It's rare that an entertainer is able to make an impact in multiple mediums, but for a highly talented few, this isn't just possible but necessary, allowing a performer to express their artistry in different ways.
Leah Khambata has found success not only as an actress but also as a singer/songwriter. To get a better idea of her work so far, let's run through some key credits and performances.
Just within the past few years, Khambata has had two music videos featured on VH1 India, won Best Lyricist from IIMA, and gave a virtual concert through Rolling Stone India. Rolling Stone India also did a write-up on Khambata's single, Calling You Home.
In the world of acting, Khambata had a key role in the Amazon Prime Video original series Guilty Minds. Even more recently, she was featured in a guest star role for an as-yet-unreleased Lionsgate series.
When she was living in New York, Khambata acted in multiple short films and starred in off-Broadway plays as well.
We wanted to know more about how Khambata has been able to balance these two sides of her career so well, so we sat down with her to have a chat about music and acting: the places where they converge, the places where they separate, the time put into each, and also how the pandemic factored into all of this.
One of Khambata's opening comments did a good job of summarizing how she's been able to do it all for years at a time.
"I’m a very curious soul who loves to explore different things, and I think that I’m a better performer and actor for it. Especially within the field itself, I think it’s so useful to take the time to understand all aspects of the industry. I've worked in so many different aspects of production, and those experiences have given me a unique perspective on performance, whether it's a music performance or an acting role."
There's something really special about Khambata's artistic drive and all the impressive work she's been able to create, even during what has been an especially challenging historical moment for artists of all kinds.
Join us for a look at how she makes it all happen.
Let's get things started with a few comments on the types of acting roles that Khambata likes to take on.
There are plenty of working actors out there who seem content to find a somewhat niche type of role that they can play very well and simply build their acting reputation around that niche. However, this does not describe Khambata's acting ambitions.
Given her artistic versatility, you might not be surprised to hear that Khambata enjoys a variety of roles, with some of those roles naturally being more challenging than the others.
"I do like the role to be emotionally challenging enough that I feel excited to take it on and play around with it, but I also like roles where you can just relax in the moment and have fun! I did a role once where I spoke multiple languages in a single scene in a different accent, which was definitely challenging, haha, but it felt very rewarding after."
From a certain angle, this approach to choosing roles also stands in contrast to Khambata's method of music creation, which just so happens to be our next topic.
Khambata's songwriting work, compared to her acting efforts, follows a rather different artistic direction.
Instead of trying to explore different perspectives and points of view, Khambata's songwriting process focuses heavily on intuition and authenticity.
Her music always speaks to an aspect of her own experience, and that's clear in both the finished songs and the process that generates new songs.
Though she's been writing songs since the age of 15, Khambata says that her songwriting process hasn't changed very much.
"The fundamental process has stayed the same for me: I start with the melody and see where it takes me. It starts with me just strumming on my guitar and finding a chord progression I like, and then the words sort of just flow out of me depending on the mood I’m in or if I’ve just watched something that’s really stuck with me."
From there, Khambata records these early demos on her phone so that she can come back to them later, after continuing to explore other melodies that speak to something real.
So that's just a taste of Khambata's acting and music work, completely separated from each other. Now let's talk about those fascinating moments when acting and music can come together.
Maybe one of the most significant ways in which Khambata has been able to manage both of these major components of her career is by allowing for cross-pollination. To put it another way, Khambata doesn't completely separate the two disciplines.
There are many opportunities for one to influence the other, and Khambata enjoys taking advantage of these opportunities.
Khambata told us that there are even times when writing or playing music can help her get into the right headspace for an acting role.
But there are other times when her musical and acting talent can be combined even more directly.
One project in particular where Khambata was able to utilize both skill-sets to the fullest was a short film titled (t)here.
Khambata wrote and produced the short, on top of acting in the film as well as co-writing the featured song alongside Nathania Lalwani.
Not many performers can achieve that level of versatility, though Khambata did mention a famous role where the actress had to pull double duty.
"I would love to play the role of a singer/songwriter in a film or series in the future, kind of like Keira Knightley’s role in Begin Again!"
Outside of these instances of direct combination, Khambata's music and acting skills inform one another in more subtle ways, helping her view performance challenges from a different angle.
It's no secret that the pandemic, especially in its first year, was an extremely challenging time for many professionals working in the arts.
Live performance of any kind was a non-option, and theater, film, and television projects were typically delayed until quarantine restrictions were eased.
Khambata was originally scheduled to shoot Guilty Minds in April of 2020, but it was pushed all the way back to December.
Still, Khambata and many other artists found ways to adapt to the circumstances, and for Khambata specifically, this meant not only continuing her acting work but her musical career as well.
"I wrote, filmed, and starred in a short film called “CoronaCramped” for Soho House’s Members Made from Home Film Competition, which placed in the top ten worldwide. I was also selected and performed for ABC Network Casting’s South Asian Talent Showcase, which was an amazing experience, even though it was online!"
As for musical performances, Khambata joined the trend of virtual concerts, playing an online show for Rolling Stone India Magazine as part of their Artists Work from Home series of shows.
Khambata also started her own virtual concert series, called Sofa Sounds.
"Every week I would go live on Instagram with another singer-songwriter and we would perform a few songs. I got to collaborate with so many amazing artists through that. I also performed some digital concerts for charities and other causes."
This is proof positive that there's always a way to connect with audiences, even when all the traditional avenues have been closed off.
Thankfully, artists and performers have been able to return to the tried and true production and performance channels, but it's inspiring to hear that, even in challenging times, people could still find solace and comfort in artistic expression over the internet.
Who knows? Maybe virtual concerts will continue to offer performance opportunities for musicians and even actors in the near future.
But for the moment, it's simply worth acknowledging that these kinds of performances helped so many of us feel connected and seen during a time of historic isolation.
Given the number of creatives who read our site, we often like to close things out with a valuable piece of advice from our guest, and this time around, Khambata highlighted the philosophy that has helped her find success.
"Don’t ever feel like you have to limit yourself to just one thing, career-wise. Keep creating and putting yourself out there! And collaborate with as many people as you can because collaboration is at the heart of both these industries."
Not everyone is meant to lead such a varied and versatile career, but if you feel that you have something to offer in multiple mediums, don't abandon something that gives you creative satisfaction.
Sure, you might not be able to find massive success in every creative pursuit, but as we've talked about here, you might find that the different disciplines feed off each other to create your unique artistic voice.