Young hopefuls of the Valley waited in line at the McAllen Renaissance Hotel for a chance to become members of the acting program Celebrity Star Event. Amid 2,500 faces, two sisters from Edinburg stood out with a unique look that the American performance world doesn’t see too often.
“I was like, ‘We’re Indian,’ like right after we finished [auditioning],” Raveena Chandra, 17, said, explaining her quick exchange with Adrian R’Mante, creator of the program. “He was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, we don’t have any Indians.’ So it was kind of like, boom! ‘I want you two,’ because I think we were the only Indian people there.”
After a long process of classes, travelling and auditioning, sisters Sunena, 19, and Raveena Chandra signed a contract with Acclaim Talent Agency out of Austin and Louisiana on June 26.
Originally from California, the girls moved to the Valley with their parents and older brother in 2005. Although they had never acted before, the girls were no strangers to the stage. Growing up, they danced in talent shows, festivals and a traditional Indian event called Diwali, also known as the Indian Festival of Lights.
“We’ve always been on stage, it’s just that we’ve been doing dancing,” said Sunena. “So, when the acting thing came up, I wasn’t sure. It was an interest to me, but I didn’t really visualize it as being a career or anything like that. I was shocked that I actually made it.”
Celebrity Star Event is an acting camp developed by actor Adrian R’Mante, most known for his role as Esteban Ramirez in the 2005-2008 Disney television series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Young actors are coached by chief celebrities from Disney and Nickelodeon networks who help develop and fine tune their performance skills and teach them how to navigate their way through the business aspects of the industry.
“Adrian [R’Mante] said that when he was younger he didn’t get that opportunity,” UTPA sophomore Raveena explained. “So this whole thing that he has going on is just to prepare us so we know what to do and if we do get an audition, how to control it and get the job.”
Without any previous acting experience, Sunena and Raveena ranked in the top 30 contenders for the Celebrity Star Event auditions, which occurred about two months ago. They attended weekend classes in McAllen for four weeks, polishing their techniques and working as a student of Jonathan Goldstein, who played the role of Walter Nichols on the 2004-2007 Nickelodeon show Drake and Josh.
The girls memorized line after line of their commercials and monologues, flexing their vocals and playing with their emotions all in preparation for their major audition in Austin, where they would have a chance of becoming signed actors.
“The program is to give us confidence like, ‘Yeah, we can do this,’” Sunena, a UTPA senior of pre-med chemistry explained.
Nearly three weeks ago, the sisters travelled to Austin and competed for a position with an acting agency against 500 other Celebrity Star Event students in Texas. Weeks of preparation had all come down to a mere two minutes in front of 28 agents from all over the nation.
“The [agent] said, ‘I don’t have Indian people in my agency. I don’t have that many minorities and Indian people are getting more into the industry,’” the younger sister said recalling her conversation with an agent of Acclaim.
In the end it was Acclaim Talent Agency that the girls won over, signing a two year contract in the Austin location and one year contract in Louisiana. They explained that it was their confident demeanor and rare ethnic look that helped land them the slot.
The process as a whole has had a handful of ups and downs for the sisters. From doubts, to excitement and tears, their family has supported them every step of the way and is proud of what they have accomplished.
“In my country, they don’t have opportunity like this so that’s why I want to start it for the both of them,” mother Rina Chandra said.
Neither of the girls knows what to expect when the auditions start to come their way, but they would like to ultimately be working in Bollywood, the musically based Hindu-language film industry in India.
“I feel more connected with Bollywood because when I was little, [mom] would bring Bollywood movies like every week,” Sunena said. “But I’ve always loved Bollywood, especially the dancing and everything since we’ve always been dancing since we were little.”
As for what the more immediate future holds, “only time will tell,” Sunena said. They plan to continue with their schooling and find a way to balance acting and education once they get started. After paperwork is processed with Acclaim, the girls will be ready for auditions and potentially a life of stardom.
“It’s kind of like we always come in twos. If you take one, you got to take the other,” Raveena said with a laugh. “I guess we’re different because when they see us it’s like, ‘Oh there are more people coming into the industry.’ [It’s] something different for people to see.”