Uzzwal Bhandary is not a household name. Not in America, anyway. At least not yet.
This newcomer to Sonoma County has a TV following in his native Nepal and he's hoping to make a start in show business — or, truly, any business — in this country. He's prepared to work even dressed as a man.
Bhandary (vahn-DAH-ree) is the star of the Nepal 1 network's low-budget weekly talk show, "Ujju Darling." In more than 400 episodes, he appears on a beauty-parlor set gussied up in a wig, makeup and female clothes. He interviews guests such as national and local politicians, fellow performers and Nepalese people with interesting stories.
Why the cross-dressing?
"It's different," the personable and engaging Bhandary, 47, said over coffee at Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall. For the time being, he and his wife, Puspa, and sons Sezal, 19, and Pranzal, 12, live in an apartment nearby.
"There are so many talk shows, everywhere in the world," he said. When the longtime Kathmandu tour guide and actor took a shot at getting his own show onto the air in 2007, he figured he had to do something to stand out.
Bhandary concedes that his crossing-dressing wasn't an immediate hit in largely Buddhist and Hindu Nepal.
"I got very negative feedback from my friends and family, and the public," he said. He persuaded his quite nervous producer to hang in with him for a year.
After about 50 weekly episodes, Bhandary said, "People came to like it." Friends would ask him, "Who will you have on next?"
For each half-hour show, he typically welcomes one guest into the beauty parlor and the two of them chat over coffee. As Ujju, he is flirtatious, nimble and spontaneous.
He said the gig has not made him much money. Yet, he said, that is not the primary reason that he packed up his family in February — after filming enough episodes of "Ujju Darling" to last a year — and came to America.
"It was for my children, for their education," he said. "I didn't see any future for them in Nepal."
Bhandary said the U.S. granted him a Green Card as an artist. He and his family flew first to Atlanta because an American friend, Kim Solez, knows people there whom the physician and world traveler thought might help Bhandary make a start.
Solez, a pathologist and professor, years ago hired Bhandary as a guide in Kathmandu and they became friends.
"He's quite an unusual tour guide, and he's also a well-known TV personality," Solez said by phone from Edmonton, Canada. "He's an odd mixture of ordinary and extraordinary traits."
Solez said his sense of "Ujju Darling" is that Bhandary's female persona "just kind of works to bring out interesting aspects of the life of the person he's interviewing."
Solez asked friends in Atlanta to try to help Bhandary get some sort of work, but nothing developed. So five weeks ago, the Nepalese family decided to try to find something in Santa Rosa, where friend Manoj Shresthe lives.
Shresthe owns a couple of liquor-and-food marts in Sonoma County. He said he believes his friend the actor-tour guide is capable of being a success here.
Bhandary said he would love to get into the entertainment business in California — he has begun work on a movie script, tentatively titled "Being Homeless," that he believes could be a hit.