The Story Behind the Photo: "Orange"

Tania Thompson
 | Jul 01, 2021
Karthik Srinivasan Anjali Bhimani and Pia Shah in ​Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil (2017). Photo by ​Debora Robinson.

About ​​​Orange

Leela is different. A teenager from India, she draws life’s important moments in her journal. When a family wedding gets boring, her rebellious cousin decides to run for it with her boyfriend—and take Leela along. As they careen through Orange County, navigating dangerous situations from dusk to dawn, Leela challenges their view of her—and each other. A touching story about a unique young woman’s search for her place in the world. 

Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil, directed by Jessica Kubzansky (2017) is an action-adventure with a lot of humor and a huge heart. It follows Leela, a teen from India on the autism spectrum, who comes to Southern California for a family wedding and then goes on a wild ride with her rebellious cousin. It was a role that actor Pia Shah loved for the challenge it brought her. “As an actor, I was used to taking in all the stimulus from the environment and usually expressing it and releasing it back into the world in more typical ways,” says Shah. “But as Leela, I was processing the world without necessarily showing it or expressing it verbally in obvious ways.” She selected the photo above as a favorite moment from Orange.

What moment does this depict?

This was an amazing moment Aditi Brennan Kapil created for us in which Leela's, cousin, Preeti, played by Anjali Bhimani, and her boyfriend, played by Karthik Srinivasan, have left the wedding we are supposed to be at and are out on a joyride at night. The lovebirds are having a little make-out session in the parked car (the bench seen here).

Leela, after patiently sitting there and trying to figure out what's going on, asks from the backseat if they are at the beach and, after receiving no answer, asks again. Finally, while they share this never-ending kiss, Leela decides to take action: she gets out of the car and says, matter-of-factly, “Okay. Bye.” And then she wanders away to explore. It's a dangerous moment that's also really funny, which is so much fun to play as an actor. 

How did you work to make this moment happen?

The timing and rhythm of the scene were so interesting for me to work on with Director Jessica Kubzansky and Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil. It was such a funny moment and the silences while Preeti and her boyfriend were making out were so full. It was hard to keep a straight face.

Leela was this awkward third wheel and the audience would howl with laughter. She decides to switch on the headlights, which requires her to lean forward in between their tangled bodies and turn the switch on the dashboard and see where they are and she realizes excitedly they are indeed at the beach, which is her own personal goal on their adventure. 

Any final thoughts?

Leela has her own rich inner life and internal clock. She weaves in and out of the more (to her) banal, everyday moments, as well as newer, more confusing situations—interpreting things in her own way—and finding treasure in unexpected places. It's a powerful mix, and Aditi created many such subtle, innocent and poignant moments of hilarity. It was an incredibly unique and special production.