Ayushi Chhabra landed the role of Pel on Star Trek: Picard aired on CBS All Access
Durban – FIVE years ago, with just two suitcases and her dreams, actress and model Ayushi Chhabra left South Africa for Los Angeles, in the US, to pursue her passion.
Little did she know she would later find herself on set as a cast member of the TV series franchise Star Trek.
Earlier this year, Chhabra, 29, landed the role of Pel on Star Trek: Picard aired on CBS All Access.
The Indian-born actress said she and her parents, Kusum Bala, 54, and Vinod Chhabra, 56, and her brother, Akie, 27, moved from their home in Ghaziabad in Delhi, India, to Nigeria when she was 2. Her father, a textile engineer, secured a job at a company in Lagos.
Chhabra and her brother attended the Indian Language School.
“We stayed there for eight years before moving back to our home in India. That was a challenging time for us as a family as Nigeria was not a safe place to live for expats at the time.
“I remember moving from one home to another because we got robbed so many times. At some point, we had to leave the country because the crime was getting out of hand.”
Four years later, when Chhabra was 14, the family moved to Bedfordview, in Johannesburg, after her father got a job in the recycling industry. After matriculating at Bishop Bavin School, she studied broadcast journalism at Rhodes University where she graduated with honour’s in 2011.
That was also when her career in entertainment started. She was cast as a TV host on
the lifestyle and entertainment shows Sizzle and East ‘N’ Style on ANN7. Both were produced
by Shalandra Bunseelal, a film and TV promoter who also reviews movies for the POST.
“I was fresh out of college, but Shalandra saw a spark in me and gave me a chance. And sometimes all you need is someone to believe in you and your talent.”
While working as a TV host, she featured in a short film, Tender, for the 48 Hour Film Project.
“That was my first acting job and since then, there has been no stopping,” said Chhabra, who won Miss India Gauteng in 2009.
Recalling her move to LA, Chhabra said her life changed overnight. She studied at the New York Film Academy and due to her acting background was granted an entertainment visa to work in the country.
Since 2015, she has appeared in more than 50 adverts for brands including Apple, Emirates, GAP, Google Pixel, Target, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Samsung. She said she had been auditioning for film and TV roles for the past five years when she landed her role on the TV series.
“While I booked roles in films and web series, I got my breakthrough role this year as Pel. I didn’t know I was auditioning for such a huge franchise when I got the call from my agent to go for this audition. Due to NDA (non-disclosure agreement) reasons, the project’s name was different and the role was called something else.
“So I thought it was just another audition and I didn’t think too much about it. I just went in, read for the part and left the audition. The next day, I got a call from my agent and my life changed. All I heard was her screaming on the phone saying ‘You booked Star Trek’.”
On the same day, she had a prosthetics, hair and make-up test. “That’s how quickly things move in LA.”
She said her character was a pregnant Romulan (alien).
“The hair and make-up process was elaborate. From wearing a wig to getting prosthetic ears, a forehead and new brows to a different textured skin tone and a belly, it was a truly transformative experience.”
The process, she said, took four hours.
Chhabra said that despite not watching Star Trek as a child, she now considered herself part of the Trek family.
“I enjoy catching up on all the Trek stories I have missed It’s beyond fascinating.”
The actress added that she had completed filming for the Telugu feature, 919, that is scheduled to release internationally this year,
“I don’t know Telugu so I had to learn the dialogue in the language and accent. I am hopeful this will open many doors in Indian cinema.”
Chhabra added that she missed her parents, who still lived in Joburg. “My greatest role-models are my parents. I have grown up seeing them work so hard as immigrants in different countries, to afford a better life for their children. I also miss South Africa, my family, my best friend and my dog. I made a huge sacrifice to pursue my passion and every minute here is a reminder of that. It’s the reason I work so hard, and never take any opportunity for granted.”
She said that her goal was to work on creatively fulfilling, soul-enriching and meaningful projects and to create a legacy of good work.