Living a double life : Local teen enrolls at Degrassi High [Orleans Star, Ottawa, ON]

Living a double life : Local teen enrolls at Degrassi High

Article online since July 4th 2008, 8:50

Going through high school is often trying enough for any 16-year-old, but imagine attending two high schools 450 kilometres apart and getting no summer break.

This is, more or less, what life is like for Melinda Shankar.
The Sir Wilfred Laurier High School student who is entering Grade 11 in September lives a double life. Splitting her time between Ottawa and Toronto from May through to October, the young actress plays Grade 9 Degrassi High student Allia Bhandari on the famed Degrassi the Next Generation series.

For Shankar, the new job was a move from fan to fame.

“I was a huge fan of Degrassi even before getting the audition,” she says. “I feel blessed.”

As a new lead character on the show, playing the sister of long-time Degrassi character Sav Bhandari, Shankar will appear in every episode of season eight and expects to be a mainstay on the series through to Degrassi graduation.

Pleased with the “strong storylines” developed for Allia, Shankar says she’s very different from the boy-crazed character that conflicts with her traditional parents. However, she admits they do share some traits.

“She’s into the latest trends and styles and she’s very social,” explains Shankar of her character that enters the show beginning in Grade 9 at Degrassi. “That’s where we relate.”

Facing the difficulties of balancing school and an entertainment career is nothing new for the Orlans resident or her family. Since launching into an acting career at age 10 the student has modelled, been in commercials, the Disney movie High School Musical, and regularly made trips to Toronto and L.A. for auditions. Her 13-year-old brother Michael is also an accomplished actor, having appeared on the CBC show The Tournament.

“I’ve been kind of expecting it to be overwhelming, but it kind of all falls into place,” Shankar explains with the air of a true professional. “It hasn’t been intimidating at all.”

The help of an on-site tutor has made keeping up with school easier for Shankar since shooting began in Toronto in May. She spends two hours a day working with the tutor and faxes or couriers her homework back to Ottawa. She also maintains close contact with friends online and gets back to Ottawa whenever she can, she says.

“My friends are so supportive,” Shankar explains. “Every day I have been home I’ve been out with them. I am not worried about losing them at all.”

However, Shankar and her father are both eyeing a permanent move to Toronto as the teen continues to expand her career.

“I support my kids and let them follow their dreams,” says Paul Shankar, who also acts. “I’d like to establish a residence in Toronto. Wherever their careers take them, they will always have roots here in Ottawa.”

Looking ahead, Shankar says she’s most excited about an upcoming trip overseas with the Degrassi cast, which is heavily involved with Craig Keilberger’s Free the Children Foundation.

“We’re going to Ecuador in August and we’re going to help the kids out there,” she says.

— By David May

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