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Picture Credit: asiansinmedia.org
 

Parminder Nagra

Birth Date: October 5, 1975 / Age: 39
Birth Place: Leicester, Leicestershire, England, UK
Also Credited as: Parminder K. Nagra

Biography: Parminder K. Nagra (born October 5, 1975 in Leicester, England) is a British actress of Indian descent.

Parminder Kaur Nagra was born to Sikh parents who immigrated to the United Kingdom from the Punjab region of India in the late 1960s. Sometimes affectionately known as "Mindi," her full name means "Supreme Goddess, Princess of Snakes." Her family background was decidedly working class. The family patriarch, Sucha, a foundry worker, is believed to have separated from her mother, Nashuter, a packer in a factory, when Nagra was a child. Nagra, her two younger brothers, and a younger sister were raised in a small terrace house in the Belgrave section of Leicester by her mother and by her stepfather who worked as a bookkeeper at a cousin’s transport company.

At the age of seven, Nagra suffered a burn injury that resulted in the scar shown in her 2002 breakout role in the internationally acclaimed film Bend It Like Beckham. While preparing a meal, a gas stove caught her trousers alight. She was taken into the bathroom by an uncle and immersed in cold water, but the damage had already been done. She survived the ordeal, but with a large scar on her right leg.

Nagra attended Northfield House Primary School in Leicester. It was at her comprehensive school, Soar Valley College, where she played viola in the youth orchestra and also appeared in her first theatrical productions. In 1991 at the age of 16, Nagra took a job as an usher at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, ostensibly to watch and learn from the local thespians there. Her former boss recalls her as brilliant, polite and very sweet, but also that she was quiet, giving no hints as to her future rise to stardom. In her late teens, Nagra was shown a photograph of a potential husband, but she resisted any marriage arranged by her parents.

Not long after leaving school, and only a few months after completing her A-Level Examinations, Nagra was approached by Jez Simons, her former drama instructor, about becoming part of Hathi Productions, a leading Leicester-based British Asian theatre company, of which he served as the artistic director. She accepted and was cast as a chorus member in the 1994 musical Nimai presented at the Leicester Haymarket. Only a week into rehearsals, she was plucked from the chorus to take the place of the lead actress who had dropped out. Simons recalls that Nagra, while a good singer and actress, had an intangible quality that raised her above other actresses and that led him to select her as the new lead. Nagra sometimes describes herself as having "fallen into" acting due to this unexpected turn of events.

Not long after leaving school, and only a few months after completing her A-Level Examinations, Nagra was approached by Jez Simons, her former drama instructor, about becoming part of Hathi Productions, a leading Leicester-based British Asian theatre company, of which he served as the artistic director. She accepted and was cast as a chorus member in the 1994 musical Nimai presented at the Leicester Haymarket. Only a week into rehearsals, she was plucked from the chorus to take the place of the lead actress who had dropped out. Simons recalls that Nagra, while a good singer and actress, had an intangible quality that raised her above other actresses and that led him to select her as the new lead. Nagra sometimes describes herself as having "fallen into" acting due to this unexpected turn of events.

The London years Before she turned 20, Nagra had left Leicester for London, forgoing university to pursue a theatrical career and her childhood dreams of becoming an actress. After selling her prized viola, she found herself living alone in Peckham, South London employed in a stocktaking job and struggling to find theatrical work.

Nagra’s first London theatrical job came in 1994 when she was cast as the Princess in Sleeping Beauty, a Christmas-time pantomime production at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Although most critics seemed not to be impressed with the show, Nagra’s performance is notable in that she was a woman of color portraying a traditionally white character. After Sleeping Beauty, Nagra worked with small Asian theatre companies such as Tara Arts and Tamasha. The roles marked the first of many early career opportunities in theatre that led eventually to the radio and television appearances that also defined her career throughout most of the 1990s.

In 1996, Nagra took a small part in Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon and performed at Cottesloe, Royal National Theatre. It was there that she met Irish actor Kieran Creggan, with whom she later moved into a Kennington, South London flat. Their relationship continued for five years.

Although lacking formal theatrical training, Nagra signed on with veteran London-based agent Joan Brown, after which she began to land her first television roles—a bit part on the British medical drama Casualty, where she played a girl attacked with a broken bottle, and a small role in the television movie King Girl in which Nagra portrayed an abusive member of a girls' gang. In 1997, Nagra appeared in the three-part drama Turning World starring Roshan Seth. The following year she once again found herself in a turn on Casualty, her second appearance on the show. 1999 saw her playing the part of a convenience store clerk in the television movie Donovan Quick starring Colin Firth. Also of note are appearances on the British Asian comedy shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42.

While slowly building a reputation on British television, Nagra also dabbled in radio, with parts in, among others, radio plays written by noted author and playwright Tanika Gupta. In 1998, Nagra was part of Dancing Girls of Lahore, a radio play co-written by her future Bend It Like Beckham co-star, Shaheen Khan. In 2001 Nagra provided the voice of a Muslim girl in Arena: The Veil, a docu-drama about women who choose to wear the Muslim head scarf.

Although Nagra had cut her teeth in television and, to a lesser extent, in radio, her stage performances are perhaps the most noteworthy element in her corpus of work during her London years. Not long after the aforementioned Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards Nagra was cast in 1997’s Oh Sweet Sita, an adaptation of Indian lore about Rama and his dutiful wife Sita. Starring in the title role of Sita, Nagra caught the attention of director Gurinder Chadha who would later write the script for Bend It Like Beckham with Nagra in mind for the lead role. Although Chadha was charmed by Nagra, it would be five long years before the spectacular results of their collaboration would materialize.

Nagra’s other notable stage roles during this period are many and include appearances in Skeleton (1997), to critical acclaim for her "bright-eyed vivacity" as the village girl; A Tainted Dawn (1997), playing a Hindu boy accidentally left in Pakistan and raised by a Muslim couple; Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings & A Funeral (1998), showing her skills as a romantic comedienne, again to critical acclaim; Krishna’s Lila—A Play of the Asian World (1999), as part of a five-person cast in a controversially titled piece; The Square Circle (1999), tackling the demanding role of an illiterate peasant girl who becomes a rape victim; and River on Fire (2000), as Kiran in a retelling of Sophocles' Antigone.

Although she was fast becoming a star on the stages of London, 2002’s surprise blockbuster Bend It Like Beckham, Nagra’s first motion picture, turned her almost overnight into an international celebrity.

While on a promotional junket in Los Angeles for Bend It, Nagra was informed by her agent that ER producer John Wells, a fan of Bend It Like Beckham, was interested in meeting with her. Having been a fan of the long-running American TV drama that has over the years featured such notables as George Clooney, Anthony Edwards and Noah Wyle, Nagra was in near disbelief. At their initial meeting, Wells floated to Nagra an offer to join the ensemble cast; she accepted immediately. In recalling the moment, she said, "I had to sit still and act professional, while all the time I just wanted to jump up and run around the room screaming." Not long after the meeting, Nagra signed a one year contract that included an option for three additional years. Despite her new status, Nagra said, "I don't think Hollywood has changed me at all. The first thing I did when I arrived was buy chapati flour and lentils."

Nagra made her first ER appearance on September 25, 2003 in season 10’s premiere episode entitled, "Now What?" She plays Chicago County General Hospital medical intern Neela Rasgotra, television's first recurring East Indian doctor role. Wells adapted the character to suit Nagra, who was allowed to "keep" her own East Midlands accent in portraying the Yale University-educated Anglo-Indian Neela. Nagra would go on to appear in 21 of the season’s 22 episodes, including "NICU," and "The Student," episodes in which her character was a central player. As season 11 commenced, Noah Wyle, the last of the uninterrupted original ER cast members, indicated that it would be his last. In speaking to his decision, Wyle described Nagra as "the future" of ER and the media has concurred, anointing her as one of the show's "golden girls."

Despite trading in her football boots for a stethoscope, Nagra continues to garner professional accolades and honors. In 2004, she received a Teen Choice Award nomination for her work on ER and also had the honor of being a torch bearer as the Olympic flame passed through London on its way to the summer games in Athens. In 2005 she took home an Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award from the South Asian Students' Alliance. Later on in the year, Nagra finished filming season 11 of ER and returned to her native Leicester to work on director Amit Gupta's Love in Little India in which she was cast as the female lead.

Biography Credit: wikipedia.org
 

> TV Credits

Starring/Leading Roles

ER (1994) ... Dr. Neela Rasgotra (2003 -)




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