This Standford grad swapped cushy job at McKinsey & Company for a shot at Hollywood, and trust us, she’s doing great


Melanie Chandra is also a national-level karate champion; a former Miss India America; and co-founder of the NGO, Hospital for Hope, which provides medical care for the underprivileged in Jharkhand… Whew!

India At Large staff

For those TV addicts who have had to chance to watch Code Black, the CBS medical drama series that premiered in the US on September 30 last year, will immediately recall the character of Dr Malaya Pineda, a first-year resident at Angels Memorial.

Well, the character is played by a second-generation Indian American from New York, Melanie Chandra nee Kannokada. Her superb acting apart, what stands the 29-year-old apart is her background. Born and raised in a very conservative Malyali household in the Midwest, Melanie recently got married to her longtime friend, Neeraj Chandra, who is the managing director at Tiger Global Management.

Before finding her true calling in acting, Chandra worked towards a mechanical engineering degree at Stanford, where she was a member of the university’s cheerleading squad and also served as the student body president in her senior year.

She was also a recipient of the prestigious Mayfield Fellows Program, which is given to tech entrepreneurs, and the Book Award, for her service and contribution to the university.

But hang on, she is more than your average geek. Melanie is also a second-degree black belt in Shotokan Karate and a two-time bronze medalist in the Pan Asian Games, where she represented the United States in sparring as part of the United States Junior National Karate Team in Sao Paolo in 2000, Caracas in 2001 and Orlando in 2002.

“I focused on school and got accepted to my dream school, Stanford, where I pulled countless all-nighters to receive my Mechanical Engineering degree. Along the way, I started practicing karate, religiously. By the age of 14, I had my 2nd degree black belt. I still didn’t know how to talk to guys, but I at least knew I could take them in a fight. Karate was my vehicle to travel around the world, by competing in international tournaments,” she wrote on her personal website.

At Stanford, Chandra participated in social entrepreneurship initiatives. In her freshman year, she volunteered at Jagriti Vihara, a non-government organisation in Jharkhand, India. She then continued work for the NGO through her own co-founded Hospital for Hope, a non-profit providing health care services in rural India.

She modelled and competed for Miss India America 2007—and won, officially opening doors for her in the entertainment world.

For a brief period, she also worked at McKinsey and Company as a Business Analyst. Before starting her “real job” at McKinsey, she even worked for Sahara One. She was the lead anchor for the channel’s show, Bollywood Hollywood, which was dedicated to the latest film news from the East and the West.

She debuted as a lead actress in 2012 Indian American independent romantic comedy film Love, Lies and Seeta, where she played Seeta. The movie premiered at the India International Film Festival (IIFF) of Tampa Bay. Additionally, despite the language barrier, she worked in a Tollywood movie D for Dopidi.

“After a year or so of working in corporate America, I made the decision to leave my job and explore that childhood dream: acting. It was a huge life change to say the least. Parents were concerned. I knew nothing about the entertainment industry. There was no ‘right answer’ or formula to succeed. But I was determined to make it happen. Years later, I’m very grateful to say that I’m a full-time actor,” she wrote on her website.

She is rising to prominence now with her plum roles in The Brink (as Fareeda, acting alongside Jack Black, Tim Robbins, and Aasif Mandvi) and Code Black, but she has been in the spotlight in the West for a long time. Melanie has been featured as a model for numerous brands such as Bare Escentuals, Kohls, Crocs, and Verizon. She has also played prominent roles on American TV shows including How to Make it in America, Rules of Engagement, The Nine Lives of Chloe King, and NCIS: Los Angeles.

In her website, Melanie wrote: “I’m a daughter to immigrant parents who got their start in America by humble means. As a young child, I was overcome with passion to become the best version of myself – I dreamt of becoming an international actress, finding true love, traveling the world, and making a large impact on my community.”

She added: “My early years didn’t show much promise in those arenas. I was terrified to speak up in class. I was a socially awkward, introverted girl who had no clue how to talk to boys. I was that ‘Indian girl’ in an all-white school and was constantly being judged because of my skin color and hairy arms… We couldn’t afford to travel or take exotic vacations, minus a few road trips through endless cornfields leading to Wisconsin.”

But look, where she is today. “There is still so much I want to accomplish, experience, and share with the world. I do believe that one’s goal can be to realise their fullest potential. Almost anything is possible, if you dream big, focus, and work hard,” she added.


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