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EMU professor lands role in ‘Origin’ movie portraying an Indian scholar

Crystal Graham
Pathania
Images courtesy Eastern Mennonite University.

An Eastern Mennonite University professor appears in filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s latest movie, Origin, released in theaters today in limited markets including New York and Lost Angeles.

Dr. Gaurav J. Pathania, an assistant professor of sociology and peacebuilding at EMU in Harrisonburg, plays an anti-caste activist and lifelong Ambedkarite.

Pathania answered an open casting call submitted to the online Ambedkarite community in October 2022. He said he went through a lengthy audition process and was ultimately selected for the role. This is his debut acting role.

Origin follows journalist Isabel Wilkerson on her journey in writing her 2020 New York Times bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Pathania portrays Indian scholar and social reformer Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar was born a Dalit, the lowest stratum of India’s caste system, but was able to earn degrees from the University of Mumbai, Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He would serve as India’s first law minister after its independence from Britain in 1947 as well as chairman of the Constitution drafting committee. He is regarded as one of the most educated and revered Indians throughout history.

The EMU professor appears in Ambedkar’s trademark three-piece suit and tie with slicked back hair and a pair of thick-rimmed round glasses. Pathania has no speaking parts.

DuVernay gave Pathania advice before shooting his scenes, he said.

“She told me, ‘You’ve studied this man for your whole life. So, just think about him when you’re on set. You don’t need any training; you have him in your heart.’”

Before arriving at EMU, Pathania taught at Georgetown University, Catholic University of America and George Washington University. He is an anti-caste poet, writer and community builder, and he mentors emerging scholars through the Ambedkar International Center Authors’ Lab.

DuVernay is best known for her previous films including Selma and 13th.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.