We had the good fortune of connecting with Leah Khambata and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leah, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I used to be very by the book, operating only within the bounds of what I knew. If someone said some work could not be done, I accepted it. But my junior year at Wesleyan University, something changed. I attended a talk by a woman (I think it was Dina Kaplan) at our Career Center. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what that talk was about, but I left with the feeling of empowerment and that anything was possible. Born/raised in Bombay, I had come to the US for college to pursue a career in Film. Neither my parents nor I had any contacts, except for one former classmate of my father’s on the West Coast who had connected me with a production company for my first film internship. But now the summer was approaching again and I needed another internship. I decided I wanted to work at a Talent Agency. The former company I had interned with had mentioned some names of agencies but were unable to connect me to anyone there. Everyone told me I needed to have an “in” or be connected, but I didn’t. So I created my own approach. What I did was I first made a list of the 10 top agencies and then I meticulously called each and everyone of them, both their NYC and LA offices. I got their reception desk numbers off of Google. They hadn’t advertised any summer internships but I took a chance just calling up and asking. I would call the front desk and ask whom I could send my Resume and Cover letter to. I spent ages writing those cover letters and finally sent them all out. Everyone around me thought that that was a long shot and probably wouldn’t go anywhere (not in a mean way! Just a realistic one.) A month or so later I got a call from the WME New York office asking me to come in for an interview the next day. I was ecstatic just at the fact that they had even seen my Resume! It was a Friday the next day. My screenwriting class would end at 12pm and then I was scheduled to take the train to NYC at 1pm so that I could reach well in time before my interview at 6pm. My class was online from 8am-12pm and we were to watch a movie online together for some of it and then stop to discuss every 30 min. So I literally started the class off in my pyjamas, then the next discussion break I’d have changed into my shirt, then next one formal pants, then next one blazer and then finally a bit of makeup. My classmates must have been very confused haha. But anyways, I finished my class and was waiting in Middletown, CT for my taxi to take me to the train station in New Haven 30 min away and I was waiting waiting waiting, no taxi. I called the Taxi service and they said sorry but they’re delayed 1.5 hours. I started freaking out. That meant I would have to take a later train and reach just right before my interview. I went on Facebook and posted online if by any chance anyone was driving to NYC that day. A friend replied! I was so relieved. I got into her car 20 min later and we were on our way to NYC. 30 minutes into the journey, she got a flat tire. We were in what looked like the middle of nowhere and it was snowing hard by the way. We managed to get to a gas station and asked a guy there if he could help us change the tire. He said that the machine he needed was currently under a heap of snow. So there we were, me in my suit, digging snow out with a shovel trying not to dirty it. Finally her father then came as he was nearby, and we got the tire changed but it was some temporary tire which meant that she would have to drive very slowly so I asked her to drop me off at New Haven Station instead. I caught a train from there but I knew I was going to be late. I emailed the HR rep and apologized and said I would be late. This killed me inside though – having to inconvenience my interviewer. In my mind I was like “shit, I’m already on strike 1 then.” I reach New York and rush to the WME office. I’m in the lobby filling out some paperwork. I was so tired and out of it that literally in the section where I was to write my name, I wrote my father’s, then realized and scratched it out. The receptionists must have thought I was crazy for making a mistake for my own name. Haha. I gave the interview, but I knew I hadn’t been at my best. I left feeling dejected and more so upset at myself for not having been more energetic and conveying my enthusiasm. On the taxi ride back to the train station, something got a hold of me and I don’t know why, but I felt this need to just be honest and write to the HR rep telling her exactly that – that that wasn’t me in there. So I took that risk of sounding unprofessional and did. An excerpt from that email on March 8th, 2013: “I am a very persistent person. I don’t give up that easily and constantly try to find alternatives for things which seem impossible. Like today for example, i literally thought I wasn’t going to make it to New York because every form of transportation was shutting down on me due to the blizzard, but I wasn’t going to let that get in my way and I feel like that is something a talent agent needs to have – persistence and diligence.” Two weeks later I got the internship. And I can’t even tell you what a great feeling it was to have gotten that. My first real win in the US. This has been a long story I know, but I wanted to say it to encourage those out there to take risks and not take no for an answer. When you think you’ve failed, even when you’re at your lowest low in life and crying on a floor, don’t think it’s the end of the road; treat it as the signal. Keep trying and going for things up until the point where you know you’ve done everything you can do (without annoying others haha) and only stop when you can look back later and say there was really nothing more you could have done. And that’s the philosophy I now live by:)
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think being true to yourself is key. Sometimes I felt like I almost had two identities – my US one and my Indian Parsi one, but when I learned how to combine those two versions of myself and to be consistent in all surroundings, I think that’s when my individuality came out. I was always interested in Acting. Ever since I was a little girl, I would tell everyone I wanted to be an actress. Somewhere along the way, I slipped into feeling not good enough and convinced myself I was better off behind the camera. I learned a great deal being a Film major at Wesleyan and working in Film Production. I then suppressed my film side to try to get a Marketing Job so I could stay in the US visa wise. I didn’t realize how much it really crushed my soul to do this until I did my MBA, which at the time I thought was the right, safer path. I developed anxiety issues and felt so disconnected from myself doing those subjects. It was a great course, but it just wasn’t me. It pushed me so hard and finally got me to realize what I needed to do – which was the complete opposite – Acting. In my second year I was so pushed to my limit that I just got this feeling of “you only have one life” and just went for it. I would schedule my classes so that they would only be Mon-Wed so that I could then go to NYC to do more acting work Thur-Sun. It wasn’t easy at all, 5 hours by bus each way all the time. Sometimes even day trips just for auditions. I wrote/produced/acted in a short film called “(t)here” which had its NYC premiere at HBO’s South Asian Film Festival. I acted in several Off Off Broadway plays, films, performed my music at places where my idols like John Mayer had performed at. Got broken down to my ultimate bottom, discovered the world of meditation and energetic vibrations, experienced so many crazy synchronistic situations, trained in Reiki 2, released 2 original song music videos on VH1 India, acted in an Amazon Prime series and so much more. Rather than a particular project, I’m proud of how far I’ve come – from a shy fearful girl, to one who now takes risks, is ever curious about life and how everything is connected, and isn’t afraid to lay her heart on her sleeve for the world to see. I feel like I’ve already experienced so much, lived in different cultures and places, always wanting to learn more, and I think it makes me a better artist for it.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The Grove! I absolutely love it! It has such a cute feel and I love the old-school music they play, especially during Christmas time. It gives you this warm, cosy, everything’s going to be alright feeling:) My parents actually visited me for a week and I planned it all out. Here’s where I took them plus a few more I would take friends to: The Grove, The Jimmy Kimmel Show taping, Warner Brother Studios Tour, Griffith Observatory, 3rd Street Promenade, the views of the city at night from Mulholland Drive/Hollywood Hills, “No Vacancy” Speakeasy, Night + Market Restaurant, Republique for Brunch, Rooftop movie at EP&LP, Universal Studio Tour, Hollywood Bowl, Chinese Theatre, Kodak Theatre, Magic Castle, a live taping of a Sitcom. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh gosh there are SO many people that have helped me get to where I am today and supported me throughout, so I’m going to talk about a book for now – “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Alan Singer. It changed my perspective on life entirely. I started thinking of situations as energetic vibrations we attract, of people/places as energetic vibrations we are either on the same literal wavelength or not, of emotions as basically just energy we need to transmute. I highly recommend that everyone read it at some point in their lives. It forced its way through to me via different random people recommending it, by unrelated Facebook groups mentioning it, by friends suddenly talking about it, when I was at my lowest point emotionally and mentally. And I’m so glad it got through.
Divina Rikhye Walden Photography