Street: How did you get involved in Penn Masala?
Prashant Ramesh: I had briefly heard about it before I came to Penn. Some friends told me to check out their music because I’ve always liked to sing growing up. I took a look at it, thought it seemed really cool.
Street: How did you guys get to be in Pitch Perfect 2?
PR: Elizabeth Banks, who directed it, is a Penn alum. I guess she had heard about us when she was at Penn. Her team reached out to us via Facebook message.
Street: So Elizabeth Banks Facebook messaged you?
PR: Not her directly, but someone from her team. But we did meet her a couple of times. When we showed up at the set, she came out and greeted us. Then she came to Penn for a premiere event here when the movie released last spring. It was actually at Harvest.
Street: What was she like?
PR: She was very friendly and outgoing. We were so surprised when she came out to meet us because we figured she would be so busy on set, but she was very welcoming and very peppy about the movie and about being a Penn grad. She was very fun to be around.
Street: Is it true they wouldn’t let members of the group that didn’t look Indian be in the performance?
PR: Yeah, there’s one guy in our group who is white. They said they didn’t want him in the shot because they wanted an Indian a cappella group. It was a little awkward to navigate. We tried to push back on it. We were like, ‘No, he’s a full member of the group.’ But they were like, ‘We just prefer it this way for image.’ We were like, ‘Okay, there’s nothing we can do.’ He did come for the filming.
Street: So you were portraying an Indian a cappella group?
PR: The premise of the movie is that they go to a world competition. So we were the a cappella group from India. They gave us a cheesy name and everything. They named us The Naan Stops.
Street: Any fun stories from set?
PR: We ran into Anna Kendrick briefly. She was pretty stressed and didn’t really want to be stopped, but we asked her for a picture, and she was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ Apparently, she’s quite an introvert and doesn’t really like the spotlight. One other interesting anecdote was that they literally have people for everything you need on set. There was a guy whose job was to stand and spray you with a little bit of water and give you a towel so you’re not hot and sweaty when you go on stage.
Street: Did you meet Pentatonix?
PR: We did. They were pretty cool. The bass, Avi, and the beatboxer, Kevin, were super chill. They talked to us a bunch and were really friendly. The other three were a little aloof.
Street: Why do you think Penn Masala has found so much success?
PR: When Masala was founded, they were the first South Asian a cappella group. That caught a lot of initial attention. This was before South Asian dance teams and other performing arts had come up on college campuses. Because it was such a unique thing at the time, it caught on really quickly. Since then, now tons of college campuses have Hindi a cappella groups.
Street: What do your friends at home think of you being in a Hindi a cappella group?
PR: The first time we released a video and I sent it to them, they were like, ‘Whoa, why does it have all these views? Where is this coming from?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess some people know about us.’ They were like, ‘Dude, you’re like an Indian film star! You’re like a Bollywood star!’
Street: Have you ever gotten recognized?
PR: Yeah, actually. Me and a couple of the guys from the group were driving back from a show. The car was passing us. We saw them look at us, and we assumed it was because we had cut them off or done something on the road. They pulled in front of us, and they all turned around and kept looking back. They started taking selfies of themselves with us in the background.
Street: Is that the only time that’s happened?
PR: Once I was in Times Square with my family, someone walked by and was like, ‘Are you in Masala?’ My family was like, ‘What is going on?’
Street: Have any fans said anything weird to you?
PR: Not me directly, but at a show in India, there was a girl who kept crying from time to time whenever we’d start a song. And then after the show, she came up to one of the guys and literally got down on one knee and was like, ‘Will you marry me?’
Street: Do you think you can combine Hindi a cappella with chemical engineering?
PR: The only thing that I could potentially think of is doing some kind of marketing bit with Hindi a cappella to promote the solar startup that I hopefully have in the future.
Street: Can you talk about your involvement in APALI?
PR: The purpose of the program is twofold. One is to educate and get aware of issues affecting the APA community at Penn and globally. The second is to try and find a little bit more about your identity as a member of this community.
Street: What are some of the issues that people talk about?
PR: One of the topics was about the bamboo ceiling, which is the concept that for people of Asian American background, it’s sometimes difficult to move past mid–level or entry–level positions at companies. Another is affirmative action when applying to college; does it help or hurt being a member of the APA community? Hearing both sides of that issue and discussing it just helps you become more aware about it.
Street: What do you love the least about Penn?
PR: The emphasis on meeting goals, as opposed to learning along the way. I think that’s both a product of the school and the people here. But I think the school is in a better position to break the cycle than the students are.
Street: If you were going to be famous, what would it be for?
PR: Either insider trading or coming up with some cool scientific discovery. But what I would like to be famous for ideally would be being a really successful music producer, preferably hip–hop or R&B. I don’t think I’d last if I did that as my career, but if for some reason Jay-Z was like, ‘Dude, be my producer,’ I’d be like, ‘Yes.’
Street: If you were going to be infamous for something, what would it be?
PR: Some kind of financial scandal probably. I’m always the dude the gets caught doing something even if I didn’t do it. I’m guessing what would happen is I have a shady CFO in my startup, something goes down, but then I have to take the fall for it.
Street: If you are what you eat, then what are you?
Street: What was your first AIM screen name?
PR: bostonboy876. Not from Boston. Parents are not from Boston. I just liked Boston sports teams growing up for some reason.
Street: Describe yourself in three words.
PR: Creative, clown, confident.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn...
PR: If there’s one thing I’ve learned at Penn, it’s that binaries don’t exist.
Street: If you could have a drink with anyone in history, who would it be?
PR: Either Freud or Bill Clinton.
Street: Who was your first celebrity crush?
PR: Natalie Portman. Star Wars Episode I. When I was six. I think my attraction for her continued to grow. She published papers on psychology when she went to Harvard, and she’s also a super awesome actress and very attractive.
Street: Do you have any hidden talents?
PR: I’ve never met someone that I couldn’t beat at ping pong.
Street: Kill, Fuck, Marry—Amy Gutmann, the Quaker mascot, Kweder.
PR: Marry the mascot. I feel like the mascot would be pretty chill, I’m sure it would be an open marriage. Fuck Amy Gutmann, but kind of like hate fuck. I was debating between kill and fuck, but I don’t want to fuck Kweder. I’d fuck Amy Gutmann, but angrily.
Street: Which person at Penn has influenced you the most?
PR: Chetan Khanna.
Street: What’s one question we forgot to ask you?
PR: I’ve had a beard for the last year. It’s one of my proudest things. I’m very into grooming my facial hair. I had to shave last week because my mom was worried about me traveling internationally with a beard. Just to make her happy, I shaved. So if I’d had a beard here, the one question you should have asked me would be something related to my beard.
Street: How does it feel not having a beard?
PR: I feel terrible. It sucks. I feel very exposed. Every time I look in the mirror, I’m taken aback.
Street: Did it help you avoid getting stopped?
PR: No, I got stopped anyway.