Priya Mohanty Writer Actor Of Web Series FOBia
Priya Mohanty Writer Actor Of Web Series FOBia. Priya Mohanty is a writer and of the web series FOBia. She completed her MBA degree from Duke University & 8 years of corporate experience, Dancer & Choreographer. Priya grew up in India as a military brat which took her to different corners of the country. Even as a child, she was quite a drama queen – acting out her favorite scenes for an audience consisting of her dolls and her slightly exasperated parents- but it would be a while before she found her true calling as an actress/writer/director.
Tell us about yourself….
I like to think of myself as a storyteller. I grew up in India as a military brat traveling all over the country and loving it! I grew up training in Bharatnatyam – Indian classical dance forms are some of the oldest and most graceful forms of storytelling. I came to the US in 2008 to Duke University for my MBA. I had a corporate job until a series of fortunate events led me to act and in 2015 I quit my corporate job and started acting full time. I started writing because I was frustrated by the kind of representation I saw of immigrants and wanted to take the narrative into my own hands. Still a storyteller. Just a different medium.
What were you inspiration behind the story?
When I started acting, I noticed a real dearth of South Asian stories and even more specifically immigrant stories. With everything happening in America, we hear so much ABOUT immigrants but very rarely FROM them. I wanted to change that and I realized I needed to stop asking for anyone’s permission and own my story. I like to say that FOBia was born out of equal parts love and defiance – the love of the art form and in defiance of the current norms which erase our stories. I have always believed that there is universality in specificity when it comes to storytelling. The more specific you get with your experiences, the more you realize how universal they are. Which is why I was inspired to start off with a story that I was most familiar with. The story of being an immigrant in America. One of the most elating things I hear about FOBia is when people across different backgrounds tell me how relatable it is.
Is it a personal experience?
Very loosely! 😊 I did come to America to go to business school and it is based on some of the experiences I have had in the US as an immigrant. But I am definitely not Kay. Kay comes from a very rich and privileged background and her journey will be to find her own path independent of her family’s wealth and influence.
How was your acting experience?
It was super fun but also challenging to act scenes and say words that I had written. I had to make sure I shed any preconceived notions I had as a writer of what the scene should look like to allow myself to make discoveries as well allow my awesome director Reshmi to direct the scene and bring her own voice to it. For example, the Cardi B ‘Okurrr’ reference was all Reshmi’s idea and I love it so much – it makes me crack up every time I see it.
How long it took you to write the script?
Well, I wrote the first draft in 2017 and then let it sit for a year (who knew writing was so much like baking! Hah) When I came back to it in early 2018, I hated so much about it! I rewrote most of it and what ended up being made is that second draft. I know folks say you need to go through like 20 drafts before you actually get something produced but I just went with this because I knew I would never be COMPLETELY happy with it no matter how many drafts I went through. I think as artists we are always hard on ourselves. So I had promised myself that I would trust my gut and take the plunge. I did a reading with some actors (most of who actually ended up playing the roles in the pilot), felt really good about it and just went for it.
It is a funny show. What is your writing process like? Did you laugh when you were working on this project?
For me, it all begins with fleshing out and really knowing my characters. Who are they, what brought them here to this point in the story, what’s their favorite food/color/music/movie, what is their world view, what drives them and a lot of the comedy just follows from that. I think what would this character do face in this situation? And yes, I definitely chuckled to myself several times imagining those situations. And yes, we had so much fun on this project and an honestly large part of that was finding collaborators who believed strongly in the story and its vision. My director Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke is an Indian American herself and she says she views the show as a ‘love letter to her mother and other women in her family who came to America’. I love that.
What things you had to keep in mind while writing this series?
I wanted to make this series away to humanize immigrants. Usually, when immigrants are portrayed in American media, they are either a punchline (usually for their accents) or they are completely defined by their trauma. I wanted to make sure I didn’t resort to any of those stereotypes and portrayed immigrants as regular people, just living their lives.
What were the difficult part and the easiest one in this whole process?
Honestly, funding is always a big challenge for us creators. We also had to cut a few scenes to make sure we were on a budget. We are thrilled though with the overwhelming response we received from the pilot and are excited for future prospects for the show. Also, I was pregnant throughout the entire process! I found out I was pregnant in the first few days of pre-production and my baby was born 5 days after our release! I joke that I had two babies last year – my human baby and my creative baby FOBia.
The easiest part – my director Reshmi did such a great job putting together a great crew that the shoot felt like such a breeze, even when we had to be on set at 5:30 am, even when we had to shoot in the below-freezing weather and pretend it was summertime. 😊
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I am excited to explore other aspects of filmmaking and create more stories giving immigrants a voice. In the next few years, I see myself developing into a multifaceted, multidisciplinary artist.
Some words for the new writers?
The first thing you write is not (and should not) be the best thing you will write. So, just do it. Take the leap. Put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let the words out. And above all, don’t be too hard on yourself.