HomeAAPI ActorsAward-winning filmmaker credits hometown of Texas for success

Award-winning filmmaker credits hometown of Texas for success

Nirav Bhakta

By Ahmed Sharma

SAN ANTONIO — When Nirav Bhakta received the email naming him a finalist for an HBO Spotlight award for his short film Halwa , he became skeptical. Admittedly, he was no stranger to disappointing news. “I am rejected on a daily basis,” said Bhakta.

Yet, he never gave up his dream to become an Actor/Director. Bhakta continued, “maybe it’s cause I’m crazy to keep on going, but I know this is my life and I know this is where my voice is most needed.” After finding out that he and co-director, Gayatri Bajpai, won the HBO Spotlight award for their film, Halwa, he realized his hard work had been recognized.

Bhakta was born to Indian parents. The drug trade in the late 80s forced the family to move from Panama and they eventually settled in Houston in the 90s where they owned and ran a motel. It would be in that very motel that Bhakta says he spent most of his life. That is until, he would go off to study Architecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). “I got rejected from University of Houston and then I had gotten accepted into UTSA, so I said, ‘guess I’m moving to San Antonio,’” he said. Little did he know that his move would become one of the best decisions he ever made. Bhakta said, “It’s just something about San Antonio, it feels like home.” “When you’re a young adult from 18-25, those are your formative years I think, and I was in San Antonio for those years,” he explained.

While at UTSA, Bhakta mentioned how he spent much of his time studying. “I spent most of my time at the University of Texas at San Antonio in the architecture building,” Bhakta said, “I slept there, I ate there…worked there that’s all I did. Honestly, it was the most fun part of my life; I met my best friends there.” At the same time, Bhakta realized the importance of pursuing his dream of becoming an actor. Additionally, he was able to step out of his comfort zone as a result.

Bhakta said, “I got into an agency there, so I started modeling from there. In many of the morning talk shows, and from there going on different auditions.” Bhakta credited his casting director for much of his success .

“Brenda Ambrize; I’m really grateful for her. I did everything wrong in front of her, before I could do them correctly in Los Angeles.” She essentially took Bhakta under her wing. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I could have survived in a city like L.A. in big rooms with people from Netflix,” he said, “it’s because of my experiences in San Antonio.”

Being the youngest in his family, he recognizes the fear his parents must have felt. “I remember when my parents dropped me off at my apartment, and the tears in their eyes as they drove off. Because I was the first to move out and go to college on my own somewhere.” This fear only increased when Bhakta moved to pursue a career in films. “When I moved to LA, I understood why my parents were so cautious.” “It took a long time to gain their understanding and support.” Simultaneously, Bhakta explains he was just as afraid as his parents. “I used to be such a scaredy cat. I’ll admit it. I was always scared about any and everything.”

Team Halwa celebrates their HBO Spotlight Award

As a person of South Asian descent, Bhakta explained how unusual it was for someone like him to pursue a career in acting/film-making. “Society never really accepted what I was doing,” he said, “so I guess I had social anxiety because anything I did, I kept it to myself.” Regardless, Bhakta notes that his family supported his dreams, but were concerned of how he would be able to financially take care of himself. “They were very supportive but it took a long time. And with the positive reaction from viewers and critics alike, his parents could not have been more proud. Bhakta continued, “The night of our HBO premier marked exactly 28 or 29 years since we migrated to America. So it was a huge thing not just for me but my parents The next morning, my dad told me, ‘you do realize, we moved here 29 years ago, and we were sleeping on people’s kitchen floors and now almost [3 decades] later, you’ve put us up in this nice hotel in Beverly Hills.’”

Unlike Bhakta’s name, which means “Silent Devotee,” he wants to become a household name. He wants to create a positive impact through representation as a South Asian in the entertainment industry. “I want people to know my name,” he said, “If I want to be in this world of entertainment, there is a responsibility with that I think.” Bhakta continued, “When we see early representations of South Asian people here, you’re like, ‘wow, I wanna be like Riz Ahmed or Kal Penn.’”

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