It may seem like Manish Dayal had his career as an actor mapped out from the beginning. The 25-year-old has been featured on major television networks, in ad campaigns for McDonald's and Windows Vista and in movies filmed all over India.
Dayal most recently portrayed the lead role in New Group's American premiere of Ayub Khan-Din's "Rafta, Rafta …," directed by Scott Elliott. "Rafta, Rafta …" (which means "softly, softly" in Hindi) opened at Theatre Row's Acorn Theatre on May 8 and closed June 28.
The winner of the 2008 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, "Rafta, Rafta …" is the tale of a close-knit Indian family in Britain. After their wedding feast, two nervous newlyweds are ready for some privacy, but the groom's father and his brother won't let them be. Before long, the groom and his new bride realize that having a honeymoon in his parents' house is not the ideal recipe for romance.
"It was one of the biggest hits in New York City at the time," Dayal said.
The Orangeburg native originally auditioned for a supporting role in the production and was called back by the director for a shot at the lead. His training included extensive vocal coaching to develop the Bolton, England, accent of his character, Atul.
Dayal said his career as an actor wasn't planned; he was more into film and television production and the business side of the industry.
While a student at Heathwood Hall Academy in Columbia, he spent his summer vacations in New York City to become as involved as he could in the entertainment world.
At George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Dayal shot movies, studied international business and worked in electronic media production. He also studied acting at the University of Southern California and the School for Film and Television in New York City.
After receiving degrees in business and film from George Washington University, Dayal began working as a network producer and got an offer to be in a movie, "Indian Beauty," which was shooting in India for three months.
He knew he would have to quit his job at the network to shoot the film.
"I decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'd better take it," Dayal said.
He said the movie served as a wonderful learning experience for him, both as an actor and producer. Soon after shooting ended, Dayal moved to New York and started auditioning and booking short films.
Legally named Manish Patel, he took his grandfather's first name — Dayal — and made it his last name. He said the change was necessary because, upon returning from India and joining the Screen Actors Guild, he discovered just how common a name Manish Patel was.
Dayal became better known in the industry when he managed to book several short films, a few of which made it to large festivals and proved his talent as an actor. He also found a manager to help develop his career even more.
One of his short films, "Time and the Hour Run," was shown at the South Asian Film Festival and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce Film Festival. He also hosted segments of the South Asian Student Alliance that were shown on Indo-American Television.
Dayal's resumé boasts more than 20 films, over 10 theatrical productions and numerous television appearances.
Dayal admits his success in the entertainment industry hasn't come easy.
"I've been very fortunate because of the work ethic I was raised with," he said, crediting his parents, Hema and Sudhir Patel, who still live in Orangeburg, for the drive that keeps him going.
Most Indian families are comprised of doctors and lawyers, Dayal said, and a strong work ethic is essential from beginning.
"When you apply that sort of work ethic to the entertainment business, it's pretty amazing what can happen," he said, adding that the lessons he learned from his father on being a good businessman are applied daily to his work.
Dayal said his parents are extremely supportive of his career, but he admits they were a bit apprehensive in the beginning.
"When you're first starting out, it's tough and not the most lucrative career choice. It's one of the most competitive careers," he said. "I started learning everything myself and getting involved with everything I could. I went to school for it; I started being recognized for it; I was booking jobs, and then they started seeing me on TV."
Being in the business has also taught his parents a little about the industry, too. Dayal said he can talk with his mother and use film terminology, and she knows exactly what he's talking about.
Among his mentors, Dayal cites Betty Lane Gramling, owner of Betty Lane School of Charm and Modeling in Orangeburg, for teaching him about the entertainment business.
"She did give me the guidance that I needed when I first started as a kid," Dayal said. "She talked to me about the business, and I learned a lot from her."
He said he's also learned a great deal from directors over the years, including "Rafta, Rafta …"'s Elliot.
As for Hollywood influences, Dayal said his favorite actor of all time is Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"Just watching him is like taking an acting class," he said. "He's one of the best actors I've seen on screen."
Indian actor Irfan Khan is also a favorite of Dayal. Khan received international recognition for his roles in "The Namesake," "Haasil" and "A Mighty Heart."
Dayal's future plans include "Rafta, Rafta …," which is moving to Broadway in December. He also has some upcoming film projects, including "Round Trip Ticket," which begins shooting in India at the end of next year, and "Joy Lies."
Throughout his career thus far, Dayal said he has learned many lessons, one of the biggest of which is to take everything in stride. In acting, rejection comes almost daily, he said, and Dayal admits he used to get upset about not booking jobs.
"The turning point was really realizing that this business is the only business in the world where you have little control over your future," he said. "We have no idea what they're looking for when we go in for a part."
He said the entertainment industry has given him a great deal of stamina, made him a stronger person and given him really thick skin.
"I feel like this business teaches you how remain unaffected and tough," Dayal said. As for advice to aspiring actors and actresses, he said the best advice he can give is, "Don't give up, and never stop learning."
For more information about Dayal, visit www.manishdayal.com.