At age 13, Swayam ‘Sway’ Bhatia is an actress, singer, drummer, comedian and model. With the recent debut of her latest series, ‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers’, streaming in the UAE on OSN, the former Dubai resident says she’s just getting started.
Bhatia, although born in New York, spent the first six years of her life in Dubai growing up. “I just have so many memories in Dubai, six years of my life was spent there and those were probably the most amazing six years. I love Dubai so much and I can’t wait to get back. I go every Christmas. But sadly I missed this year because of COVID,” said Bhatia.
The young Indian American credits her ability to easily pick up ice hockey for ‘Mighty Ducks’ to the few years she spent learning figure skating at Al Nasr Leisureland in Dubai, but Bollywood was her first love.
“I’ve always loved Bollywood movies and movies, period. I’ve always reenacted scenes from movies. I think I wanted to become an entertainer at birth. At a really young age, I knew I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I don’t know if I could properly say it. I don’t think I knew how to express it in a way. But I expressed it through my reenactment of Bollywood scenes with my Indian outfits. But ever since the start, I wanted to be an entertainer and make people laugh and make people smile,” said Bhatia.
In ‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers’, an offshoot of the popular ‘Mighty Ducks’ film trilogy, we see Bhatia take on the role of a skilled hockey player on the now powerhouse Mighty Ducks team, one that is no longer coached by Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez). Bhatia talks to us about the Disney Plus show, how she relates to her character, her role model Kamala Harris and her love for music. Edited excerpts follow:
Q: You spent some of your formative years growing up in Dubai. Can you tell us about your time in the city?
A: I was born in New York and then I moved to Dubai at the age of three weeks old. Many firsts were there honestly, that’s where my whole passion started. My first drums class, where I couldn’t even reach the drums [at first]. And then I had my first dance class at the Storage Con Company with Rahul sir. And then my first dance performance with Priyanka Chopra at the Meydan in front of thousands of people where I went on stage a little too early, and my mom had to pull me off. [Laughs.]
My first competition for Kidzania where I won third place, and I remember one of the judges was Kris Fade and Shaymak Dawar himself… Honestly, I miss being in Dubai and going to all the fancy malls. Dubai Mall is such a special place for me… And I have to tell you, I’ve been on Sheikh Zayed Road probably about 10 times every day growing up, going back and forth for classes.
Q: What attracted you to the role of Sophie in ‘The Mighty Ducks’?
A: What attracted me to Sophie in the ‘Mighty Ducks’ is that she is an empowering character for sure. And it was definitely a challenge for me having to deal with all of her layers of her personality but also showing her insecurities. I think she has this pressure from her parents. That is something that many people will be able to relate to. I definitely don’t have parents that pressure me at all, which is nice.
But she has this pressure that she’s all about what not she but her team is all about winning, winning winning, which is the Mighty Ducks did. It’s crazy to think that now they’re a team all about winning and really rough. Playing really dirty, which is not the way Sophie thinks. Honestly, she’s a nice person. And her parents are forcing her to go to Harvard and she has college counselors at the age of 12. And all these hockey camps during the summer. There’s no summer vacation and she can never take a breath.
But she has people like Evan (Brady Noon, that she can trust and she can tell them what she’s going through. So she has all these masks that she puts on when she’s talking to different people. And that was definitely a challenge for me to think, ‘Okay, what type of Sophie am I doing right now? How am I showing my insecurities?’ But it’s also important that they show the insecurities in her because it’s something that everybody can relate to. I mean nobody’s perfect. She’s definitely a relatable character and I hope she also becomes a role model to young girls — especially young girls of colour — because her storyline is so important.
Q: What was it like working with actors like Emilio Estevez and Lauren Graham?
A: Working with Emilio Estevez and Lauren Graham was insane. They’re legends to the acting industry and getting to work with them up close is such a valuable lesson. It’s everything you can imagine. They give all the kids so much advice, but also I bonded with Emilio and Lauren really well. Emilio would tell me about the struggles that he and his family dealt with. You know, his family changed his name, but he kept his name. I know he really wanted to show who he is. He was proud of his name and he was proud of who he is. And we share stories about each other’s families and we bonded in that way.
But also Laura and I have like these girl talks all the time and I really missed them a lot because they taught us so much and getting to watch them get into character and watching Emilio become Gordon Bombay is so amazing. They are celebrities but they definitely don’t act like it. They’re so sweet and humble and Emilio has really brought us into the ‘Mighty Ducks’ family.
Q: You’ve had roles in decidedly adult shows like ‘Master of None’ and your ongoing work with ‘Succession’. Is there a huge difference between working on an HBO set and a Disney set?
A: Getting to work on an HBO set and then a Disney set is definitely different in a way. Because I mean on ‘Succession’, I’m working with a mainly adult family [and on ‘Mighty Ducks’, the kids] outnumber the adults. It’s definitely nice having the adults but it’s also fun having the kids because you’ve created this offset family. But with HBO, I’m working with all these experienced actors — not only experienced actors, award-winning actors and directors and writers and show creators. I mean getting to watch the success of ‘Succession’ is insane.
I think it’s something I’ve never imagined and getting to work up close with an Emmy Award winning actor Jeremy Strong, who plays my dad, and then Brian Cox, who is also an award-winning actor, playing my grandpa, and Sarah Snoke and Nicholas Braun and Kieran Culkin and Alan Rock, all so many amazing actors that have taught me so much as an actor. I grew up on that show. They remind me [of that] all the time on set, ‘We’ve seen you grow up!’ [And] Jeremy Strong is such a cool guy. I remember season one, when it was my last day of filming he gave me and my coworker, Quintin Mirallas, a card, just like a goodbye card. And a thank you for all the work on the pilot. And just like Emelio and Lauren, they’re so humble, and so amazing to work with, and I still stay in touch with them.
Q: You’re also a very talented drummer and write your own music. Tell us about your journey in music.
A: Yes, I love drama. And writing my own music. It’s such a special thing getting to write your own music. But I’ve been a drummer since I was four years old. And I started off drumming in Dubai at this nice music studio, which was actually in JBR. And I remember my first class was a little weird for me, because the drums were too big for me where I couldn’t actually even reach the toms. So I was like, ‘I can’t do this, the drums are too big for me’.
And then I looked over in the next room, I was like, ‘That looks like more my size’. And I played on this mini drum kit, and it felt so good to be able to hit things without getting in trouble, And then, writing music is something I really picked up during quarantine. I’ve been writing parodies and rewriting rap songs for a while. But now when I get to write my own songs from scratch, it’s such a special feeling. And I have about three to four songs written right now that I can’t wait to share with the world.
Q: Over the last few years, the conversation around representation has grown exponentially. As an Indian-American, do you feel the responsibility of that representation? Are the roles you pick informed by your identity?
A: I think representation is such an important thing. I definitely feel a responsibility, especially being somebody of my background, an Indian American in the acting industry. I think it’s my job to empower young girls to reach for their roles, especially actors who feel like they can’t make it. But, also for representation, honestly, I think Kamala Harris has taken over.
That she has done what she has done to make America a better place and really inspire young girls and young girls of colour to go after their dreams and go after what they want to do. And now being Vice President of the United States, she’s proved that you can do anything, no matter what you look like, no matter if you’re a boy or girl, if you’re Indian, if you’re African American, if you’re Hispanic or anything, you can be anything and you can do anything. It doesn’t matter what you look like, you can really do anything if you love it, if you have a passion for something. And if you work hard, you can really reach for your goals and you can really make it to the top.
I audition for all ethnicity roles because I love acting and there’s so many diverse characters that I get. But it’s so amazing when you have this feeling that you can relate to the character so much and I honestly felt that with Sophie, it fit like a glove. And I loved her story and I loved the insecurities that she felt and I loved that she has this strong side to her but she doesn’t know how to show it to her parents. I knew it was going to be a challenge. But I was ready to accept that challenge.
Don’t miss it!
‘The Might Ducks: Game Changers’ is available to stream on OSN in the UAE.