sydney premiere in December 2016

“There aren’t many roles written for someone that looks like me. It’s slim pickings… It’s difficult, but I try and stay on the optimistic side. I want there to be people that look like me represented on screen. Because when I was growing up, the only person that I could look up to that kind of resembled what I looked like was Bruce Lee.

“We’re at the front of something… if you look at the African American struggle in Hollywood, there are so many of these great icons — from Sidney Poitier to Denzel Washington to Samuel L. Jackson to Cuba Gooding to Will Smith. But in terms of being Asian or South Asian — whatever you want to call it — we’re treading new ground.”

When I met Dev in Sydney earlier this month, I asked him how he continues to deal with typecasting in the film industry and pushing those boundaries.

He told me: “You just kind of keep your chin down, keep trying to work hard. I’ve been lucky in a way, it has been difficult. but it’s about persistence and perseverance, really”.

Well said, Dev!

To meet these people, who have all of the fame and fortune at their feet, for even a few fleeting moments, makes my job all the more worthwhile.

I’m so proud to call myself a fellow South-Asian alongside these superstars, and look forward to following in their footsteps in years to come. I hope many of you will join me for the ride!

x Leeshie

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