For years Disney Channel has been known for producing loved original films for children and teens, and now for the first time ever has an Indian American Movie Star in Spin. Meet Avantika Vandanpu who plays Rhea, a driven and confident teen whose life revolves around her close-knit family, their restaurant, and her after-school coding club. Everything changes when a new passion ignites inside Rhea, creating music and becoming a DJ. Rhea is caught juggling her family duties while also trying to find the courage to follow her dreams.
This is not Avantika’s only acting experience. The young actress has had success in India playing in small roles in Telugu-language South Indian films. But something about that career trajectory did not feel right for her. “It was my first American audition ever,” Avantika tells Teen Vogue. Growing up as a dancer in the Bay Area, Avantika was drawn to the English-speaking dramatic arts. “Acting in America, in English, in films that I watched…that is just something that I did not let myself dream of for a very long time,” she says. “[But] as representation grows in this industry…I felt I could shoot my shot now.” That is exactly what Avantika did. Overcoming the well-known stereotype that Indian parents want their children to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers, Avantika’s mother was her biggest champion in her acting career.
From a young age, Avantika’s parents made sure they instilled pride in their Indian heritage in her upbringing. Being a lifelong Bollywood fan and speaking Telugu at home, Avantika hopes to contribute to the endless number of stories that could uplift Hollywood to have real representation. Showcasing the South Asian diaspora and their identities and culture cannot be done with one story, but Spin is a start. “I hope that there will come a time when we have a diverse range of stories to reference and that we won’t be counting the projects that represent our community on one hand,” Avantika says.
Although Spin will not speak for an entire community, there’s not to say it won’t be representative of a child immigrant’s internal struggle. The character, Rhea, conflicts when she is unable to communicate to her family her newfound passion for producing music. At the age of 16, this actress is on the cusp of being a new star in the industry. Preferring to be identified by her first name only, Avantika feels more sure of herself than ever, her name is a marker of that. “I’ve always resonated more with my first name, and I think it sounds super cool and true to me,” she says.
The movie will begin production in Toronto this fall and premiere on the Disney Channel in 2021. Directed by Manjari Makijany (Skater Girl), Spin is set to be a step forward for Disney Channel Original Films and representation in Hollywood permanently.