Made in Cola Town

Manish Dayal lands leading roles

Yoni Goldberg

A rising star is in our midst. Within the span of just a few months, Manish Dayal will appear in new productions on screens both large and small. Manish, who grew up in Columbia and Orangeburg, clearly has a strong work ethic and thinks both forms of media are essential to fully reflect the world in which we live. 

“I’ve always wanted to make films,” Manish says, “but TV offers new, broader opportunities and challenges as well. I’ve been fortunate to have incorporated both. I think the responsibility is huge, and I take it very seriously.” 

In the decade and a half since he began a career in filmmaking, the 34-year-old actor and film maker has traveled the world, most recently sharing top billing with Gillian Anderson, Hugh Bonneville, and several other international stars in the movie Viceroy’s House, slated for release this fall. 

Viceroy’s House, directed by Gurinder Chadha, depicts the dissolution of Britain’s 300-year rule in India. Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten, charged with implementing India’s independence, hastily moves the date for a transfer of power from June 1948 to August 1947, causing chaos and violence to erupt. Depicting this event was personally significant to Manish, whose parents, Hema and Sudhir Patel, emigrated from Gujarat, India. (Dayal is his paternal grandfather’s first name, adopted by Manish as his surname.) 

Manish’s maternal grandmother, Ranjan Patel, who marched alongside Mahatma Gandhi, told him stories about India’s history during his childhood. The architect of non-violent, civil disobedience, Gandhi peacefully advocated for India’s independence from Great Britain. Manish’s work has both afforded him the opportunity to travel around India and, through his research for the role of Lord Mountbatten’s under valet Jeet Kumar, enriched his knowledge of Indian heritage. He says he has a deep appreciation for the sacrifices his parents and grandparents made before he was born.

“The division of India into India and Pakistan led to one of the greatest migrations of modern history that left close to 14 million people displaced from their homes,” Manish says. “Personifying that catastrophe took lots of time and research.” 

Manish read the book on which Viceroy’s House is based, Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, and he researched the time period to learn more about the Partition of 1947. The entire cast became well-versed in the historical significance of millions of people being forced to leave India along with the hostility and violence that erupted as a result. “For all of us,” Manish says, “it was vital that we respectfully honor those who lost their lives.”

Manish is perhaps best known for the character Raj Kher on the CW series 90210 and has had memorable roles on NBC’s Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order, Criminal Intent, and Outsourced; CBS’s The Good Wife and CSI: Las Vegas; and AMC’s Rubicon and Halt and Catch Fire

Playing the part of Silicon Valley computer programmer Ryan Ray on the binge-worthy 2014 drama Halt and Catch Fire was a challenge for Manish, who is much more outgoing than the introverted Ray. “When you’re playing an internal character, sometimes you have to think of new, out-of-the-box ideas to personify someone nonverbally,” he says. “Playing Ryan was an opportunity to stretch myself, because he’s unlike any character I’ve played, and we’re dissimilar people. But Ryan was ambitious, and that’s where I am able to relate to him. I wanted Ryan to be a young man who saw the future, a new way of life. He was a gifted programmer who believed technology could shrink the world, a bold concept for a story set in the 1980s. Ultimately, I had a lot of fun bringing this character to life.”

Manish is taking on his first starring role in a TV series called The Resident, scheduled to air on Fox midseason. As Dr. Devon Pravesh, Manish portrays an idealistic, young resident under the tutelage of a tough but brilliant senior resident, played by Matt Czuchry. Bruce Greenwood, Emily VanCamp, and Shaunette Wilson round out the ensemble cast. “The Resident is a darker take on a medical drama,” Manish says. “I think folks are going to relate to it because it’s a realistic portrayal of life inside a hospital.” 

The Resident is being filmed on a hospital set in an Atlanta studio, enabling Manish and his wife to spend some time closer to home. “My wife and I are looking forward to being in a new city and checking out all the good Southern food,” he shares.

Manish had a more exotic culinary adventure a few years ago and perfected his own technique for making an omelet when he filmed The Hundred-Foot Journey in France with Helen Mirren, Charlotte Le Bon, and the late Om Puri, who was a mentor to Manish. Based on the popular 2010 novel by Richard Morais, the film was produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and directed by Lasse Hallström, who is known for the equally charming culinary film Chocolat.

To prepare for the role of aspiring chef Hassan Kadam, whose family seeks asylum in the south of France after his mother is killed by mob violence at their restaurant in Mumbai, Manish read Morais’ novel five times and highlighted sections he wanted to be sure to incorporate. He also took French and Indian cooking lessons to learn particular dishes he prepared in the film as well as to pick up the behavior and etiquette displayed in a professional kitchen. Manish, who still has a slight Southern accent and is also conversational in his ancestral language Gujarati, received another fringe benefit from filming The Hundred Foot Journey — he learned quite a lot of French.

Working on The Hundred Foot Journey also gave Manish fresh insight into his parents’ immigration experience. He explains, “Immigrating is a very brave thing to do. Journey is about a unique young man who wants to understand life and its higher purpose. I think it goes past racial and cultural limitations, and it inspires people to stretch beyond their limits. To me, that’s what immigrating is about. To achieve something extraordinary, one must take huge risks. And I think my parents did that.”

After earning a business degree from George Washington University in 2005, Manish appeared in national commercials and even played roles in video games, but he never lost his heart for film production. 

Manish hopes to debut his original, short film, Fifteen Years Later, at a film festival this year. He wrote the script about four people whose lives deteriorate after Sept. 11, 2001, and then collide 15 years later on the heels of a presidential election. Manish, who acted in the film and served as one of its producers, says, “It’s the first film I’ve directed, and that has been a longtime goal of mine.” 

Along with Industry Entertainment, the company which represents him, Manish is setting out as a producer as well with the film Stringer, based on Anjan Sundaram’s acclaimed, non-fiction book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Year in the Congo. He optioned the book. In the movie, which is still in its script phase, Manish will play the part of Anjan. He says, “The book follows a young Ph.D. student who turns down an offer from Goldman Sachs at the age of 22 to travel to the Congo and work as a freelance journalist during the country’s first democratic election in 60 years. My character uncovers a conspiracy involving the country’s huge mineral wealth.” Not one to be intimidated by portraying a living person, Manish has met the real-life Anjan and is convinced that the author will be a valuable resource in his acting process.

Having both his television and movie careers come into full bloom simultaneously is occasionally a bit overwhelming, but Manish stays so busy with work that the affable actor has not yet fully come to terms with his skyrocketing celebrity status. 

“It’s a wild reality for sure,” he says. “I don’t think that it ever really sinks in. I’m just grateful for these opportunities I’ve had. I’m taking it all day by day.”  


Sitting down with Manish

Q: What is your favorite Columbia restaurant? 

A: California Dreaming has never failed. Neither has my sister’s kitchen — she makes a great turkey burger!

Q: What part of the city do you miss most? 

A: When we were kids, my folks would take us to the Edisto Gardens in Orangeburg. It’s one of the town’s oldest landmarks. There are still turtles in and around the ponds, maybe the same ones we fed.

Q: What is your favorite thing about Columbia? 

A: The music, art, and film culture is becoming a defining part of the city. The Nickelodeon Theater offers folks a way to see films they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see in mainstream cinemas. In fact, my sister and brother-in-law are opening a small boutique hotel downtown that spotlights all of those elements. It’s called Hotel Trundle.

Q: What is your favorite movie? 

A: Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson is up there.

Q: Is your desk messy or neat? 

A: Messy — pens, camera lenses, papers, books, script pages …

Q: What was your first job? 

A: I was an on-set production intern for a TV commercial.

Q: What was your first car? 

A: I had a badass, little red go cart.

Q: What is your favorite comfort food? 

A: Fried chicken, my mom’s mugh dhal (an Indian dish made with lentils), and movie popcorn loaded with butter.

Q: What is your favorite thing to cook? 

A: Eggs of all kinds. And I make a top-notch guacamole.

Q: What advice would you give to a young person just starting out? 

A: My advice is to follow your instincts. Also, ask a lot of questions and avoid shortcuts. Don’t get too concerned about a mistake — just enough to learn something from it.

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