Issue 14 / The Brink's Melanie Chandra And Her Meteoric Rise In Primetime TV

The Brink’s Melanie Chandra And Her Meteoric Rise In Primetime TV

Aug 25, 2015


She may not be a household name yet, but she’s well on her way to being one.

Actress Melanie Chandra’s life has been a whirlwind for the past several months. She got married in April, and now she finds herself up to her ears filming her latest TV project and shuttling between Los Angeles and New York to spend time with her husband on the weekends.

In the five years she’s been acting, the strikingly beautiful 29-year-old has laid the foundations of a promising career. She started off modelling. She was featured in the Bare Escentuals “Force of Beauty Campaign” and landed a spot on the "ANOKHI’s 2010 Sexy & Successful List". Then she landed small guest spots in TV shows in her early days. And now she has a star-packed HBO show under her belt. You may have caught her this summer in The Brink, a satirical comedy series where she played the fierce Fareeda Khan (The Daily Show funnyman Aasif Mandvi’s onscreen sister) alongside bigwigs Jack Black and Tim Robbins.

 Melanie Chandra as Fareeda Khan in The Brink
Photo Credit: 

Chandra is currently filming Code Black, a fast-paced, high-stakes hospital drama premiering September 30th,  where she has a starring role as Malaya Pineda, a know-it-all, confident first-year resident. The show also stars the Emmy-nominated Marcia Gay Harden. If the quality of the co-stars is any indication of Chandra’s burgeoning success, well, let’s just say she’s doing pretty well for herself.
“Life is insane,” she says. “It’s probably the busiest I’ve ever been in my life and I’d say I’ve lived a lot of lives.”

Melanie with the cast of Code Black  
Photo Credit:

That’s no exaggeration. The Chicago-born up-and-comer has achieved a lot in the roughly five years she’s been in the acting business. But even before that, she attended Stanford University, got a degree in mechanical engineering and acquired a black belt in Shotokan Karate. Oh, and she was crowned Miss India America in 2007.

While she was a self-professed geek who loved math and physics, there was something else that bubbled beneath the surface that eventually broke its way through a mind drowning in facts and numbers.
“I always had a creative part of me, too, and I didn’t really listen to it because it wasn’t part of the conversation when I was growing up,” she says. “I didn’t think it was feasible for me to do it as an actual career.”

Chandra was attracted to acting because it was introspective. Donning the lives of her characters, she learned more about herself than she ever had during her time with her nose buried in books at Stanford.

Melanie Chandra
Photo Credit: Corey Hayes

But perhaps she could never shake off the overachiever she truly was. When Chandra quit her job as an analyst with McKinsey & Company to pursue acting full-time, she made sure to be prepared. She strived to master her craft, taking acting classes during her engineering days and even after, between auditions. She credits her work ethic to the hardworking mentality of her Malayali parents, who came to the United States and started from the ground up.
Taking the plunge to follow her passion was risky, of course — especially for a South Asian. For South Asian actors, there's a fear of a limited number of roles, or that you may be typecast into a walking, talking stereotype.
“For me, if something is [for a] South Asian, I will definitely audition for it but it doesn’t mean I’m limited to play those roles. And I think what’s important is to have your representatives, whether it’s your agents or managers, know that you have that ability to do more than what’s just written as a stereotypical Indian character,” she says. Indeed, her character on Code Black wasn’t written for a South Asian at all. And neither was the role of her co-star, Raza Jaffrey, who plays Dr. Neal Hudson on the medical drama. “I don’t think [the writers] let the race of the actors playing these parts. . . they didn’t see it as a roadmap but as an opportunity to create some interesting character elements,” Chandra explains.
Diversity in Hollywood has long been a point of controversy, but it’s clear that there's an appetite for multicultural and multifaceted characters on the small screen. According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, for every six broadcast scripted leads, only one represents a minority. And yet shows like The Mindy Project and Orange Is the New Black are wildly popular and offer minority perspectives.
“I think casting directors and writers are now more interested in bringing diversity into their projects,” says Chandra. She would know first-hand, of course. The ethnically ambiguous Malaya Pineda is also a lesbian.
“For me, it’s an amazing opportunity as an actor to explore that character element and bring it to life and to tell a story that’s not often told on network television,” she explains. Chandra has landed a role that provides new challenges and demands that she play a complex character — while she saves onscreen lives on top of it all. This is a testament to how far she’s come as an actor.
It’s safe to say that Chandra is more than just a pretty face.

Main Image Photo Credit: Corey Hayes

Prajakta Dhopade


Prajakta is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and a graduate of Ryerson University’s school of journalism. Her bylines have appeared in ANOKHI as well as various other magazines including ThisSpacing, and MoneySense. Accordingly, s...


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