20-year-old Welsh Banita Sandhu is set to make her Bollywood debut in April, with October, the next release from leading film director Shoojit Sircar stars Banita Sandhu alongside Varun Dhawan, releasing on 13th April 2018.
Sircar who has earned a reputation across the world for insightful and extraordinary films, such as Vicky Donor, Piku and Pink, that show the depth of human character, through both humour and exceptional storytelling and great cinematography, remains tight-lipped about the full storyline, but allows the trailer to tease you enough to know that it’s a film that must be seen and experienced.
Born and brought up in South Wales to 2nd generation Indian parents, she had, what most would call a fairly normal middle-class lifestyle. At the age of 11, she made a decision that certainly broke the mould for her Asian parents. She decided she wanted to be an actress on her favourite soap Coronation Street. Her parents supported her and she joined a local youth drama club in Cardiff, making her debut at just 11 in a BBC documentary. Following years of training and auditions, she convinced her family that a move to London was the only way to really push her career forward.
Banita Sandhu, who is still in her final year at King’s College University in London, first met the legendary director whilst shooting a TV commercial in India. It was during the filming of the commercial that director Shoojit Sircar decided that she was ‘the one’ to play the lead in his forthcoming film. It was a huge gamble, putting a young British girl who didn’t speak Hindi into an incredibly demanding and emotional role, alongside the hugely talented and successful co-star Varun Dhawan.
As she was currently back in London, we had the opportunity to have our intriguing questions answered by the rising star Banita herself!
Congratulations on October! How would you describe your experience working on your debut Bollywood film?
Thank you! It’s been such a rewarding experience – creatively, spiritually and culturally. There are so many different layers to this journey in terms of working in film and in India. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my career than going back to my roots.
What was it like working with Varun Dhawan and Shoojit Sircar? Any memorable moments on set?
After working with Varun, I really do understand why he is loved so widely. He is exactly the same off-screen, in his downtime as you see him in interviews; I couldn’t have asked for a better first co-star! He’s incredibly sweet, down-to-earth and humble. Despite his experience in the industry and his success, he’s never once made me feel any less than him – if anything, he’d sometimes put my needs before his own. I’m really grateful for him and our journey together. I know it’s my first film, but it was also like a first film for him since he’s never done anything quite like this before. The relationship we have formed through October is one so special and unique that no-one will ever be able to understand it but us.
In fact, the relationship I’ve formed with Shoojit sir and Juhi are just as special. Shoojit sir is an absolute dream and luxury to have as a director. Having worked with him before, it made so much sense to do October with him. Everything fell so perfectly into place that it all seemed somewhat fated. I really do believe he does 90% of the work for me; no-one knows the script like he does. Both him and Juhi have lived with October for two years. They are the real masters behind it all. To work with such talented and wonderful human beings was such a privilege – especially for my first film!
How did you manage to balance shooting for October with your studies?
A lot of time management and self-discipline. You pretty much have to sacrifice your social life but it’s so worth it.
Did you have to overcome any challenges in preparation or whilst shooting for October?
There were a lot of challenges in this movie – the language, juggling University and there’s one HUGE challenge which I’m not allowed to speak about just yet. But, all in all, it was such a rewarding experience that any difficulties I faced never seemed too grave and I was supported by such an amazing team that they made any challenge 10 times easier than it should’ve been.
How was life for you growing up as a British Asian?
I really do believe that whilst growing up in the UK, there was always a part of me that felt empty. I’d never been to India and to be quite honest, I used to deny my Indian heritage in order to assimilate with the predominantly white community that I grew up in. Now, I couldn’t be prouder to be Indian. I’ve learnt so much about my history, my culture and my people. Britain will always be home for me but I’ve found a new one in India too. It’s really amazing. I can’t even begin to explain how this journey has made me more spiritually and emotionally fulfilled as a person.
Do you think there is a significant representation of British Asians in the mainstream UK and international media?
When I was growing up, definitely not. I either felt underrepresented in general or misrepresented with stereotypes in the media that it used to make me feel insecure about my heritage and skin colour. I didn’t have anyone to connect or relate to on-screen. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me being successfully portrayed in film or television. In fact, I wasn’t doing well in castings in the UK because I didn’t fit into their version of a ‘British Asian girl’. India was offering me roles that weren’t available here and I’m so grateful for it. Having lived through that, and having understood the repercussions of it, I’m very picky about roles I choose because I want young ethnic girls or boys to see themselves portrayed positively and productively on-screen whether it be through me or other actors. However, I do think we are making progress (albeit slowly). Now, the industry is finally learning the difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘representation’. I really admire Riz Ahmed and Mindy Kaling for breaking the boundaries and stereotypes that we’ve faced for decades. I’m hopeful for the future and I think social media has really helped with raising awareness in that respect.
As well as the exciting release of October, what else does 2018 have in store for Banita Sandhu?
The only thing definitely on the list for me, right now, is graduation! I’d love to work in all genres of film, regardless of borders or language, as long as I have faith in the script and the director.