Actress Sheetal Sheth on her vision for the Anjali books for Global Indian children

Actress Sheetal Sheth on her vision for the Anjali books for Global Indian children

Sheetal Sheth is an award-winning Indian American actress associated with performances in a wide range of roles on film and television. Besides acting, Sheth has many other accolades to her name – as author, producer and activist; she is also on the advisory board for Equality Now and ambassador for the Representation Project.

Now, this multi-talented artiste is ready to launch the latest in her inventive children’s illustrated book series – ‘Bravo Anjali’ – in September.

‘iGlobal’ caught up with the actress-producer-author to unravel the inspiration behind the Anjali series of books centred around a little girl with a great big heart, who helps shine a light on diverse Global Indian storylines.

Diverse literature

The key aim behind the Anjali series is to create literature for children which not only celebrates differences, highlights inclusivity and diversity but crucially offers up stories which children can identify with and relate to.

Sheth’s journey as an author of this series began seven years ago when she was pregnant with her eldest daughter.

She recalls: “I was spending more time reading children’s literature and thinking about what I wanted to bring home for her. I am also so intrinsically connected working with children, having done so since I was a young child and have a minor in education.

“As I was researching, I found that many South Asian books were around religions, holidays or extraordinary events and most of the time they were culturally wrong.”

Anjali is born

In 2018, Sheth published her first children’s illustrated book entitled ‘Always Anjali’, which navigates the story of a young girl making friends while being the only girl in the room.

Sheth explains: “I thought why can’t we have books of us just seeing kids and normalise that; why can’t there be books with us walking our dogs?

“And I did not think we are ever going to feel like we are seen as part of the kind of the mainstream tapestry that is the world if we are not able to see ourselves as heroes. There should be as many stories about us in the mundane as there are in the extraordinary. And so, for me, that’s really what my impetus was.”

Designed for children aged between 3 and 9, the Anjali series which began with ‘Always Anjali’ continues its journey with ‘Bravo Anjali’, currently available for pre-order. The story follows the little girl being teased by the boys in the class for being good at playing the tabla, the Indian percussion instrument, while being the only girl in the room.

Finding your feet

Whilst ‘Always Anjali’ highlighted the importance of owning your differences and celebrating your authentic self, ‘Bravo Anjali’ follows the young character as she learns to celebrate her gifts and not allowing anyone to make her feel bad for being good at something.

The storyline came to Sheth amid the #MeToo movement and the conflict between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as they clashed during the presidential campaign in 2016.

She shares: “There was so much happening, a lot of misogyny and sexism that was amplified. It made me think about all of the people, especially women, who have never been able to live their best life or to the potential they know they could have had because of the sexism and misogyny.

“As I thought about the sexism, it clicked in me that the tabla is predominantly played by men, we rarely see women playing it. I thought to myself that this is it, Anjali will be playing the tabla; she’s going to be the only girl in her class, and she is going to be the best and the kids won’t like it. But she will pursue her gift regardless.”

Juggling life

Throughout the coronavirus lockdown, Sheth has been busy with a number of projects and the year 2021 promises to be a jam-packed one for her. After the release of ‘Bravo Anjali’ later this year, the third in the Anjali series is due to be released by autumn 2022. And, there is another book is in the works too.

With three Best Actress nods under her belt on the festival circuit for ‘The World Unseen’, ‘Wings of Hope’ and ‘Grin’, Sheth has a number of upcoming acting projects lined up too: “I will be starring in ‘Hummingbird’, a movie that I have produced. We are currently in post-production and hopefully, it will find its way on the screens by the end of this year and early next.

“I am also actively working on a TV show, which I created and is in development.”

On juggling the demands of a busy life, she credits her organisational skills for being able to tick off her to-do list.

“I plot daily tasks and goals, right to the week and month, with clear short-term and long-term goals. There is no such thing as balance, something gives at all times. You have to decide what you’re going to be focusing on all the time.”

Soldiering on

As someone who was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, Sheth has found different ways of dealing with the challenges that life throws her way.

She reflects: “I have two young children who are at home more, and my husband is also working from home. We live in a small apartment and it can get messy, but I have a sense of humour about it. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, I have been through years of treatment and I am doing fine.

“But my mortality is on top of my mind. I really have no idea what the future will bring for me. In an instant in a day, it could dramatically change and not for the best. So, what I’m trying to do is find the humour and joy in all of this, not to say that it is not challenging, but I am trying to stay in that place of joy.”

*Info: A free downloadable teaching guide is available for educators and parents on AlwaysAnjali.Com as a curated resource with prompts and questions for teachers and parents to ask. Sheth explains: “The guide helps them to look at the book through a certain lens, especially if you’re a teacher or a parent who is trying to have these conversations.”

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