San Leandro, Calif. — Meera Rohit Kumbhani came to acting via a roundabout path. After graduating from UC Berkeley as a Regents and Chancellor’s Scholar, with a degree in neurobiology and a minor in theater arts, she worked in a lab during the day and performed theater at night — building up an impressive body of work that took her to Columbia University, where she received an MFA in acting and trained under legendary Shakespeare actors. From there, it seemed like a stage career was in the cards for the young Indian American actress, as she starred in productions such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar’s world premiere of “The Who & the What” at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Now, all you need is a TV remote to experience Kumbhani’s charm and comic skills: she is one of the stars of “Weird Loners,” a six-episode FOX comedy premiering Mar. 31 created and written by Michael J. Weithorn (“The King of Queens”). She plays Zara, one of four quirky 30-something misfits sharing a Queens, N.Y. townhouse and stumbling through New York City’s dating scene.
Encouraged by her agent, Khumbani sent in a video audition for the show. “It was one of those really serendipitous moments,” she told India-West in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I got the script and I read it, and it was just the easiest audition I’ve ever done. There was something that clicked: ‘I got this!’”
The character’s name was Zara, but she wasn’t written as Indian or any other ethnicity. Going in for a callback, Kumbhani found herself competing with some intimidating competition. “At the audition, it was me and then seven girls who were legit Brazilian soap opera actors,” she recalled, laughing. “Yes. Gorgeous, perfectly put together, but super nice too.”
But what she liked about the role was that it couldn’t easily be pigeonholed. “What’s really incredible and really important is that Michael Weithorn wrote a person. He auditioned a lot of people and waited to see what fit.
“That is surprisingly groundbreaking, because a lot of times you’d see, ‘Oh, I want to have this Indian character, so, ahhh, lemme see, what do I know about Indian people. Make her a medical student; I bet she has pressure to have an arranged marriage; and she probably is not a very sexual person, we won’t write any story lines about that.”
Zara is basically the complete opposite of that stereotype. Unwilling to get tied down in any sort of romantic relationship, she doesn’t seem to have any gainful employment — and she is a chronic pot smoker.
“Some things are gonna be a bit more scandalous,” she told India-West. “But the things that I do in the show are not things that I wouldn’t do, that other Indian Americans I know wouldn’t do — do you know what I mean?
“We can say, ‘Oh, we don’t do those things because we are good little Indian girls.’
“But we’re not! We’re decent-minded Indian Americans — which is a different experience than being a good little Indian girl.”
Kumbhani is the daughter of two Indian computer engineers, and lived with her family in Florida as a little girl. “We were the only family of color around,” she said. “It was not good. There was a lot of bullying, physical bullying, a lot of moments that will be seared into my memory that were pretty bad.
“We moved to the [San Francisco] Bay Area when I was 8 and it was the best decision my family ever made.” She attended Hopkins Junior High and Mission San Jose High School in Fremont. “I definitely say I grew up here, and I call it my home. I love it. It’s the best place in the world.”
Kumbhani says she feels viewers will respond to “Weird Loners” and its offbeat quartet of characters. “They’re alone and they’re lonely, and they never had anybody to lean on. So what I love about it is that you see all of them crammed together, living amongst each other, and navigating how to live with each other and lean on each other and grow bonds with each other.”
“I think it’s silly, and they’re all strange in a funny, wacky way,” she said.
“But there’s a lot of heart in it, and I think it’s important to admit that we all have this weird, lonely part of ourselves, no matter what your relationship status is.
“You could be happily married for 40 years. But we all have that weird person inside of ourselves that nobody understands. If we all do acknowledge it, it’s fine!
“We are all kind of weirdos and we’re all kind of strange,” she told India-West. “There are too many people in this world who try to be cool.”