In the world of non-Hollywood entertainment, Sarita Choudhury is a legend. A leading name on the independent circuit for close to three decades, she has been the star of directors such as Mira Nair and Manoj Night, Spike Lee and M. Night Shyamalan.
Choudhury recently appeared as Seema Patel in And Just Like That… (2021-22), the reboot of the critically acclaimed Sex and the City (1998-2004).
In the series, Patel is one of the main characters and a realtor who becomes the new best friend of Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker.
This is the first time Choudhury became part of the iconic show, and she is already receiving plaudits for her performance with fans eager to see more of her character’s perfect dressing sense as the 10-episode And Just Like That… heads for its season finale on 3 February 2022, Thursday, on HBO GO.
Who is Sarita Choudhury?
Born to an Indian father and a British mother, Choudhury made her on-screen debut as the lead of Nair’s Mississippi Masala in 1991, starring opposite Denzel Washington.
The film earned her accolades, more of which she amassed with equally unforgettable roles in films such as Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996), A Perfect Murder (1998), She Hate Me (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006).
She has also been praised for playing Egeria in the first two instalments of The Hunger Games trilogy as well as Zahara, opposite Tom Hanks, in A Hologram for the King (2016) — both of which are two of her more recent ‘Hollywood-esque’ films.
Her most recent film appearance was the main role of Mother in the universally acclaimed The Green Knight (2021).
Apart from the big screen, Choudhury has essayed a wide range of characters since the 1990s on TV shows, including Homeland (2011-17).
Choudhury talks about cast, diversity and comedy in And Just Like That…
In an interview at a recent AJLT press junket, Sarita Choudhury shared her thoughts about how And Just Like That… gave specific importance to diversity and how today looks different from her early years when “every show was white” to her.
She reveals how hard it was for her to keep the storyline a secret even from her close friend. While praising the cast for the performance, Choudhury says that it was a new experience for her doing the kind of comedy depicted in the classic series despite her vast repertoire on the stage and the screen.
Choudhury also underlines the work of costume designer Molly Rogers for creating the wardrobe for her fashion-forward character.
As for a new season, she signs off on a hopeful note.
Q: You are Carrie Bradshaw’s new best friend – what every woman wants to be!
SC: Oh my god, it’s so exciting. What you just said, I mean, I know I’m doing that, but part of my brain still doesn’t understand it. Still. I see the posters, I’m still like, I don’t understand. I don’t know when it’s going to land that this is what I’ve done.
Q: Does it just feel too surreal?
SC: At the beginning it was surreal, when I was offered it. But now, because I know Sarah Jessica Parker and we’ve been working for months, that part doesn’t feel surreal. But when I see the posters, that feels weird because this show is so iconic, like why am I in a poster? That doesn’t make sense.
Q: What’s it like working with Sarah Jessica Parker?
SC: She’s so interesting because she’s one of the busiest people I know. Everyone wants to talk to her. So, you’re dealing already with a lot to figure out who she is. But one thing I like about Sarah Jessica Parker is she’s very present. So, when you’re talking to her, it’s like, if you’re funny, she’ll suddenly look at you and just this raucous laughter comes out. She’s so personable, she kind of blew my mind.
Q: Were you a fan of the original series?
SC: When it first came out, I didn’t even have a TV, let alone HBO. I was poor. Who had HBO? Who could afford cable? But somehow – which just shows how popular the show was – it permeated. You would see it at someone’s house or in some way. And then one summer I was in Italy going through a break-up, and it was on with subtitles, and I remember I just had to binge watch. It solved my break-up! I was in Italy, feeling so lonely, and suddenly I was fine.
Q: That’s why these characters are amazing to watch, right?
SC: Yeah, because you don’t feel like you’re the only one. Part of break-ups is the embarrassment of telling the truth of what happened. You edit it a little bit, even to your close friends. It’s really hard to even know what the truth is. And this show deals with that.
Q: What can you tell us about Seema?
SC: Playing Seema was a little hard for me at the beginning because she’s just not shy or private. She doesn’t hold any thought back. Everything’s on the front foot. Even the way she dresses, like, it’s not too much to wear four metal chains and a leopard hanging from her. And I do not have that headspace. So, first of all, just doing that, and then being with Carrie… I would say in life, I’m more of a Carrie. So, to act with a Carrie, but being the opposite of a Carrie, was hard at first. Once I got into the joy of all that, playing Seema was so wonderful because the show also allows me to show where she’s from, her background. Again, without doing it heavy handedly. I’m not representing every Indian, so there’s no pressure on me, but they wanted to make sure that I was fully fleshed out, and I just love the show for that. It’s not trying to solve any problems, but it’s also like, we’re in 2021. You can’t get away with stuff anymore.
Q: Lots of shows, when you look at them retrospectively, were not very diverse. How do you feel AJLT has handled that change?
SC: It’s interesting because back then, every show was white to me. I would have been crazy if I was looking for me in a show, because it didn’t exist. And also, I had India, I watched Indian films, so I didn’t care. But I was nervous when I knew this show was going to include me and Karen Pittman and Nicole Ari Parker and Sara Ramirez. I was thinking, wait, that’s four extra people. How are they going to do this well? But what I love that the writers pulled off, and Michael Patrick King was very strong about this, is we can do this if we also admit our own problems in doing it. That’s the only way we can pull this off. And I’m a bit like that in life. If someone asks me where I’m from, sometimes I’m too tired to explain it all, so I just say Montreal. So, what I love about Michael Patrick King is he understands comedy, but yet being in the real world, and also, we’re flawed. So, I like that in the writing, with the new diverse team.
Q: What is AJLT doing for women in their 50s that the original show did for women in their 30s?
SC: It’s even more important now because you can’t go anywhere for help if you’re a woman in your 50s. There’s a lot of stuff about women in their 30s. So, what’s great about this time is, for me, I would read the scripts and be like, really? They’re going to talk about that? I’m so excited that the way they went there in their 30s, they’re doing that again. I’ve hardly ever seen this on TV or film. It has a similarity with the old show, like HBO was the only network to allow nudity. So that was the first show that you’d be like… oh my god! It’s a comedy so you don’t expect to see nudity. Now the same thing has happened because we’re in our 50s, and you don’t expect to hear about certain things because people don’t talk about it on other shows.
Q: How hard was it to keep the storylines under wraps?
SC: I remember one day I was sitting having coffee with a friend of mine, who I always have coffee with, at least once a week. She’s a very close friend. I was about to say something about the show, and I looked at her and I just stopped talking. And she went: ‘but it’s me’. And I was like, I don’t care. Because you’re going to go home, and maybe you’ll be tipsy one night, and you’ll say something. We all do it. So, I just stopped talking about the show. And it was hard, because if you’re going through something and you want to talk it out… But I could talk to Kristin Davis or Sarah Jessica Parker or Cynthia Nixo. That’s how I figured out how to do it.
Q: What was the experience of filming it like?
SC: My background is a lot of dramas. I’ve done comedy on stage, like I’ve done farce, but I’ve never done this kind of comedy. So, Michael Patrick King was really good because he will just yell from across the room: ‘Nope! This word is funny. That word is not funny. If you take a pause on that, it’s funny. If you don’t take a pause, not funny.’ It’s kind of like math, and I loved it. I wasn’t good at it at first. I started getting good at it. But what I realised to get good at it is you can’t have an ego. Stand-up comics are so brave, because they’re just like, egg-on-face, standing there, brushing it off if no one laughs. I felt like I had to become a bit like that. It was really fun to learn the techniques, and then throw that away and just pretend it’s all about the lipstick and the cigarette. Hats off to those ladies. I had no idea it was that hard.
Q: Seema’s wardrobe is incredible. How did you feel when you saw the clothes?
SC: Well, first of all, Molly Rogers the costume designer – her room is so beautiful. It’s got a chaise lounge and there are all the hats and the flowers. It looks like you’re in a store. And, when she bought my clothes over, it’s not what I’m used to. I have played rich characters before, but they’re not going to put you in the actual clothes that rich people wear. They’re going to cheat it.
But everything I wore, I would be like, ‘How much are these pants? They look so good on me.’ There came a point where Molly Rogers said, ‘You can’t ask me that anymore. It’s gonna hurt you.’
Then I realised why they look so good, and why rich people look so good. The cut and the material is so mind blowing, everything was impeccable. I was in heaven.
Q: What does the wardrobe say about your character, Seema?
SC: Everything. What I love about Seema is there were some scenes where it was clearly the wrong outfit to wear to that kind of event, and Seema’s like, ‘What? I’m wearing this.’ And what was so great was I started to understand the comedy of Seema dressing for herself, she doesn’t care about anyone’s opinions. I never thought I did either, but I guess I do, because I don’t have the ballsiness that she has. I just don’t have it. So that was fun.
Q: Do you think you’re going to take any of her attitude with you, into your life?
SC: It’s funny because you think you don’t. But maybe a little. Maybe it’s because I just recently finished shooting. I’m sure my friends will be like, ‘give her two weeks’. I think I brought a bit of her home, yeah.
Q: Do you think that there’ll be a second series of And Just Like That…?
SC: Initially, like everyone, I wondered what this show was going to be like. Bringing this back with its new life, how’s it going to work? But now that I’ve done it, and the math we were talking about, and getting good at it… well maybe not, you may look at it and be like, she didn’t get good at it! I don’t know. But the fun of trying to hit those comedic beats, or just open my bag, put on my sunglasses, put on my heels… once I got good at that, I thought, I can’t just do one season. Where am I going to put all this work? I want another season.
(Main and Featured images: Broad Green – © Broad Green Pictures/IMDb)