Growing up in Dandenong as the daughter of South Asian parents, Natesha Somasundaram never saw people like her on television.
She blames that invisibility for making it tough to develop a sense of her own identity – until she started writing for a living several years ago.
Her Sri Lankan Tamil parents emigrated to Australia in the late 1980s to escape the country’s civil war. “We grew up in a predominantly white area and I was the only person of colour at my school level,” she tells IF.
“I had a very difficult time navigating my identity. I decided I never wanted to be associated with Sri Lanka or its culture. I shut that out of my system until the past couple of years as a writer when I reconnected with my culture.”
Intending initially to be an actor, she did a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree at Monash University, graduating in 2017. During that time she changed her mind about acting and did a script-writing elective.
Her teacher was so impressed with her assignment she sent it to Playwriting Australia, which arranged to stage the work, Entomology, at the national play festival at the Malthouse Theatre.
Louise Gough, who was then a Screen Australia development executive, loved the short play about six dysfunctional people who meet on a train. She alerted her friend, Buster Productions’ Justine Flynn, who was developing the children’s series The Unlisted with Aquarius Films.
Flynn messaged Natesha, they met in Sydney and then introduced her to Aquarius Films’ Polly Staniford Seager and Angie Fielder.
After Entomology she was hired as resident playwright at the Melbourne Theatre Company for two years. In 2017 she was was invited to join the writers’ room for the ABC’s Get Krack!n, for which she got an ‘additional writer’ credit.
She spent time in writers’ rooms developing projects with Veronica Gleeson at Madman Entertainment, Ellie Beaumont and Drew Proffitt’s Subtext Pictures, and with Justine Flynn on Parent Up, a children’s sci-fi comedy, which are yet to come to fruition.
Also she took part in a brainstorming session with Elise McCredie and Andrew Anastasios on The Interpreter, a political thriller centred on a Sri Lankan interpreter, for KOJO Entertainment and SBS.
Thanks to Flynn and Aquarius, she got her first TV drama credit: Writing episode 10 of The Unlisted. Premiering on the ABC on September 13, the action sci-fi thriller co-commissioned by Netflix follows two 13-year-old identical twins who team up with a group of underground vigilantes to stop a powerful corporation from imposing control over the world’s youth.
Discovered by casting director Kirsty McGregor, Ved and Vrund Rao play the twins, Dru and Kal, alongside Miah Madden and Abigail Adriano.
The episodes were directed by Flynn, Rhys Graham, Nick Verso, Lucy Gaffy, Neil Sharma and Rebecca O’Brien.
Collaborating with the showrunner Flynn and fellow writers Mithila Gupta, Timothy Lee, Tristram Baumber, Nicholas Brown, Rhys Graham, Jane Allen, Greg Waters and Chris Kunz, she says: “That was the most revolutionary writers’ rooms I’d ever been in, a masterclass of screenwriting.
“I was so grateful that Polly and Angie gave me the space to learn as I watched them construct the world and the characters within it.
“I loved the fact it was a genre based show and that it was centered around two Indian Australian boys. The series wasn’t going to be about them having an identity crisis or trying to fit in; it was just normalised in this dystopian world.
“If I’d seen a show like that when I was growing up it would have changed so many things about the way I perceived myself. My early writing never had characters who were South Asian because I didn’t know how to write that. The Unlisted warmed my soul like no other project.”
Her dreams are to become a show runner and to work in the US and internationally. Towards that end she is developing a pilot about a girl, co-incidentally named Natesha, who discovers that a dildo is a portal to a parallel universe.