No one makes Seema Patel wait in line. Not for the club, and not even for her COVID vaccine. (She got hers “before the president.”) So this week’s And Just Like That… episode finds the stylish and powerful real estate agent in an unlikely place: on a queue with her friend Carrie Bradshaw, denied entry from an NYC hotspot. And it’s her 54th birthday.
Sarita Choudhury, who plays Seema in HBO Max’s Sex and the City revival, also had a way of avoiding lines when she was clubbing in her twenties. “You always had your hookups, so you actually never waited anyway,” she recalls on the phone from chilly New York. “But you had no money.” Obviously, the women of AJLT don’t have to worry about that.
Though Seema and Carrie end up ditching the dancefloor for some dessert, the episode continues to find Seema in more surprising situations: in Brooklyn (for a charity event) and in a flirtatious back-and-forth with a handsome club owner who, in the end, finally lets her skip the line at his place of employ. Of all the leads, old and new, in And Just Like That…, Seema is the only one that’s proudly partnerless; in some ways she’s a refreshing, shameless representation of single women over 50 on screen. She’s even been compared to Samantha (which she’s “enjoying,” though filling that role is not her intention). But where could her story go next now that she’s struck up a new romance?
Despite its efforts to be a more inclusive show, AJLT has garnered backlash for a number of reasons, aspects of Seema’s arc, like an arranged marriage plot and mistaking a lehenga for a sari. Choudhury does her best to avoid the criticism, though sometimes she can’t resist clicking a harsh headline. “With a show like this, of course that’s gonna happen,” she admits. “There’s no way there’s not gonna be 12 million different opinions. There’s no way.”
Choudhury wouldn’t quite say that her life has completely turned upside down since she joined AJLT, “but there’s a semi, I would say minuscule, version of that for sure,” she explains. Despite adjusting to a new level of attention, Choudhury remains a veteran in her craft. She first made her film debut in Mira Nair’s 1991 romance Mississippi Masala (opposite Denzel Washington) and has gathered dozens of TV and film roles in the decades since. She’s especially shown off her range in the past year, playing a mysterious mother to Dev Patel’s Gawain in The Green Knight and a curious museum curator in After Yang, in addition to becoming a new SATC fan favorite.
Here, Choudhury walks ELLE.com through Seema’s new fling, the importance of showing her Indian family on screen, and what her first encounter with Samantha would look like.
How would you describe Seema and Carrie’s dynamic?
I feel like [Seema] speaks so unapologetically and you don’t quite know what’s gonna come out of her mouth, and I love the fact that Carrie is game to sit there and make sure my birthday is good, even though I say it’s not important. I almost feel like they bring out the nurturing side of each other. But they also let each other be kind of weirdly independent. It’s a nice friendship in that sense.
When they’re having dinner together, as Seema is looking back on the past year, she says that “instead of meeting my guy, I met an amazing new friend.” I wanted to know how you felt about that line and her storyline, which empowers single women and friendships.
I feel like when Seema says something, she means it. So when I saw that line, I was like, “Oh, first she chose Carrie to go out with on her birthday, not anyone else, so already you sense that that is a real friendship.” But I was happy she said it because I feel like Seema, she doesn’t mince words. So if she says it, she’s not saying, “I have to be your best friend.” She’s just saying, “You’re definitely mine. You’re my new friend, you’re who I care about.” And I find that oddly refreshing, ‘cause sometimes with characters, there’s a neediness that comes out when people say something— they want something back. And I feel with Seema, she doesn’t really want anything back ever.
She’s single, she’s not a victim about that. And she also dates a lot. I think there’s this idea of women that, whether any of it’s true or not, it’s kind of given to us that if you are single, that maybe you’re not happy. Or that you can’t get a man. Meantime, she’s single, she can get a man, and she’s lying to her parents about having a man. It’s just so refreshing because I have many friends like that. And in humor they may joke, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m single,” but they’re not usually victims. You’ll have the odd friend who’ll have a cry about a breakup. So I do think it’s a great thing to put out there.
What did you think of that twist at the end? I don’t know how long-term this is, but she does find a guy.
[Laughs] You know, it’s interesting ‘cause when I read it in the script, I was like, “Oh, here we go.” What I like about that [encounter] is she doesn’t give him the time of day and it’s only because he can handle it. I may be wrong, but I felt like because he could handle the way she was bantering with him and he could give it back, it made her kind of go, “Ohhh, okay.” And you never know with Seema because—let’s see what happens and how they actually get along—but I love that it began with a dissonance. It’s like, “Oh, you can spar with me?”
Speaking of her dating life, she’s big on dating apps. Is that anything you’ve ever tried or wanted to try?
I’m literally the opposite, I’ve never [laughs]. Do you know the friends who are just unapologetic about it or have said, “I found the love of my life” and you’re like, “Oh my God, where? Where did you meet him?” and they’re like, “Online”? I love people like that because they do it and they actually do find amazing moments, or sometimes love. But then there’s the other group that is shy about admitting to it, or they have a lot of depressing moments through it. When you hear both sides, I think it’s so scary, the whole thing. And also, I didn’t grow up with a phone. So to start doing that now, I would laugh at myself.
So you’re more of a meet-in-person type of dater.
And also, I feel lucky…When you’re in film, you meet over a hundred people every day. I’m sure if I had a job where I was entering a cubicle and especially during [COVID], you know, I get it.
You mentioned how Seema was lying to her parents about having a man. What did you make of her family criticizing her for not being married or pressuring her into being married?
Well, first of all, if you’re an Indian daughter, which I am, that would be the narrative. Like, you’re not supposed to have boyfriends when you’re not married, and then you’re supposed to be married. So it’s almost like, when does that change and why am I always lying about one or the other? You know what I mean? When you’re not allowed a boyfriend, that’s when you lie about having one, you say you don’t [have one]. And then suddenly you’re supposed to be married. So the narrative, I related to it completely, but again, what I love is Seema’s just like, “Yeah, I had to lie—for them more than for me, or for them and for me.”
I don’t know if you’ve watched Sex Lives of College Girls, which is also on HBO Max…
I want to. Is that Mindy [Kaling]’s show?
Yeah. I was interviewing Amrit Kaur, who stars in the series and is also Indian. And she was talking about how important it is to see Brown women on screen being open about their sexuality, rather than being reserved or fetishized or nerdy, but actually owning their desire and their sexual exploits, whatever they may be. Do you think that applies to Seema as well? Was that important for you to portray?
I think it does, definitely, but I think also that’s why showing the family was important. On one hand, she is being free in her life, but also, I wanted to address that when you do have an Indian family, you can’t push their freedom too much in their house or their faith because there’s also the honor and respect [component]. And I feel like I’ve always grown up with a complete mixture of that, of knowing that I can get my independence, but it’s not ‘cause I have to cover it from my parents. There’s a certain honor and respect that we carry with us and it’s almost our comfort in ourselves or our gauging of what’s moral or…So, I think when you’re young, it’s a fight between those two things, but, as you get older, it’s less of a fight and I think that’s where Seema is now. She’s like, “It is what it is. I’m gonna do both.”
Definitely. You joined the cast with Karen Pittman, Nicole Ari Parker, and Sara Ramirez. You’re all actors of color, joining a show that’s centered on white women and their stories. What was that like for you as an actor? Did you feel like there was any responsibility or pressure?
I thought it was a really bold move on the show’s part to do that. It’s not like they were just like, “Oh, let’s do it slowly.” It was like four of us entering, and I was like, wow. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to go to the read-throughs every week to hear everyone’s storyline developed because I was curious, like, how do you do that with the show? And what moved me was that every time each of those characters spoke, I was like, oh, she has a husband; and she has fertility problems; and she’s completely into fashion, [is] rich, and lives this life that I’m not used to seeing. And then Sara coming into full gender politics and non-binary [identity], and I was just like, wow.
And I started to really enjoy it, listening to where everyone was going. And for me, I don’t know why, but I never see things as a pressure for me because when you do a series, it’s the writers, the directors, the editors, there’s so many people involved, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, sometimes it does, and I always feel like I can only do what I do. I’m not there to portray an Indian woman only, I’m there to try and be a good enough actress and show some kind of nuance, if I can. And that’s what I get obsessed with as opposed to the onus on my shoulder, because I’m never gonna be able to do that.
And you’re watching along every week, right? As each episode drops?
I am! [Laughs] It’s so funny.
Do you follow along with the memes, tweets, and reactions too?
No, because I’ve learned—again, luckily, because I came late to social media and everything. I know from the way I am; I think we all are vulnerable to that.
[When] I was in my first film, I remember I learned my lesson. I read reviews and I remember they were all great. And then there was one that wasn’t. And that’s the only one I remembered. I can’t remember the others and, you know, it hurts you. And so I think it was by the time I grew up understanding that, when social media came along, I was like, “Oh no, no, I’m not gonna [read them], I’m not the one who’s good at that.” So I tend not to.
I was talking to Michael Patrick King [the AJLT showrunner] about the show and the reactions. And we were both saying what is amazing is how much talk there is. Like, every time I open my phone, there’s something about the show. And whether it’s good one day or bad the next day or whatever it is, you’re like, “Thank God it’s so alive at this point.” Because imagine if there was no talk; that would also be a problem.
So if you come across the backlash, is that the mentality you’re bringing to it? At least people are talking about it?
Partly. I mean, literally, I see the headline and if it’s not that nice, I’m like, “Okay, well, at least we’re the subject of this week,” but part of my brain does that, and the other part is like, “Do not open it, Sarita, do not open it.” Because you know what else I learned? An odd thing. Sometimes when I did look at a few, I was like, “Oh, the ones with the harshest titles are actually not that mean and some of the ones with the nicer titles then get mean later.” So I thought, Aha, very tricky here.
Obviously we don’t know right now, but if we get a renewal, what would you like to see from Seema in a second season?
Oh my goodness. I think maybe I’d like to see where she lives and who comes over to hang out with her, and how they are when they meet Carrie and how Carrie is in that world. I definitely [want to] see what she is like beyond a second date. Like domestic Seema, that would be very comedic to me.
She’s such a real estate pro, I’m sure her apartment will be amazing. What do you imagine her home looks like?
Well, I think either it is amazing or…You know when you do so much work for other people’s taste and help them, you’re almost harder on yourself? And so you end up not doing it until you find, [for example,] the perfect statue that she fell in love with in Rome, but they wouldn’t let her have it ‘cause it’s part of a museum. I feel like her house wouldn’t be finished, in a weird way.
I can see that. I know you’ve addressed this before, but Seema is getting a lot of comparisons to Samantha, especially when she sat in with the trio in a recent episode. Would you want to see Samantha in a future episode? How do you think they would interact?
Oh my God. I’ve never thought of that. Wow. Let me think for a second.
First, I think it would be so much fun to watch. And I think they would eye each other quite a bit in the non-moments. In a way, they’re not similar at all…I can feel the difference between them, but I don’t really know how to articulate it. They do obviously have things in common and I think what would be so fun is—you know when two animals meet and they check each other out? It’s kind of that. And it could end up being very comedic or quite tender, in a weird way. And also I think, for the most part, I’ve had most of my scenes with Carrie and I don’t know why, but I’m so protective of her. And so if I did meet Samantha, it would probably be in a moment of hanging out with Carrie. I can imagine that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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