Sonal Shah once called herself the little brown version of Katherine Heigl from the movie 27 Dresses.
This was probably because she’s also walked the bridesmaid aisle a number of times. She jokes she’s done it a whopping 15 times, so only another 12 to go before she finds her own dashing James Marsden.
While there are definite similarities to Heigl’s spunky and beautiful film persona, the resemblance stops there. Sonal is a tour de force, whose wit and ridiculously bodacious talent redefines her tiny physical frame and Indian heritage. Just ask Bill Lawrence, the creator of television hit shows like Scrubs, Spin City, Cougar Town and Undateable. Bill says, and I quote, “Sonal Shah is a hyper-talented comedic actress and if [he] could buy stocks in her future, he’d do it today!”
Written in the Stars
Bill praised Sonal’s work on Scrubs, but there’s no doubt Sonal’s date with destiny was already written in the stars. Before moving to Los Angeles, Sonal had already amassed a dazzling array of accomplishments acting in Chicago’s local theaters including the acclaimed Goodman Theater. Sonal’s love of entertaining audiences was born out of her family’s love for dancing, singing, comedy and creative play.
She earned the nickname “Ak-tress” in second grade and has done everything from improvisational Bollywood dancing (yes, I had no idea this even existed!) to DJ spinning and singing in show choirs.
The breadth of her interests and talent help to explain why it didn’t take long to land a regular gig on ABC’s Family series The PTA, shortly after moving to Hollywood.
However, when the pilot did not get picked up, she waited months for her next acting job. Struggling to stay optimistic, she waited tables and scrubbed floors. But her perseverance paid off when she was cast in the hit NBC sitcom, Scrubs.
Sonal played Dr. Sunny Deys, an overtly “sunny” medical intern. What’s ironic is that Sonal started her college career at Loyola University as a biology and pre-med student. Only after winning a best actress award mid-way through her studies did she decide to major in theater.
Sonal went on to shoot the last eight episodes of Scrubs’ final season, and was lucky enough to find work afterwards in their webisodes “Interns” as well as acting in a variety of short films. Some of the films did really well, like The First Date, which was a semifinalist in the NBC Shortcuts Festival.
Sonal’s Expanding Repertoire
While the films provided steady work and a chance to expand her experience and connections, Sonal continued to cut her teeth on new skills including the world of comedy. She’s worked at Second City and loves doing stand up, even though she still finds it terrifying. After watching her work in Scrubs, it’s obvious she has a natural comedic flare. I’m sure you’ll agree when you watch the video or any of the others on her website that showcase her creative art.
Whether it’s voiceover work in cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls or honing new skills in writing and directing, the sky seems to be the limit for Sonal. When we had a chance to chat, two things grabbed me: her incredible humility and her creative desire to use her art for good. So here’s the rub – I don’t know many actors. Nor do I know if many of them follow a quasi-pinball approach to career planning just to be able to work in the industry. But I do believe it can’t be easy to stay grounded in your art and to hold true to family values threatened by life in Hollywood’s fastlane.
Sonal is that rare person you meet whose love of family and commitment to her roots in Chicago provide her with a tremendous support network.
Sonal continues to be grateful and eager to spend time with her friends and family, and travels home as often as she can. She loves to cook, hike, go on adventures, and yoga it out. While she’s obviously driven to succeed, fame and fortune are not her end goals. Instead, Sonal admits she’s addicted to making people happy, whether its on stage, behind a camera or advocating for peace and human rights. Sonal wants to connect with others in a way that oozes with affection. That’s why she teaches acting and tutors kids in math in science. Is there no end to the talents of this self-professed numbers geek!
The Next Stage
You guessed it – there’s more. Sonal’s passion to make a difference in the world is everywhere. She continues to support organizations that promote justice and peace in the world, including groups like American India Foundation and Indo American Community Services.
She volunteers at a local soup kitchen. Along with actor Parvesh Cheena, she hosted the Asian American Institute for Congressional Studies 22nd Annual Gala in Washington DC and welcomed keynote speaker, President Barack Obama. She’s also been tapped to give speeches at commencements and to donate her time and energies at various festival events.
Thankfully, this passion is what brought Sonal to WomanScape. We are excited to provide a platform that inspires women to dream and to connect to other women from around the world through shared storytelling. It’s a powerful medium. Sonal’s message to people everywhere is to be fearless and to go for their dreams.
It’s because Sonal embodies her truth that she continues to inspire others and to promote happiness. She brings the same kind of unfettered energy and passion we see in her stage work to every challenge and phase of her life.
Her definition of success? Sonal says, “Success is raising the frequency of the planet by loving yourself and loving others in a constantly evolving existence.”
WomanScape welcomes Sonal Shah. You can read her stories in a new series, “Sunny Side Up” each month. Connect with Sonal on her social media platforms and keep watching as she steps onto our global stage.
**Photo credit and thanks to @danapatrickphotos for the opening headshot and @funnychicksinia for all other photos except the last one by @ponderossa.