When Manish Dayal watched Jurassic Park as a kid, he knew that he wanted to be in the film business. The emotions, the spectacle, the sets, the story – everything about films intrigued him. But little did he know that this dream was soon going to be realized when he made his first appearance in front of the camera. Everything changed for this boy from South Carolina, and movies and television became his real world.
With 90210, The Resident and The Hundred-Foot Journey to his credit, Dayal is inching towards success with each role. Meet the Global Indian who has been breaking the stereotypes with each passing film.
Love for theatre
Born as Manish Patel to Gujarati parents, Dayal grew up in South Carolina. With nothing much to do, Dayal would often find himself glued to television watching films. It was Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park that left a profound effect on a young Dayal, so much so, that he wanted to make it big in the entertainment industry. After completing his schooling from Heathwood Hall in Columbia, Dayal enrolled himself at George Washington University to pursue a degree in International Business. It was here that Dayal discovered theatre and instantly fell in love with it. Dayal knew that it was his true calling, so he packed his bags and moved to New York to pursue his dream of making it big in the entertainment industry.
With no godfather in the industry, Dayal began his journey with commercials. McDonald’s, Nintendo, Dominos’s Pizza – every big brand had Dayal’s face plastered on it. One such commercial caught the fancy of Scott Elliot who was then planning to give a Broadway twist to Ayub Khan-Din’s Rafta Rafta, and Dayal found himself playing the lead in a production that opened to full house in New York in 2008.
The positive response to the Off Broadway production opened many doors for Dayal. If he made his Hollywood debut with a small role in the 2010 film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, he saw himself making special appearances on American television with Outsourced and Crime Scene Investigation.
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While Dayal was steadily climbing up the ladder of success with each role, not many know that direction was his first love. But a sudden opportunity to be in front of the camera made Dayal fall in love with acting. “I had no clue what I was doing. It was weird, but there was something so cool about it—it was kind of like free falling and not knowing what you’re doing, but at the same time, I understood it. After that experience, I was hooked,” he told Interview Magazine.
The 2011 show 90210 that put a spotlight on Dayal for playing an effervescent Raj Kher. Suddenly Dayal had become the dream boyfriend of every American girl, all thanks to his show. “It was huge because that Raj was devoid of any sort of ethnic reference. It was a place for me to spotlight what it means to be a young American in America today,” he told The Hindu. This new found popularity helped Dayal break some stereotypes about Asian representation on American TV with Switched at Birth, The Good Wife, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While American TV had become Dayal’s second home, he found his big break in Hollywood with Steven Spielberg’s The Hundred-Foot Journey. When he auditioned for the film, he had no idea what the project was, apart from the fact that he had to play a young Indian boy in the film. But his audition tape left producers Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey so impressed that he immediately got a call from director Lasse Hallstorm informing that Spielberg wants to hire him.
“When I learned that Steven was involved in this movie, I wasn’t nervous because I knew whatever it was, it had to be special. Steven Spielberg was my idol growing up. I knew that all of his movies have a very specific message and point of view, and the always are really epic,” he added.
The Hundred-Foot Journey didn’t just give him a chance to work with Spielberg but also an opportunity to share screen space with a legend like Helen Mirren. The success of this film helped Dayal bag a role in Gurinder Chadha‘s 2017 partition drama Viceroy’s House that opened at Berlin International Film Festival. With two powerful films to his credit, Dayal smashed the glass ceiling when he got one of the main roles in American medical drama The Resident. Dayal is a part of the brigade that’s representing South Asians on the big screen in a powerful way. It was during the prep for the show that Dayal realized how few South Asians are represented on TV, and he wants to take every opportunity to create the right space for more South Asian actors to follow.
“I think it’s important that we create. It’s important that we diversify the portfolio. Try everything and diversify as much as you can because creating as much as you can ultimately provide opportunities for all. Even as an actor, I am an Indian-American man in the US; roles are going to be few for me. We’re not represented as fully as some other ethnic groups,” he told American Bazaar Online.
Dayal, who fell in love with acting at a young age, has become a known face on American TV, thanks to 90210 and The Resident. The 38-year-old is helping bring inclusivity and diversity with each of his roles, something that many actors have failed to pull off.