Australian-Indian Bollywood actress, Pallavi Sharda, was the keynote speaker at the Australian Asian Lawyers Association (AALA) Diwali dinner on October 28, held at the Gaylord Indian Restaurant in Melbourne.
The evening was opened by Mr Reynah Tang, President of the AALA. The AALA, he said, is the first association in Australia to focus on the growing number of Asian Australian lawyers in the profession.
One of the organisation’s key objectives is to create a greater cultural diversity – and understanding – within the senior ranks of the legal profession and to develop links with other legal associations in our region. Mr Tang said that to achieve these aims, we need to shine a light on the role that lawyers from an Asian Australian background have, and can continue to, play in the legal profession.
The celebration was a cultural experience for the guests. They were welcomed in the traditional Indian way with a red tika and rice being placed on their foreheads and offered delicious Indian sweets. The tables were filled with small diyas, or lamps and Ms Anita Rai, a budding singer of Indian- Srilankan heritage, performed a Hindi song for the guests.
Diwali, though, is not just a festival for consuming enormous quantities of sweets! Ms Molina Asthana, principal solicitor with the Victorian Government Solicitors Office, spoke about the historical origins and cultural significance that Diwali has for Indians of many religious backgrounds. Ms Asthana said that Diwali is the “festival of light” and it signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.
There are about 20 different cultural backgrounds represented in the membership of the AALA and the organisation has tried to celebrate and understand this diversity by celebrating events such as Chinese New Year earlier in the year and now most recently Diwali.
It was only fitting then that Pallavi Sharda be invited to speak of her experiences of growing up in Australia, studying law and moving to Mumbai to pursue her dream of being a Bollywood star. She said that it was quite poignant to be speaking at Gaylord because she had performed there many times as a child.
Ms Sharda dreamed of being an actress since she was 3 years old. She is the child of two academics and it is not surprising then that she went on to pursue a triple degree- Bachelor of Arts and Bachelors of Laws as well as a Diploma in Modern Languages (French) which she fast tracked and completed in under 5 years.
Throughout her university years, though, her Indian roots stayed with her and she felt privileged to celebrate her dual heritage.
But her aspirations of breaking into the Indian film industry had not gone away and she differed a graduate offer from a top-tier law firm and moved to Mumbai in 2010 to pursue her dream. She recalled that she landed in Mumbai with four suitcases not knowing anyone, had nowhere to live and struggled at times with the intricacies of Indian life.
Ms Sharda could well be the most educated Bollywood actress and this posed a slight problem for casting agents who feared that she would scrutinise contracts and pay her taxes. She persevered and went on to star in a cameo in the hit movie My Name is Khan which starred Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan and then Dus Tola and Love Breakups Zindagi. She has also starred in an Indo-American film Walkaway and an Australian movie Save Your Legs.
However the movie that got her acclaim was her debut in the Bollywood hit Besharam. Ms Sharda said that it was heartening that the AALA celebrates the dual heritage of its members and strives to ensure that the community it represents is adequately represented in the legal profession. When she was a child she remembered receiving strange looks while wearing a sari for her dance functions but today people complimented her for wearing a sari.
Five years ago when she tried to break into Australian TV she was told to apply to SBS.
Today, the demographics within Australian society, within the legal profession and AALA represent the changing face of Australia. For her duality is not a dilemma, is it a pre-condition of who we are.
Overall, the Diwali dinner was a huge success and another feather in the cap for AALA that has run popular events previously with eminent speakers such as the Attorney General, the Race Commissioner, Judges and QCs.