Actor/writer/producer Meera Simhan created a fictionalized beauty pageant world with CAAMFest feature film Miss India America. The film is a coming-of-age comedy that pokes fun at the world of Indian beauty pageants, while taking a look at one person’s goal to be the best. Tiya Sircar, the lead actress, plays Lily Prasad, who joins a pageant in part to impress her ex-boyfriend. The film is also about female friendships and includes a great ensemble cast: Simhan, who plays Lily’s mom; Hannah Simone (of New Girl) plays the pageant favorite and is co-executive producer; and Lily’s best friend Seema, played by Kosha Patel, among others.
The film is co-written by Simhan with her husband, Ravi Kapoor (Crossing Jordan), who directed Miss India America. Born in London, Simhan grew up in the United States and also spent some time in London. Fun fact: Simhan was at CAAMFest in 2010 for Raspberry Magic.
What inspired you to create this film?
It is my first feature as a writer. I co-wrote the script with Ravi Kapoor, who directed it. Ravi’s my husband as well. It’s our first writing venture together.
I had a solo [stage] show called Miss India America. The solo show was autobiographical and followed my life from 7-29. It’s a completely wholly originally script—all that’s similar is the world of beauty pageants. That’s how Miss India America, the movie, came about. Ravi and I teamed with our producer Megha Kadakia. Megha and I have been working together since I did my solo show.
What is your personal background with beauty pageants?
I was Miss India California a long time ago. So that was part of the inspiration. I knew the world so I was able to take some memories I had and situations I had and add to it.
What is your favorite thing about working on your own creative project?
The great thing about working and sort of being able to have creative input on a big level, although it’s very much a collaboration, is that it’s really fulfilling. You’re able to create what you imagined. I love acting as well and working on wonderful projects. But what this did for me, it expands the creativity. You have input on a direct level from writing the script to casting to post-production and completing the film. It is something I want to continue to do.
What is it like being a South Asian woman actor right now?
There’ been great opportunities and barriers as well. One of the reasons we wanted to write this is because we have a really strong South Asian American female who is a force of nature. She has to win at everything and she’s very smart. One of the things we wanted to do in the story, is to have her at the end, learn some things about herself and what it means to win, but we didn’t want to diminish her in terms of her ambition and her desire to feel like she’s doing what she wants to do at life and be successful at it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Check out Miss India America at CAAMFest!