Some say it’s luck, some call it the Law of Attraction; others can swear that it’s written. For Kavi Ladnier, whatever it was, she knew what she wanted to do with her life at an age when most girls were wondering about what a belly button was or why Play-Doh didn’t taste as good it looked. “I knew I wanted to be an actress when I was 5,” Kavi says cheerfully, “I didn’t know what it meant to be an actress, but I knew I was supposed to be one.” She giggles infectiously. “I did my first play when I was 6. I was in The Ugly Duckling and was too small to be the Ugly Duckling, so they created a role for me. I was the eldest sibling duckling, with a solo song and everything.”
Kavi Ladnier is recognizable as Mira Shenoy, the unrequited love of Mohinder Suresh on the first season of NBC’s hit comic book saga, “Heroes”. She epitomized what unwavering loyalty meant in the one scene she had alone with him, intrigued and apologetic with a touch of Paro to his Devdas. When asked if Mira will be back, Kavi states “Hopefully, you never know. The cool thing with that is they left it open. I felt there was a lot of chemistry between Mira and Mohinder. I would love to be back. She was the head of a genetics company; they might need her.”
While most South Asian American parents push their children to pursue careers in medicine and business, Kavi states she was lucky to have parents that didn’t dismiss her dream, “They supported me doing plays and performing all through elementary school, middle school, high school, but I think my mom just thought I would lose interest, and shake it off, do something else. At one point she said ‘What about journalism?’ that somehow it seemed better.” But she never lost her interest in acting and it was evident to everyone around her. After elementary school in Ohio, her parents relocated the family to New York, but beforehand, Kavi’s Girl Scout troop threw her a going away party. “I remember on the cake, it said ‘Give Our Regards To Broadway.’ When I think of that I realize that it wasn’t just in my head, I really did put it out there. Everyone around me knew that this is what I really wanted to do.”
That kind of calling lead Kavi to study at NYU for undergrad, getting a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts while starting to work professionally her senior year. She performed in the American premiere of a play called Pentecost by David Edgar at Yale Repertory Theatre. “The role was originally supposed to be Sri Lankan, and spoken in Sinhalese. However because I am from Kerala I had it translated into Malayalam. The playwright changed it in the script to say S. Indian so in a way I originated this character here in the States. It was really a fantastic experience. I took a semester off from my senior year to do the play. I was actually going to graduate early, so in the end I just graduated with my class. It was perfect.” After school, she immediately started working, doing “Subway Stories” with HBO, a lot of theatre and short films. She even starred in an Indian art film called Janani, which won India’s National Award for Best Director. Soon she got married to singer/ songwriter Cooper Madison and had a beautiful daughter.
She worked on “Law & Order” and then she did Seven.Eleven with New York City’s production company, Desipina. The series of short plays were well received by critics and audiences alike, “And then friends began coming out of the woodwork saying ‘Kavi, you’ve got to come to LA, there’s so much more opportunity’. I really started considering it as it had already been on my mind.” She recalls,”I remember reading O magazine and there was this quote by William H. Murray. It was talking about providence, when you make a choice, that when you really make a decision with your heart, not a wishy washy ‘Well…I could do this, I could do that’; but a really clear decision, providence steps in and things happen that you wouldn’t even imagine could happen to make it all work out. The moment I read that, I just decided.”
Arriving in Los Angeles, she had roles on “Las Vegas” and Mr. Woodcock before landing a plum role in Sarba Das’ completed film, Karma Calling. The romantic comedy takes place in Hoboken, New Jersey and tells the story of the Raj family dealing with outsourcing, love, and credit card debt. In the film, Kavi plays the role of Radha, a village girl from India who arrives in America on her way to marry a Dollar Store mogul but things get complicated when she meets the Raj’s college drop out son, Shyam. Narrated by SAG winner Tony Sirico (Paulie from “The Sopranos”), Karma Calling premiered to sold out crowds at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival on March 13th. The film will also be presented at the upcoming Chicago Asian American Film Festival in April along with many more festivals to come throughout the year.
With Slumdog Millionaire sweeping the Academy Awards and more South Asians being seen both on the silver screen and television, Kavi can’t help but feel humbled and grateful to be where she is. “It’s exciting, to see how much has changed since I started.” she says, “It makes me feel excited that I have a film, that’s finished and ready to be seen by audiences. The timing is wonderful. I hope it’s the beginning of many wonderful things. We have a lot of talent in our community and we have to continue to create our own projects, and keep moving forward. I get emails from young people thanking me for showing that it’s possible to pursue this career and be successful. That’s exciting to me. I love that I am doing what I love to do. I want my daughter and other kids to see that they too can do whatever they puts their hearts and minds to.”
– Salma Khan