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Rising Star: Sway's Success

By Bhavana Kunnath Email By Bhavana Kunnath
October 2022
Rising Star: Sway's Success

It is hard not to question whether the old idiom “jack of all trades, master of none” really holds any truth when talking to a truly multitalented artist like Swayam (Sway) Bhatia. From walking on the runway at New York Fashion Week to dancing on Broadway to cracking jokes at 54 Below to acting on screen to writing her own songs to rapping and playing the drums, she has done it all.

[Left] Actor, voice actor, and dabbler in dancing, rapping, songwriting, drumming, standup comedy . . . Sway Bhatia is a born entertainer. (Photo: Corinne Louie)

Sway first appeared in a Bollywood film at just three years old, from where she quickly moved towards acting in commercials. She made her professional acting debut at the age of nine in the musical Really Rosie in the New York City Center. Her success on the theater stage only continued, opening doors for her into the world of television. At just 15 years old, she has already developed a long list of credits for acting on screen, having played characters such as Sophie Roy in HBO’s Succession and Aziz Ansari’s daughter in Netflix’s Master of None.

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But it is her most recent role as Sofi Hanson-Bhatt in Disney’s The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers that has really propelled her into the spotlight. The TV show, which is loosely based on The Mighty Ducks movie trilogy from the ‘90s, centers on Evan, who, after being kicked out of the famous Mighty Ducks hockey team, rounds up a group of fellow misfits to form his own team, The Don’t Bothers.

[Right] The second season of The Mighty Ducks, says Sway, will be really relatable, especially for Sofi, the character she plays. (Photo: Corinne Louie)

Over the course of the show, Sofi, a powerful player for the Mighty Ducks, confronts her own perfectionism and her overbearing parents to choose what makes her happy and help Evan turn the Don’t Bothers into a stellar team.

The success of the series among its young audience has secured it a second season.

Sway sat down with Khabar to talk about her acting journey, her experiences as a young Indian American in the entertainment industry, and her character, Sofi, ahead of the season’s release on September 28th on Disney+.

Do you think the struggles Sofi goes through in Mighty Ducks will resonate with a lot of young South Asians?

For sure! South Asian parents can be hard on their kids, especially about getting into college. Education is really important in Indian culture. Yes, it is a stereotype, and what I love about Sofi is that she gets out of that stereotype as quickly as she can. The pressure that her parents put on her about going to Harvard, about getting only A+ all around—not even an A- —was really hard. A lot of young South Asians are able to relate to that. I hope to represent how to cope with such pressure and strengthen yourself.

For every character, there are aspects of them that you might not connect with much and other aspects that you really relate to. What was your process for getting into character to play Sofi?RisingStar_4_10_22.jpg

What I love about Sofi is that she’s super relatable. It can be so hard sometimes with societal pressures and figuring out who you are. That’s what young adults can relate with: figuring out who you are and who you represent and who you really want to be and how you want to show yourself. I’m very fortunate to be able to know that I wanted to be in this industry for as long as I can remember, but some people don’t know what they want to do with their lives and don’t know where they find themselves placed in the world.

[Left] With her success as a rising TV star, Sway has raised the profile of South Asians in the industry. (Photo: Instagram: @sway_bhatia)

You’ve spoken about how difficult it can be to be the “only Indian in the room” when you were auditioning or on the set of Succession or The Mighty Ducks. But you also talk about feeling like you were part of this big family, on the sets of The Mighty Ducks. How do you, as the lone Indian in the room, go about making those connections and building that sense of community on set?

Growing up in Dubai—such a multicultural city—I saw so many people that looked like me. So, in America, it was a little weird not to see as many Indians in auditions or in Broadway callbacks. It took a while to get used to that. Then I realized how powerful that can be, because I’ve been able to inspire young girls. A lot of people tend to be scared when entering the industry, but I found a way to use it [being the only Indian] to inspire people instead of feeling like a mistake or something.

You’ve spoken about how you are really inspired by Kamala Harris and how you see her as a trailblazer for a lot of young girls of color. You have also spoken about how proud you are to be part of the diverse cast of The Mighty Ducks. So, do you see yourself as being a similar source of inspiration as Kamala Harris was to you?

That’s one of my favorite things about being in the industry and representing brown girls. It is important that I am able to be a role model for young girls, especially young girls of color. I hope little kids [are inspired] by my role in The Mighty Ducks as a brown girl who is a hockey player. It’s really special to be able to represent [my ethnicity].

How do you deal with the responsibility of representing a community?

It is a challenge, but it’s a special feeling at the same time. I try to stay true to my culture as much as I can. It’s finding that nice balance and introducing Indian culture to people who may not know too much about it and also [at the same time] talking about other cultures. It’s finding the balance where I can teach people about my culture but still be true to my American background.

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[Top] Rubbing shoulders with Priyanka Chopra and Lilly Singh at a pre-Oscars event to celebrate the fact that ten South Asians were nominated for the Oscars.

In your rap cover of “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman on your YouTube channel, you said you would love to be seen past your ethnicity. How do you get people to look past those surface-level differences and acknowledge your individuality and your talent?

While representing my South Asian [background] the main thing I try to work on is neutralizing it. While filming season two of The Mighty Ducks in L.A., I was invited to a pre-Oscars event to celebrate the fact that ten South Asians were nominated for the Oscars. There were so many South Asians there that I had looked up to forever. Priyanka Chopra, who was one of the attendees, said that we’re celebrating ten South Asian nominees this year, and it should be twenty next year, and then thirty, and then forty … .

As amazing as it is to celebrate South Asians in entertainment, it should become more normal. Seeing all these people working in Hollywood inspires me to know that I’m capable of doing what they do because I’ve looked up to people like Utkarsh Ambudkar and Lilly Singh. I grew up watching Lilly Singh’s videos and she’s influenced me a lot. Being able to follow in her steps was a really beautiful moment.

You’ve spoken about how you love to take on diverse roles and play characters of all ethnicities. Do you find that you sometimes get pigeonholed into certain roles because of your ethnicity?

When auditioning for The Mighty Ducks, I was empowered to see “young Indian female” in the description of the role. I remember, when reading the script, how connected I felt to the role. But, like you mention, if it had said a Latino role, I wouldn’t have booked it.

I think the industry is changing. Where it used to say, “Indian role” it will now say “any ethnicity.” The creators of the show really wanted to make sure there was a voice for Indians, and that’s why they created the role of Sofi. I think that storyline works a lot for an [Indian character]. I remember when I was auditioning for Succession, it was about a completely Irish family. If you look at me and then you look at the rest of the family, you’re like ‘where does she fit in?’ Showing that my character was adopted is how I think the industry is learning to cope with making casts more diverse.

What is your advice to young South Asians who want to get involved in acting and performing but are worried they might not have the same natural talent that you have?

For me, it’s never about talent, it’s always about passion. I train as much as I can. I have been with my drum teacher since I was four and I’m still practicing. It’s constant training but also making sure that passion is what’s driving it. What I would say to young girls is: if you really want to do it, go after it; if you can, don’t wait, just grab the moment. I remember watching Bollywood movies and recreating the scenes in my home when I was four years old. You could see how much passion I had. Where I was then to where I am now is just such a beautiful thing for me to see. It inspires me how far a person can go in this industry. There are so many moments where you feel like you’re just going to give up. I’ve auditioned for so many things and I’ve not booked every single thing I’ve auditioned for, of course. But I just say never give up. It’s just keeping that drive and remembering that passion that you have. 

You’re very immersed in American pop culture but you don’t shy away from your Indian background; you often post covers of Bollywood songs on social media and you talk about issues people are facing in India. How do you stay connected to your roots?RisingStar_6_10_22.jpg

I have a family that educates me a lot on that. I’m super proud of being Indian. When I sing those Indian songs, it just means a lot to me and my family. When I showed my grandma my Indian cover, she got emotional seeing I have not forgotten where I came from. My grandpa teaches me Hindi sometimes. I try to go to the mandir as much as I can. I’m half-Gujarati, half-Sindhi so I try to learn as much Gujarati as I can too; my grandma speaks to me in Gujarati, our native language. Little things like that add up, and I never shy away from my heritage. I remember on the set for season one, a cast member was passing me the knife. I don’t know if you know the Indian superstition of never handing a knife to anyone; you should set it down for the other person to pick it up. I remember teaching him about it. A few weeks later we were in the snack room again, and he put the knife down to hand it to me. Teaching them little things that are in our culture is special to me.

 [Top] The multi-talented entertainer. (Photo: Instagram: @sway_bhatia)

Besides acting you also play the drums, you sing, you rap, you write your own songs, and you’ve talked about wanting to produce your own music. How did you transition from singing covers or doing rap parodies to writing your own songs?

For me, it’s always been taking small steps . . . from performing on stage in theaters and little cabarets to being on Disney+. It’s the same thing with music. It went from learning how to sing to making parodies and rewriting lyrics to making my own lyrics from scratch and making my own melodies. I’m still working on that. I hope to get music out sometime soon. It’s always been an outlet for me to express my emotions in lyrics. I find that my songs tend to be sad even though I swear I am a very happy person! For some reason, I tie a deep meaning to everything. I was trying to write a happy song and I realized there was a deep meaning behind it—it was almost representing Sofi. It was about parents forcing you and it was a weird message because I have super supportive parents, so I don’t know where my lyrics come from. When I was ten years old or maybe a little older, I wrote a song about suicide prevention because I was really attached to that and I really wanted to help that cause, so I wrote a song about it that I wanted to release to send to people who are dealing with that. It never came out but maybe one day.

What can we expect in this new season of The Mighty Ducks?

There’re so many amazing things happening this season. Like I mentioned before, it’s going to be a really relatable season, especially for Sofi. That idea of figuring out who she is, and the identity crisis is going to be a really beautiful one. I think what’s so special about the second season is that the fans watching have grown by a year; so, what I love is that the show has matured along with the fans. I worked with amazing directors; I was able to shadow one of our directors, Jay Chandrasekhar. It was a beautiful season all around.

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[Top] “A lot of people tend to be scared when entering the industry, but I found a way to use it [being the only Indian] on the set to inspire people insteadof feeling like a mistake,” says Sway. “I’m super proud of being Indian,” she proudly proclaims. (Photo: Instagram: @sway_bhatia)


Bhavana Kunnath, a sophomore at Oglethorpe University, is studying English literature with a concentration in Communication. She is currently an intern with Khabar and can be reached at kunnathbhavana@gmail.com.
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