Indian-American actress, dancer, singer, and producer Avantika Vandanapu plays the lead role of the teenager Rhea in Spin, the new Disney Channel movie that released August 13.
In the film embedded with musical inspiration from desi culture, Avantika plays a young girl who journeys through the world of music and deejaying while simultaneously working at her family’s Indian restaurant and extracurriculars.
Avantika, 16, told indica News that breaking the stereotypes of South Asian representation in the film industry, Rhea undergoes challenges that normal teenagers go through with her identity not simply limited to her ethnicity; rather, it extends deeper.
“I love that [Rhea’s] conflicts are aside from having an identity crisis, which I think we have more than a fair share of representation of onscreen,” Avantika said.
“It’s time to make space for other stories as well. And anytime we portray a minority, I don’t think we have to attach an inherent problem with them being a minority. I just really love that she’s Indian and she’s American and she loves that.”
In addition to admiring Rhea’s complex character, Avantika also felt a connection between her life and Rhea’s — as they “both are huge dreamers who are in the process of finding their identity and passions.”
Avantika said she learned a lot from Rhea.
“She’s a coder, she’s deejaying, and she’s a waitress. I have never been one to put myself in a box, but I have the tendency to do that and to be like, ‘Oh I could never do that,’ ” she said. “But I think after working on this film, I really saw Rhea, I was like, ‘Hey, the point of the movie is to convey that you can do it’.”
Since she was very young, Avantika has loved the expressive arts and initially started with dancing. Later on, she grew interest in acting, a creative outlet to her otherwise physically demanding activities. Blending her interest in storytelling and expressive arts, she decided to further pursue acting and production.
Avantika Vandanapu went on to feature in many a series such as Diary of a Future President and Mira, the Royal Detective. She also appeared in countless dancing shows. One of her favorite moments was performing on Dance India Dance, a reality series. She was declared one of the winners for the show’s American edition that aired in 2014.
To Anita, having a lead role in a Disney film was “so incredible, I feel so lucky that I have this opportunity. Hopefully, this paves the way for more opportunities to come.”
According to a study conducted by USC Annenberg, around 5.9 percent of the 1,300 most popular films from 2007 to 2019 starred speaking API characters while the population made up around 7.1 percent. The percentage is lower when it comes to South Asian roles, especially lead and co-lead roles.
“As of now, we can count the opportunities that South Asian women have had to lead a movie, to lead a Hollywood movie on screen, we can count them on our hands,” said Anita. “I just feel very blessed that I was able to get one of those opportunities. I never had this growing up, especially on Disney Channel. So to finally potentially, maybe, be that person for young girls growing up is really exciting to me and it makes me very happy.”
Avantika is already working on her next film, Senior Year, and a new movie, Boomika, is coming out on August 22.
“The message that I take away from this movie [Spin] is, ‘Don’t put yourself in a box,’ and I think use this time for experimentation and exploring all the choices you have,” said Avantika Vandanapu.
“It’s not the time for you to be like, ‘Oh, this is the only thing I can do,’ or set out your career with hard lines. And I hope little kids take away that you really can do anything and that the sky’s the limit.”