Not all of us can be rule-breakers, especially when it comes to challenging the age-old stereotypes that plague South Asian heritage. But there is one person up to the task–Vishaal Reddy, the actor, writer, singer and producer, whose Indian-American cultural experiences have introduced a new level of zest to his storytelling. Reddy’s unconventional show, Insomnia, which is currently streaming on Youtube is the story of a queer, Indian American going through an identity crisis. Here, the rising star talks to ELLE about how the show transpired and the queer influences that inspire him to be his most authentic self.
ELLE: How did the idea for Insomnia come about?
Vishal Reddy: Insomnia was a total accident. I wasn’t happy with the acting gigs I was receiving, I was in a rut, and so I started writing and came up with the idea of a depressed bisexual insomniac navigating his life in New York City.
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ELLE: What were the themes you wanted to tackle with Insomnia?
VR: I wanted to shatter stereotypes that often plague South Asian characters in media. I wished to showcase us as messy, complicated, yet resilient human beings that have a story to tell. Each episode tackles an element of identity and asks: “am I being who I want to be?”
ELLE: Let’s talk about South Asian queer representation in pop culture–who are your icons?
VR: I am a bisexual South Asian male and our culture still considers this topic quite taboo. Whenever I find queer influences that inspire me to live my most authentic life, I am enthralled. Bollywood films have taught me to be my weirdest self. I’m so happy to see Manvendra Singh Gohil doing wonders for the LGBTQ+ community in India.
Photograph: Travis Chantar
ELLE: Are you familiar with the queer scene in India?
VR: Through social media, I have discovered many drag performers and activists in India. I also know that many Indian television and film projects are introducing LGBTQ+ characters in authentic and dynamic ways.