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monica bhatnagar: biography

Unbeknownst to me, my acting career started in 4th grade when I starred as Tom Sawyer in an adaption of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Acting, like dance, always came naturally to me. I just did it. I didn’t over analyze what I was doing, I didn’t seek anyone’s approval, I didn’t doubt my ability. I just did it. I performed in plays, I was an active member of my High School forensics team, and I traveled all around the world for dance, including Russia and Denmark. I have always loved performing, but I am a first generation Indian-American woman and at the risk of sounding cynical, we don’t apply to theatre programs let alone move to Hollywood to act. It was not an option in my family. My parents always assured me that I could be the best at whatever I did, as long as it was one of the following: Engineering, Law, Medicine, Business. I know, without a doubt, that my parents always have my best interest in mind. I was good at math and science, and so I decided to give engineering a go at the University of Michigan. Although, I danced occasionally in college, it wasn’t until 2008 that I was reunited with acting.

I designed integrated circuits for wireless products. I can’t say that I hated every minute of it. Most of it was fine, and the money was great, and I can honestly say that I did good work. A few years into the profession, however, I found myself commuting 500 miles a week to a job that left me feeling hollow, bored and worst of all purposeless. What’s the point in all of this? Maybe I was a glutton for punishment, but I could not quit; not on my own accord anyway. My golden handcuffs were tightly fastened, and my confidence had plummeted to an all time low. I am not sure if the Universe heard my silent pleas to step in, or those of my family and friends who had begged me to quit, but one glorious day I was laid-off.....

With countless hours of free-time on my hands, I decided to volunteer at the San Francisco SPCA and the Institute on Aging. I also decided that my Hindi needed a brush up, and so I started a conversational Hindi group. Two people showed up to the first meeting, one of whom was a man involved in theatre. He invited me to his upcoming performance at San Francisco City College. My gut told me to go, and so I did. I can do this. I can totally do this. I felt inspired by the performance and so I enrolled in a beginning acting class at City College in San Francisco, and the rest, as they say, is history. I never felt more alive as I did when I was in front of the class performing a monologue or a scene. I could do this, I was having fun, and I was doing well. I kept in touch with the instructor from City College who is also a professor at CSU-East Bay. She encouraged me to take a monologue/story writing class during the summer of 2008 which I did, and this past November I performed an original solo piece called Bollywood Princess.

Bollywood Princess was a life changing experience for me, because it not only confirmed for me that this is what I need to be doing with my life, but it also showed me that I have the capacity to do great work, to move people with my work and to feel confident and happy while doing this work. My last performance was a Sunday matinee, and for the first time, the audience and my nerves completely disappeared and I became someone else. I felt the character’s pain, I felt her joy. I became the little girl in the story. After the show, I went backstage and was so overwhelmed with emotion. So, this is what it feels like to live. The director came backstage; she was in tears. She said the woman next to her was in tears. I was able to move people. To affect them. To transport them. To take them on this journey with me.

I want to do this again. I have to do this again, and I have no doubt that I will. Coming to this realization hasn’t been easy, because I have encountered a lot of resistance from well-intentioned family members as well as my own doubts, but I have stopped denying myself the right to be happy, and I am slowly learning that it is okay to take risks; to put myself out there. I am looking forward to what the future will bring. I have truly tasted what it feels like be alive, and there’s no going back. I would be a fool not to pursue this. I am looking forward to working on more projects. I am happy to be acting and dancing, and for once in my life doing things that bring me joy, give me confidence and provide for me a sense of purpose. I am moving forward full steam ahead. I know what I want to be when I grow up, and I am happily taking the road less traveled to get there.