Set to portray a fierce ice hockey player in Disney’s ‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers’, the Indian-American actor chats about continuing the legacy of a fan-favourite underdog story alongside a new set of talents
“It’s definitely a challenge to remember a hockey technique and match-play you’ve rehearsed a lot, while staying in character,” laughs an effervescent Swayam Ranjeet Bhatia (better known as ‘Sway’) during a video call from her home in the U.S. with MetroPlus, adding, “there is so much happening in your head at that time, but I love that experience because you’re also aware of the cameras moving around you and your own expressions and how the ‘match’ is going.’”
Back on the ice
The 13-year-old actor is referring to her latest role as Sofi Hudson-Batra, a young Indian teen who is a talented hockey player on the Mighty Ducks team in the much-awaited reboot series. Taking place nearly 30 years after cult-classic trilogy The Mighty Ducks (1992 – 1996), the series The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers follows attorney-turned-coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) going toe-to-toe against the very team he first trained: the much-loved underdog team Mighty Ducks. In the new Disney+ series, the former underdog team has risen to a competitive rank, propelling rejected players to form a new team called Don’t Bothers.
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“When I first got the auditions, I had not seen the trilogy before, but many people recommended it to me because I used to be a figure skater when I was growing up in Dubai,” she explains. When she finally watched the films, she got hooked. When she booked the role, she and her cast mates – including Brady Noon and Taegan Burns – went to Vancouver for two weeks to train with National Hockey League players, along with the necessary quarantine measures.
“I got to do some of my own stunts,” she laughs as she pumps her fists in victory, adding, “and it’s intimidating at times because we have extras who are really good hockey players and your character has to be one of the best. So when you see that, you think ‘thank goodness for stunt doubles.’”
Her family originating from Gujarat, Bhatia is thankful that her character Sofi’s journey has not been censored in terms of the pressure and indecision she faces. “Highlighting the journey of a strong girl of colour who is a great hockey player is so important because you don’t see it in the sports space. She may seem like a perfect fairytale character on the outside, but the show highlights some insecurities we don’t see right away,” she describes, “and she has some solo scenes where it’s shown how much she goes through: such as her parents urging her to go to Harvard, get straight A’s, and win in ice hockey. If she was someone who only enjoys all of them, not everyone watching the series could relate to her.”
Working with actors such as Emilio Estevez and Lauren Graham (who plays Brady Noon’s character’s mother) is an experience Bhatia would not trade for anything. “These people are legacies to the industry. They gave so much advice about really getting into character. Emilio was especially insistent on people ‘studying their characters’ and Sofi, unlike other characters, has a real back story and personality.”
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is mindful not to ‘dumb down’ the language of the series, addressing issues such as bullying, relationships, peer pressure, parental pressure and failure in a head-on manner. “You can’t name it as ‘a kid’s show’ because there are themes that more adults than kids would understand, simply because younger kids may not know yet how to talk about them. There definitely aren’t as many curse words or chats about business as there were on Succession,” comments Bhatia.
Still much unwritten…
Unlike most young actors who start in the Disney space and then move on to more grown-up channels, Bhatia, who is also a talented drummer, actually started with series such as Netflix’s Master Of None (playing Aziz Ansari’s character’s daughter) and HBO’s Succession, then came to Disney – and she is grateful for how this shaped her. Bhatia also feels lucky as she recalls working during the pandemic, on a young adult series called The Quaran-Teens, following the trials and tribulations of being locked-down during your formative years.
“It’s great to look back on a career and know I took small steps when it mattered, because I learned so much about the industry,” she recounts. Bhatia also reveres Vice President Kamala Harris for her own beginnings as a child of immigrant parents and ambitions as a community and world leader. “I would love to get behind the camera at some point, especially with cinematography; I love knowing which camera is being used. I do a lot of my own videos and being the director of them,” she explains. “When I go to college, I hope I can know more about directing or writing, or I might want to study computer science. Right now, I love writing my own music and I have a lot of movie ideas in my head that haven’t been written out yet.”
The Mighty Ducks : Game Changers streams from March 26 on Disney+.