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Manali Datar: ‘fangirling’ at the Sydney Opera House

The rising star chats about her already illustrious career and the lessons she has learned from it so far

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“I’m still in shock that I’m going to be performing at the Sydney Opera House!” Manali Datar, star of the show Fangirls, exclaimed.

For an actor, singer, and dancer who’s been described as ‘a rising star’, that sounds hard to believe. Yet she persisted, “You imagine as a kid that one day you’ll get to perform at the Opera House, and now I actually get to do it. It’s all a little surreal, like, it hasn’t sunk in completely.”

In the musical, Manali stars as a teenage girl obsessed with her pop star idol. It has been performed all over the country and won numerous industry awards, including ARIA nominations (Best Original Soundtrack or Musical Theatre Cast Album 2021) and the Sydney Theatre Award for Best Mainstage Musical in 2019.

With this new role, Manali Datar is one of Australia’s hottest new performing arts prospects. She may claim that she’s still taking her success in, having finished her acting degree just four years ago, but she has lit up the stage twice before, playing Rose Granger-Weasley in the Melbourne production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and Priya Singh in Sydney Theatre Company’s White Pearl.

Though Datar’s career has skyrocketed in recent years, she always had the passion for performance in her. She described her parents as ‘very artistic people’, and India (where she lived in Pune prior to moving to Brisbane as a child) as having “creative stimulation pretty much everywhere, even our food.” Being in that kind of environment had an obvious effect on her – it’s clear that she never considered a career outside of the arts.

And nor did she need to. When she was six, she played the title role in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. In 2014 and 2015, she performed at two major sporting grand finals. And just last year, she helped write and produce the song Signs, performed by Melbourne pop duo Ultrafine.

READ MORE: Vidya Makan: Breaking the coloured glass ceiling

rose granger weasley manali datar
Manali as Rose Granger-Weasley. Source: Twitter

Naturally, she considers Harry Potter as being among her current career highlights.

‘‘Harry Potter was a massively steep learning curve,” she reveals. “It taught me how the industry works and what it takes to put on a huge show in just a few months. There were so many incredible actors in the cast who I learned a lot from, and the fan interactions were great too. It was lovely to meet a ‘village’ or  ‘community’ (of Harry Potter fans).”

Though the show had its mix of fun and challenging moments – Datar spoke fondly of the aerial work she did, but less so about trying to live a normal life outside of acting – it is not the only feather in her theatre cap. In 2022 she was cast in White Pearl, a comedic play about a skin bleaching advertisement gone wrong. Playing a leading role, and with a highly diverse cast and crew, she said that the production felt like ‘a homecoming.’

“Because of White Pearl, I had a spiritual awakening towards my Indian-ness and relationship with my identity. I learned a lot about myself, and along with the rest of the team, got really immersed in the play’s world.’

That type of relationship with identity is something Datar has continued. Even though she sometimes feels separated from Indian culture, as many young migrants do, she spoke fondly about the weekly ‘Bollywood night’ she has with her partner, where they will sit down and watch a Bollywood movie together.

There might not be much time for that in the near future, given Fangirls is on until September.

READ MORE: Hungry, fighting, passionate: ‘Five Bedrooms’ actor Roy Joseph

Manali Datar in ‘Fangirls’. Source: Instagram

With her experience in mind, she candidly offered the following advice for young artists wanting to follow in her footsteps.

“Always keep learning. I always think there’s more to know, and when I do learn something new, I feel like I grow more as a person. Also, never switch yourself off to being wrong. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay. Again, use those mistakes as learning opportunities. Finally, always stay curious. If you really want to do something, find the community that is as passionate as you about it, and go for it.”

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Just finished watching: The Umbrella Academy, Season 3

Currently listening to: Gemini Rides by Steve Lacy and It’s A Feeling by Matthew Young

Melbourne or Sydney? Melbourne

Favourite Bollywood actor: Rani Mukerji

Favourite Harry Potter character: Dobby

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Manan Luthra
Manan Luthra
Writer, cricket fan, gin and tonic enthusiast. Emerging journalist passionate about art, sport, and education

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