Deepa & Anoop: Netflix’s newest animated series stars a fresh voice from Burnaby
12-year-old Burnaby resident Pavan Bharaj never imagined that she would be the show's lead voice, but now it's all sinking in.
Sabrina Badal never saw cartoon characters that looked like her on TV when she was growing up. Now, she gets to see that representation in a new Netflix animated series titled Deepa & Anoop and her daughter, Pavan Bharaj, has the lead role.
Pavan is the voice of Deepa, a seven-year-old Indian girl who lives in Mango Manor, a bed and breakfast run by her multi-generational family. The show follows Deepa’s daily adventures with her best friend, a colourful baby elephant named Anoop.
The 12-year-old Burnaby resident never imagined that she would be the voice of Deepa, but now it’s all sinking in.
“I was completely shocked,” Pavan told the Beacon. “Never in a million years did I think I would actually get the part.”
It’s been a whirlwind experience for Pavan—who is new to acting—and it all started when her mom spotted an open casting call for the show posted on a Facebook group, and encouraged her to audition.
“It seemed like something really fun and cool and exciting that I might enjoy doing, so I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’ Because I never really thought that I would actually get the part. It was just something I thought I would try,” explained Pavan.
A few days later, the casting director was in touch and asked for another tape, and then they followed up again asking Pavan for a singing audition.
“Then, literally the day after, or two days after that, they’re like, ‘OK congratulations you got the part,'” Sabrina said.
COVID restrictions meant that Pavan’s recording sessions took place with just a technician in the sound booth, while the director and musical director were guiding her via Zoom. Normally, the other voice actors would be in the studio allowing them to “riff off each other … and feed off each other’s energy,” explained Sabrina, but due to the pandemic, Pavan was reading her lines alone.
“It really took a lot of effort and energy on her part to be able to … do those lines and pretend like she’s having a conversation when there’s nobody else [there],” said Sabrina.
Recording all 13 episodes took about a year, and Pavan was finally able to hear her character come alive in Deepa on Monday when the show made its Netflix premiere.
Although Pavan knew what her voice was going to sound like because she heard playback clips during recording, she said “it was still really shocking and so cool” to hear herself on TV.
As for Sabrina, she’s nothing short of a proud mom.
“I know all the time and effort and hard work she put into it. And to see it on … the screen, it was just so incredibly amazing,” she said.
Sabrina’s pride doesn’t just stem from seeing and hearing her daughter play a character; she also recognizes how the show will have a powerful impact on young South Asian children, who will be able to see a character who looks like them and has a family similar to theirs on screen.
“I have a younger daughter as well, she’s six. And for her to be able to watch Deepa and see herself reflected, and see her values and her culture … shown in such a wonderful, fun environment, in such an interesting way on TV is so important because it makes people of colour feel valued, and it makes our experience feel acknowledged, and it makes kids feel like they can truly be anything they want to be,” she said.
“It’s great for people of South Asian culture, but it’s also great for anyone watching it because, hopefully, they will walk away learning something new.”
A release from Mattel Television, the toy and entertainment giant that produced Deepa & Anoop, said the show has a “strong focus on the authenticity of Deepa’s Indian heritage” and includes 18 original song and dance performances, several of which are inspired by Bollywood numbers.
The show’s main cast is also voiced by South Asian actors, including Veena Sood (The Twilight Zone) and Ana Sana (The Magic School Bus).
For Pavan, everything from the on-screen representation to that of the voice actors is “what makes this cartoon such a big deal… because it’s one of the very few cartoons that are about a South Asian family and it’s really important that people can see themselves on the TV screen.”