Years from now, when people ask Burnaby’s Pavan Bharaj how she spent her time during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown as an 10-year-old, she’ll be able to tell them that’s when she launched her voice acting career.
Starting Aug. 15, you’ll be able to hear Pavan in the lead role of a new animated Netflix series: Deepa and Anoop.
It all started with a post on a Facebook mommies group, saying someone was looking to cast a South Asian girl in an animated series.
Pavan’s mom, Sabrina Badal, saw the post and asked her daughter if she might be interested.
It was a long shot, though.
Pavan hadn’t done any acting or singing — and the show’s main character, Deepa, sings in pretty much every episode.
“I thought I might as well just try it because it would be better if I tried it and didn’t get the part than not try it and maybe would have gotten the part,” Pavan told the NOW.
A few days after sending in her audition, however, she got a call back from the casting director inviting her to a singing audition.
She passed that hurdle too, with a rendition of How Far I'll Go from Disney’s Moana, and landed the part.
“It is unbelievable, isn’t it? It’s so crazy,” Sabrina said.
What followed was about a year of recording sessions and a lot of hard work that wrapped up in September 2021.
The series, aimed at a preschool audience, follows the antics of Deepa, a girl who lives with her parents, grandparents and brothers in the family’s hotel, and Deepa’s sidekick Anoop, a colour-changing elephant that communicates in trumpeting noises.
“It’s like the South Asian version of Dora but with more songs,” Sabrina said.
Because of COVID restrictions, Pavan’s first voice-acting gig was somewhat unique.
Instead of being able to riff off other actors, she had to record alone, with only a technician in the sound booth and her director and others beamed in on a TV screen via Zoom.
“It was mostly lots and lots of practice, just working really hard and then also thinking, ‘OK, how would a younger kid do this?’ I have a younger sister, for example, so I’d be like, ‘OK, how would she say this or how would she do this?’” Pavan said.
The family haven’t yet seen any of the series except a trailer posted on YouTube.
But that was enough to set Sabrina off.
“Oh, I cried,” she said. “Even now my eyes are getting misty.”
It’s not just that she’s proud of her “shy, hardworking, studious” daughter for taking on the challenge and working so hard to see it through.
The project itself means a lot.
“Representation, it does matter,” Sabrina said. “It’s important for kids to feel like they’re normal, and that’s why I think the show is so great because, you know, Deepa has an extended family. She lives in a hotel with her grandparents and her parents and her brothers, and that’s how a lot of South Asian families live. They laugh together; they play together; they grow together.”
Such representation was non-existent when Sabrina was growing up.
And when she tried her hand at acting when she was younger, she said she was told there were “just no roles for girls like you.”
Pavan, who turns 13 this year and is starting high school at Burnaby South Secondary in the fall, would like to play a role in changing all that now that she’s launched her own acting career.
“I am hoping that I can do something like this again,” she said. “I want to give it a try and work more.”
Deepa and Anoop is now streaming on Netflix.
Season 1 consists of 13 30-minute episodes.