The secret to success is finding the perfect person. For producer Marietta Melrose (known for her work on the Peabody Award and Image Awards nominated Netflix series Atypical) and her television series What Next, this meant finding consummate comedic actors who were also immigrants themselves. Enter South Asian actress Geetika Budhiraja as Sakshi, nemesis of the immigrant Laura in this tale of contrasting sides of fame and undocumented status in the United States. The irony of an immigrant herself playing the bully to another immigrant was appealing to Budhiraja who has an inclination to test boundaries, as evident in her one-woman stand-up comedy show run in Hollywood. There’s a notable reason why this Indian born talent is attracting such attention in Hollywood; in addition to her charisma and skill, it’s clear that Geetika finds something profound in herself to contribute to every production she takes on.
Marietta Melrose plays the central character Laura in What Next. Laura is in the precarious situation of living in America without legal standing while working for high profile celebrities in Hollywood. The demands of the antagonist to Laura’s story were quite substantial. Geetika ideally manifests the character of Sakshi, an immigrant who is determined to use everything at her disposal to block any chance for Laura’s success. From throwing Laura “under the bus” in front of the boss to gaslighting volatile situations with prominent influencers, Sakshi is delightful to despise. Budhiraja confides, “Being a bully doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. Rather it was very hard and sort of triggering to study and embody being a bully, as I’d say I was and still am the one to get bullied. It needed a lot of character research and work from me. I had to have empathy and understanding of the psyche for the mean/negative/gaslighting behaviors of people who are broken/damaged and deeply hurt inside. The hurt and unresolved trauma causes a person/character to be mean. No one is born evil, it’s the struggles and conditioning of the circumstances.” Unearthing this soft side of Sakshi becomes a pivotal point in the story when it is revealed that she has switched to helping Laura. In the hands of a lesser empathetic and skilled actress, Sakshi might have been one dimensional but Geetika’s portrayal brings the most satisfying story arc of the series.
The sense of empathy which Ms. Budhiraja utilizes so adeptly is gained through placing herself in vulnerable moments of revelation. Perhaps nowhere is this more clearly seen than in her upcoming one-woman comedy show and Stand Up appearances at Melrose California’s The Comedy Nook. Offering up topics ranging from her South Asian family and roots to spirituality, sensuality, and more, Geetika took possession of her ethnic and gender identity in the way that comedy leaders of previous generations have also done. Speaking from a place of personal identity, she relates, “My show has to come from a personal and individual perspective. For example, I talk about how I make pole dance a healing, spiritual, and transformational journey. I added in a little pole trick and Tarot/Akashic cards reading techniques as part of my jokes. I talk about the pandemic and my love life with my pole. What inspires me is, I was so busy with my healing journey and acting/writing career that I got into a relationship with a metal pole in my house during the pandemic.”
There’s a nucleus of light in all of the darkness which Geetika Budhiraja finds in her roles and the world. As someone who has lived in a number of different countries, becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable has educated this actress on fixing her attention towards the positivity of any situation. The ability to transform the harshness of all people and relationships into ones which bring forth humor is a powerful attribute for any actor; Geetika does so with an ease that belies its own complexity. Perhaps this is because an actor must embrace the humor in the difficulty of the profession they’ve chosen to pursue. Consider the fact that the very moment in which What Next finished post production, the Covid 19 pandemic began and shut down the film festival events where it was to be seen. Now, as What Next is being considered for the London Independent Film Fest, Cannes Diversity and inclusion film fest, and others, the humor of waiting nearly two years is not lost at all on Geetika, nor are the accolades already pouring in for her performance in it.