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Photograph courtesy of HBO Max

Acting Up: Amrit Kaur


Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.

 

The Snapshot:

Amrit Kaur plays a “sex-positive” college freshman juggling hormones with her ambition to write for a high-profile comedy group in the series, The Sex Lives of College Girls.

(The series premiered November 18th on HBO Max.)

 

The Performance:

Much like what Sex and the City did for loose, witty banter and thirtysomething women figuring out the dating world, The Sex Lives of College Girls (a funny new series from Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble) shines an entertaining light on teenage women navigating today’s college scene.

In it, we watch four female freshmen students turned dorm mates at the fictitious – and prestigious – Essex college in Vermont. It’s a slice of American life for a Tinder-obsessed generation consumed by pronouns and IG posting etiquette – but there’s more to it than that.

The Sex Lives of College Girls is not all P and V jokes, but a slightly deeper dive into a college culture that can be liberating – yet also messy and complicated – for people of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. One of the women in this group is the self-described “sex-positive” Bela (Amrit Kaur), who gets dropped off at school by her conservative Indian parents, who push her childhood teddy bear on her as an emotional support animal of sorts.

But Bela is having none of that. She’s deadset on her metamorphosis from high school to college girl to start immediately. “Four months ago, I was an Indian loser with cystic acne, sweaty armpits and glasses. But with one Lasik procedure, an Accutane prescription and medical-grade botox injected into my armpits, I’m normal,” proclaims Bela to them (and us) with conviction.

Like many who arrive in college with big ideas of what they want, Bela spends the early episodes looking for guys with six-packs – while being simultaneously obsessed with getting picked for the school’s illustrious Harvard Lampoon-like comedy group called the Catullan.

Unfortunately, Bela quickly finds out that the odds she’ll make Catullan’s cut are long at best – so she decides to take the situation into her own hands, offering a certain sexual favor to the senior male members of the comedy group. It doesn’t play out exactly how she planned – especially when word gets out to the few women on staff. But when she does make the cut – due to her submission or handiwork (we never quite know) – Bela gets more than she bargained for.

Throughout it all, Kaur is refreshingly fun to watch in the role of Bela. It’s a breakthrough role for her, and to it she brings energy with whip-quick wit and well-delivered lines that inspire more than a few LOL moments. How she plays the evolution from bright-eyed freshman to a more enlightened human being is fun to track, and Kaur does a bang-up job of nailing the more endearing parts of Bela, despite her obsessions. Regardless of her expressed mission to date “hot” guys, you feel her pain when they like her for other reasons – like her sense of humor.

In one post-date, postmortem with her roommates, she relays a particularly cringey moment: “I told him he reminded me of David Beckham – he told me I reminded him of Larry David.”

Great line. I’m just five episodes in but sincerely hope Bela’s overzealous behavior doesn’t bite her in the air-brushed abs.

Only time will tell.

 

The Career:

As a 28-year-old Canadian actress of Indian origin, Kaur got bit by the acting bug in high school when she was senior captain of her improv team. According to this interview with MTV, Kaur amazingly says she was considered “too obnoxious” to take drama. But that hasn’t stopped her from doing drama well in projects of note like Star Trek: Short Treks (2019) and the Canadian web series, The D Cut (2020), where she played a woman who gets smitten by a queer hairstylist.

The latter may have helped pave the way to landing the role of Bela in Sex Lives, which was a piece of cake, right? Well, not exactly. According to this interview with Refinery 29, Kaur talks about how she auditioned despite not having an 0-1 visa [the nonimmigrant visa that allows talented artists to stay in the States for up to three years]. Once there was interest, she frantically pursued getting an 0-1 after a callback was canceled – when they found out she didn’t have it.

Luckily, after calls from her reps and reps from the show, she eventually got the 0-1 – and the role.

Then, Kaur shot Sex Lives, told her parents all about it and everyone rejoiced, right? Well, not exactly (part two). According to Cosmopolitan, Kaur actually told her conservative father who originally hails from a small village in India that the title of the show was just College Girls. When he eventually started seeing promos for The Sex Lives of College Girls, he did the math and realized he’d been duped. Ultimately, he warmed up to it though Kaur says when he realized the unique opportunity and importance of showing representation in their community.

From here, Kaur is hoping for more seasons of Sex Lives and continues to work her craft, taking acting classes three days a week. As a writer, another passion of hers, she hopes to help South Asians continue to tell their stories to a global audience. “I just want to keep telling the truth of what it is to be brown,” reveals Kaur in the Cosmo interview. One thing’s for sure: given everything she puts out there in her Sex Lives performance, she can no longer be called green.

 
Related articles:
Acting Up: Joel Kim Booster
Acting Up: Adrienne Warren
Acting Up: Sebastian Stan

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.