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Punjabi actress Sharon Johal hits Australia's small screen on Neighbours

Indian-Australian Actress Sharon Johal Source: Supplied

Sharon Johal has hit the small screen in network Ten's TV show, Neighbours. She is the first Punjabi Sikh actor on national television in a mainstream program.

Sharon Johal was born in the Riverland, in rural South Australia to Saroop Singh and Amanvir (Molly) Johal.

Sharon is proud to be breaking down barriers and inspiring others, especially young women.

She is the first Australian Indian/Punjabi character in a permanent role, and the first half of an interracial couple as a permanent character on mainstream television.

In an interview with SBS Radio’s Preetinder Singh Grewal, Sharon said that she is proud to be a part of a more accurate representation of the Australian community as it is today.

Sharon Johal
Sharon Johal at SBS Studio, Melbourne

After graduating with a Law and Commerce degree, she moved to Melbourne with the hope of furthering her acting career.

She worked full-time as a commercial and litigation lawyer, while also attending auditions.

"Coming close to winning various roles many times, and the continuing process of callbacks, auditions and rejections was heartbreaking and torturous."

Before her "first major break", Sharon worked hard, auditioning for a number of movie roles including 'Pirates of the Caribbean', 'Thor' and 'Alien'. She had also previoulsy tried out for 'Neighbours.'

She received a call late last year to audition for the role of her now sister on the show, Mishti, and went through various rounds of auditions. She was subsequently asked to audition for the role of Dipi Rebecchi and was successful.

Sharon says she has fallen in love with Dipi as a character given her "warmth, strength, vibrance, independence and sense of family by  creating a better life for her children and husband."

Whilst it is a challenging role given that Sharon was required to play a character much older than herself with a "ready-made" family and a complex history, she says that the depth and complexity of the character and obvious challenge in portraying her in the "realest" way possible attracted her to the role. 

Sharon’s experience was that diversity on screen for television and film was not as prevalent as it is today, and opportunities were scarce though she believes there is still a long way to go.

Sharon Johal as Dipi Rebecchi
Sharon Johal (M) as Dipi Rebecchi in Network Ten's TV show, Neighbours

Even so, Sharon was able to secure major advertising campaigns, won modeling competitions, performed in short films and in the Australian television show 'Winners and Losers'. She has various music film clips under her belt, theatre shows performances (Fringe Festival) and lifestyle television shows.

In 2013 she acted in the Bollywood/Punjabi film 'Tu Mera Bai, Mai Tera Bai.'

Sharon was convinced by a friend to audition for the SBS documentary show 'Bollywood Star' in 2012. At the time she was not interested in moving to another country to act, but was also aware that given her physical appearance, there was a market for her in India.

After a nationwide search, thousands of participants and vigorous rounds of auditions, she made the final six contestants who travelled to India to audition for highly acclaimed director Mahesh Bhatt for a role in one of his movies.

Sharon made the top four contestants and subsequently came runner up.

Sharon Johal

Into the future Sharon says that she is looking forward to performing in more complex and challenging roles in television, film and theatre - not limited to Australia, transcending different genres and languages.

She says that she may still consider working in Bollywood/Punjabi films in the future as she proudly sees herself as an Australian Sikh Punjabi.

While her parents were not supportive of her choices initially, they are now fully behind her and could not be happier.

Sharon was born in Australia but maintains a strong connection to her identity. Her parents ensured that Sharon and her siblings were exposed to Punjabi culture from birth.

Her father taught at the local Punjabi School and sent the three siblings to study the language, culture and religion in Himachal Pradesh, India.

Sharon learnt how to read and write Punjabi/Hindi, Gurmukhi, and also how to play Tabla, Harmonium, Dhad and Sarangi.

Sharon johal

Sharon, like her father, is a keen advocate for the disadvantaged and volunteers regularly for charities and organisations. 

She has provided legal advice for displaced and homeless peoples, worked in soup kitchens in Adelaide and Melbourne, volunteered for Link Pets, RSPCA, assisted disabilility organisations, volunteered for the Equity Diversity Committee, been a Starlight ambassador and has assisted with Sikh Youth committees.

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