Archie Panjabi spreads her investigative wings
The image of petite British actress Archie Panjabi in a short, tight skirt and fitted blouse with a leather jacket and boots remains deep-etched in the minds of the The Good Wife fans.
In fact, as soon as I heard her voice over the phone, I flashed back to her character in the series.
She has been busy with other projects since the show ended in May 2016. Panjabi has been in The Fall, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Blindspot, Bull, Next of Kin, Shetland and a few other less prominent projects.
But the impact she made in her role as an inscrutable, fiery and fiercely private in-house investigator, was nothing short of mesmerising.
Viewers loved her unwavering loyalty to those close to her. But that’s the great thing about Panjabi, she stands out in her roles.
Revisiting her earlier career, she shot to fame in a supporting role as Pinky Bhamra in Gurinder Chadha’s box-office hit movie, Bend it Like Beckham.
On the back of such a powerful launchpad, it wasn’t difficult for her to be cast in other projects.
Given her Indian roots, her features made it easy for her to be cast in stereotypical roles. But she explored each character with commendable amounts of passion and enthusiasm.
This brings us to Panjabi’s latest role in Universal TV’s Departure.
She plays Kendra Malley. Up until a year ago, when a tragic accident upended her life, she was a promising investigator with the Transport Safety
and Investigations Bureau. Any inference to similarities between her previous role and her latest one is quashed during our interview.
“I play an accident investigator,” Panjabi said. “After British Global Air Flight 716 goes missing, it’s my job to find the truth of what happened to the flight. And she comes across various culprits.
"While both characters specialised in investigations; Kalinda was a private investigator for a legal company whereas Kendra is a transport investigator. Other than the title, the jobs are vastly different.”
Departure delves into what happened to the plane, with 256 passengers on board, after it went missing shortly after take-offrom John F Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
In the meantime, Howard Lawson (Christopher Plummer) cajoles Kendra into returning to work to take on the case.
Under the public gaze and immense media scrutiny, she has an expert team at her disposal: Theo Barker, a tech expert; Levi Holl, a human performance analyst; and Nadia Torres, a marine specialist.
They are also working with highlevel security agents. While delving into the mysterious disappearance of the plane, they are plagued by the conflicting motives of pilot suicide, terrorism, systems failure and politically motivated murder.
“And those keep turning and turning until eventually, we find the truth in episode six,” Panjabi said.
Delving into what drew her to this show, she said: “Apart from the obviousness of it being a thrilling story, it is how she starts to piece together the evidence and deals with the victims’ families.
“In doing so, she also starts to deal with an accident she experienced herself a year ago, where she lost her partner, tragically. Over the six parts, you get a window into her past, into her life and the current pain she is going through. That is what drew me to the project.
“Here is a woman who, prior to the accident, was a very different person. The questions then become: ‘Does that make her a better
investigator?’Is it right for her to come back to work when she hasn’t fully recovered from the trauma? As an audience, you will get to see that, obviously.”
On her being at the helm of the series, which has been known to place actors under pressure, she said shesaw it as an advantage.
“It gives me the ability to inject more ideas, put more thoughts forward on the whole production and not just my role. And to be involved in the making of the show, it’s an education to me.
“Eventually, I would like to get deeply involved with it in the future.”
When it comes to the projects that tick her box, Panjabi said it had to contain elements of intrigue and excitement. She got bored if the actress inside her wasn’t challenged.
“I’m naturally drawn to risky projects.”
As for her current and future plans, she said: “I’m currently doing a project with HBO called, I Know This Much is True, which is based on a book by Wally Lamb. It’s about twin brothers. One of them is a paranoid schizophrenic, and I play the psychologist who deals with them. Mark Ruffalo plays the twins.”
With our time almost up, Panjabi added: “There is so much television on the market. Audiences are so much more sophisticated. And they are king, they decide if something is good or not.”
After watching the show last night, I was on the edge of my seat. So if you are looking for something really thrilling that you can’t wait for the next episode, Departure would be a frontrunner.
Departure airs on Universal TV (DStv channel 117) on Monday, August 5 at 8pm.IOL