Exclusive: Pritesh Shah Discusses Short Film & Diversity Casting

The short film, Invisible Brown Man, highlights stereotyping and tokenism. As an actor and producer, Pritesh uses comedy to engage the audience in laughter, but also the reality of Hollywood for minorities. The Knockturnal spoke with Pritesh Shah about his short film and diversity casting.

The Knockturnal: How do you believe stereotypes can affect/limit a person’s mental and emotional health when trying to achieve greatness?

Pritesh Shah: What doesn’t get discussed much is how we’re all stereotyping and being prejudiced. It isn’t just simply being done to us, but we’re also doing it to others. It’s owning and understanding the cultural and societal mold that has programmed all of us in such ways. Once I was able to recognize my own biases, see how they were leaving an imprint in my life, my external world started mirroring my inner healing. In the film, as my character TJ is bringing to light the truths of the industry, he too has to take accountability for the “invisibility.”

The Knockturnal: To be invisible means someone or something is unable to be seen. In your opinion, have you felt as though the film industry has not fully seen minority groups in a proper light? 

Pritesh Shah: The most interesting thing I’ve learned about the film industry is that it’s not necessarily progressive like I used to believe when I first started. Instead of being called “show business,” it should be “business show.” As much as creativity and art is appreciated, the main thing studios and production companies are thinking about is profitability. Hollywood doesn’t set the standard, they fit the standard that’s already set and is expected of it. As we continue to evolve as society, the films will head in those directions too. 

The Knockturnal: In the short film, I noticed how Tejas Desai worked to chase his dreams in the face of Hollywood. As a man, who is supposed to be a provider and labeled as tough in the eyes of society, What did it feel like to get rejected during casting? Have you had any personal experiences?

Pritesh Shah: When I first started, I learned quickly that I’ll be rejected 98% of the time.  Most auditions that I go to, I won’t get. Most of the time you’ll hear nothing at all. All of that has made me learn to let go of expectations. There are so many variables that are out of my control. As long as I control my variables to the best of my ability, I can sit back and forget about the rest. As far as being a provider, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself when I was younger to be a provider,  like my father was to my family. Once I accepted who I was and what my path would be, I was able to forego those expectations and actually feel free. I started to realize that as long as I stayed on my journey, I’d be well taken care of. Fortunately, things have worked out, opportunities have knocked on my door, and I’ve experienced financial freedom because of it.

The Knockturnal: Can you walk the viewers through the thought process of creating the Invisible Brown man short film? 

Pritesh Shah: As we were circling the concept around competitions, we were invited to MGM for a diversity event. A quick encounter with an executive there inspired my writing partner Dennis and I to make a short film to really showcase what our show is about. We knew that having something for people to actually see will help us tremendously. What some may not know is that even short films can be pricey. It was just serendipitous that an old friend happened to be in town, and as he heard my story over coffee, he decided to fund the short himself. I put myself out there, and this opportunity came my way. It was truly a blessing. I was then fortunate to get my friend and Emmy nominated director Roxy Shih to direct. She brought such great experience and the team we needed to make this film a reality. We filmed three weeks before the pandemic started here. So many variables had to fall into place for this to happen, and I’m just very grateful they did. 

The Knockturnal: How important is representation in the film industry?

Pritesh Shah: Representation is very important of course. It’s also important to recognize that representation goes beyond ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Representation signifies different perspectives, ideas, viewpoints, etc. When we can focus on that, the rest will take care of itself. Casting in a “diverse” manner has led people to cast productions out of guilt. Operating out of guilt makes things worse usually. If the industry focused on real authentic creative stories, it would automatically be inclusive of all types of people.  

The Knockturnal: What did you learn under the mentorship of Chad Coleman?

Pritesh Shah: Chad has been a close friend for a decade now. When I met him, I was a young green actor in LA, just trying to figure it all out. He was single handedly responsible for starting my standup career. He took me to the Laugh Factory and got me on stage. That was a domino effect for the comedy path. As far as acting was concerned, he taught me to ride the waves of the business. That there is no formula and definitely not a linear path to get to where you may want to go. I thank him immensely for allowing me to understand that as long as I focus on myself and my work, the rest will come to me. 

The Knockturnal: To my knowledge, you quit your dream job to be a standup comic in Southern California. Why was humor important in this short film when presenting a serious message?  What do you believe your purpose is to the film industry? What impact do you want to leave behind for other generations to come?

Pritesh Shah: Humor comes from pain. For me, I used it as a defense mechanism to deal with my feelings of abandonment and deep-rooted insecurity. As I grew, I realized I could use my humor in a way to speak my truth and engage with people, and not just as a mask. Therefore, with the subjects that are touched in the film such as tokenism and stereotyping, it was important to bring lightness to it as well. Humor has a beautiful way of breaking down barriers people create for themselves. 

As far as purpose is concerned in the industry, I can’t say I have a direct answer. Purpose can get so caught up with our egos that it can lead us astray. I just have faith in creating art that continues to tell deep truths, while bringing joy to those that resonate with it. The main thing I remember to continue to expand consciously so that can be reflected in my shows and films in the future. If I can impact those around me to take accountability, forgive, and grow then I can continue to smile. I’m less worried about being remembered, and more focused on nurturing and helping those that I can.

The Knockturnal: Where would you like to see the film industry in a couple years? 

Pritesh Shah: I’d like to see it in a place where we don’t have to “try” to include different people under umbrella words like “diversity” or “people of color.” I’ve seen them cause more division because there is a lack of understanding of what those terms actually mean. It’s led to people acting out of guilt like I stated, instead of expanding on their awareness. As we continue to move in the direction, we’ll be more focused on the great stories, and less on who made them.

The Knockturnal: While chasing your dreams, have you ever feared failure? If so, when? What values do you live by to help advance your career to the next level?

Pritesh Shah: Similar to most people, I’ve always had a fear of failure. That was probably one of the things that fueled me to work really hard. Growing up, my father was very strict and incredibly disciplined. Although he could’ve gone at it by being a little softer with me, I do appreciate the determination and long-term thinking that he embedded in me.  That being said, I’ve also realized that if I continued to do things out of habit and discipline, I’d experience burnout. It wasn’t going to lead to balance in my life. So over the last decade, I’ve focused on balance and enjoying all aspects of my life, and not just my career advancement. Simply put, I’m more than what I “do.”

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