SBS TV’s The Hunting reiterates how unsafe we all are online

South Asian actress Kavitha Anandasivam impresses in her debut TV role .

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It’s being described as a show that should be seen by parents of all high school kids. SBS TV’s new four-part series The Hunting is based on the stresses and strains of late adolescence, played out under the dehumanising effects of social media.

At a time when raging hormones turn high schoolers into troubled beings, their parents are dealing with their own developmental issues in their particular stage of life. The young ones seek outlet in online activity, a ubiquitous aspect of modern day teen life, even as their older counterparts struggle to understand the new forms of media.

Throw into the mix some migrant dilemma, and you have a TV series.

The Hunting.Indian Link
Photo: Nat Rogers

Adelaide-based South Asian actor Kavitha Anandasivam plays one of two high school students caught up in image-based sexual abuse. An innocent flirtation mushrooms into the unthinkable, no thanks to the online phrase “pics or it didn’t happen.” Devastating effects ensue for the families and the schools involved.

Is there much sexting, sharing and commenting going on in high school these days, we ask Kavitha, a Year 11 student herself.

“Sexting is definitely rampant,” she tells Indian Link. “Not so sure about the sharing and commenting…. but yes I’ve heard about real life examples of image-based sexual abuse.”

Are young people aware about issues such as consent?

“There’s not much discussion about consent. Only about sex. It’s not ingrained in us. But I think most people know it’s important…”

Her answer is alarming, and brings home the fact loud and clear that this is, as the show portends to highlight, one of the pressing issues of our time as far as young adults are concerned.

How much do parents talk to their kids about “safe” behaviour online and otherwise, we ask Kavitha.

“My own parents, not that much, but they spoke to my older brother a lot. And he in turn talked to me about cyber bullying, about not having more than three people on my Snapchat, and about filters etc.”

She laughs, “He’s very protective of me. In fact so protective that my parents had to step in and tell him to take a back seat!”

There is some talk about it all at school as well, she notes. Schools are intricately involved, we learn from the show, as much of the encounters unfold there. We also learn how schools themselves are struggling to come to terms with this new problem, grappling with issues such as policing strategy and disciplinary action.

The Hunting1.Indian Link
Kavitha Anandasivam and Yazeed Daher. Photo: Nat Rogers

Kavitha impresses in her debut screen role. In a mixed cast of experienced as well as new actors, she is able to stand on her own admirably: convincing in her healthy integration with peers, a quiet fondness for her parents’ “ethnic” mannerisms, a gentle rebellion as she seeks to venture outside the boundaries set by them, wide-eyed wonder at new experiences, innocent playfulness with the object of her attraction, and always, always, a resolute understanding that she must do well at school (might be interesting to know if indeed the writers’ room took in some cultural consultation, or at least a sensitivity reading, as the diversity advocates have been demanding).

“We were six weeks in filming, all day on some days,” Kavitha reveals. “I’d say my most memorable experience was the swimming pool scene: it’s a short scene, but we had to jump in and out of the water and it was freezing. It’s the coldest I’ve ever been – the temperature drop sent shocks through our body!”

Kavitha scored the role through her drama group SAYarts which she joined two years ago.

“I told my brother about it first ‘cos I thought he would be more supportive, being a musician (he lives and works in Berlin). But my parents encouraged me to follow my passion.”

She counts as her influences British actors Helena Bonham Carter and Brit Pack A-lister Tom Hardy. And there’s been a tiny bit of Bollywood too, her Sri Lankan background notwithstanding. “I’ve seen Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham – I thought it was entertaining but too long!”

We’ll wait and see if a talent such as hers will be lapped up by the industry, especially one that is slowly opening up to the appeal of diverse actors.

The Hunting2.Indian Link
Photo: Nat Rogers

“Growing up, I saw no one on TV with my skin colour,” she observes. “I’d love to do more work in front of the camera if there are opportunities. It’s more intimate than theatre, I feel.”

And what has she learnt about herself in this entire experience?

“To trust my gut. I doubted my abilities, thinking what if I can’t do it, or reach that emotional space… but it all came through fine.”

In a show with other diverse actors, and one which blends the Punjabi and the Arabic seamlessly with the English, Kavitha might well have found herself the perfect launchpad for her acting career.

Watch The Hunting every Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS, and on SBS On Demand.