October has enabled me to reclaim my Indian identity and feel fulfilled: Banita Sandhu

Abhishek Srivastava

April 12, 2018 11:00:48 IST

Director Shoojit Sircar moves with his latest find Banita Sandhu like a shadow and can often be spotted sitting beside her during interviews. The reason is not difficult to decipher. It’s her habit of speaking a bit fast and the Wales accent that’s to be blamed. He often nudges her when she fails to comprehend questions and sometimes even assists in translating questions that are thrown to her by the scribes. Banita ticks all the boxes when it comes to epitomising the true spirit of a protégé.

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Banita Sandhu with Varun Dhawan in Shoojit Sircar's October. Image from Twitter

It could be slightly daunting for a person who is not well versed with the language of Bollywood to become a part of it. How did she cope up with the dialogues in the film? “I was offered the film a year before we started filming and so it was a case of hiring a Hindi tutor straightaway. I took private lessons but when you live in London with English speaking people around, it becomes very difficult to pick the language. I frantically called Shoojit one day informing him that it’s not working and then we came with the idea of chatting on Skype back and forth every single day.” The trick worked and helped Banita get baptized into the world of Hindi cinema or more appropriately the world of October. With every passing day the confidence grew so much that she even announced her intention of dubbing the film in her own voice.

Banita hails from a third generation British Indian family who was raised in Newport, Wales and eventually moved to London to pursue her degree in English Literature from King’s College. Her first brush with India was in 2016 when she was offered to appear in a Vodafone ad. “This is not my first time in India. I was here to shoot an ad the first time. This is not just a journey for my career but is also about reclaiming my identity. It’s been an emotional and spiritual one. Growing up in a Wales society, I always thought there was a part of me that was empty because I had not connected to my roots. Now I feel fulfilled and that’s why I consider India as my second home now.”

The debutante does admit that there is a preconceived, stereotypical, regressive image of the Indian culture that’s perpetuated a lot in the Western media but after coming here she was surprised to witness the commonality. The actress accepts that before she gave her consent for the film, her idea of Bollywood was a bit different. “My connection with Bollywood when I was a child was through my mom. She is an avid Bollywood fan and that’s why my idea of Bollywood is her generation that includes Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and it never went on to Alia Bhatt. When it was told to me that Varun is part of the film, I actually did not know who he was and this in a way worked in my favour as I was not affected by his star power.”

Banita considers herself fortunate as she became aware at a very young age about what she wanted to do with her life. It’s for the precise reason she strategically opted to pursue her studies in London which would have simultaneously granted her opportunities to appear for casting sessions. Ask her if the crowd in India was intimidating considering the fact Wales is sparsely populated and she mentions that London gave her the grinding. “I think even for just moving to London for university was a culture shock as the journey was from a small Wales village to a cosmopolitan city. In retrospect, my stay in London sort of prepared me for Mumbai. I actually did not find it intimidating perhaps because I don’t think I have been exposed that much.”

Tell her that she could have easily followed the footsteps of British-Indian actors like Indira Varma, Archie Panjabi and Sanjeev Bhaskar who are currently doing some great work on British TV and films and the response is met with a faint "thanks but no thanks". "They are incredible people and actors but for me I would very much like to do my own thing and have my own path. I don’t have a strategic plan in mind and will do whatever I connect to.” The actress is also focused when she mentions that she is not here to capitalize things later on based on her current fame. Finishing her degree remains her priority. “I have four essays left to write and I have a lot to catch up upon. I am not in the right state of mind to even determine where my career is going right now. I am taking each day as it comes and enjoying the moment. You will never get your first film back and you will never get your graduation back so it’s all about the present moment, everything else will follow after.” Being a student of English literature has also given her exposure to some of the greatest texts and she considers F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as her favorite. It’s interesting to know her bend towards exploring Marxism. “Lately I am kind of focusing more on theory based stuff than creative literature. I really love the gender theory of Judith Butler and am interested in Marxism. The various theories of literature have kind of shaped my views on the world and they have been very impactful.”

Banita met Shoojit the first time when she was signed to appear in a Double Mint ad which was being helmed by the director. So was she aware of Shoojit’s reputation? “When I did the ad for Double Mint obviously I knew that he was a very critically acclaimed director so I did watch all his films and became his fan. Even if he had offered me this film during the ad shoot without me having watched his film, I would have still said yes because I love the process he follows and the way he works.”

Varun in his interview had mentioned about the inspiration behind his character which he luckily found at the shooting location only. Was there any inspiration behind Banita’s character? “I had some cinematic references and The Theory of Everything was one of them. I had to imbibe things from the innocence, sweetness and purity of the character portrayed by Felicity Jones. That was the essence of Shiuli. As for real life, I saw a lot of Shiuli in Juhi, the writer of the film. It obviously makes sense because she is the one who has put together my character. She embodies the most in real life.

Updated Date: Apr 12, 2018 11:10 AM