Banita Sandhu is a 20 year old undergraduate student from King’s College, London who is all set to touch the greatest heights of stardom by featuring in a poetically beautiful film ‘October’ directed by the most loved and critically acclaimed director Shoojit Sircar and starring opposite one of the most popular current generation stars, Varun Dhawan, who is on the verge of attaining Super stardom. This British Indian actress from South Wales has worked in TV commercials for brands like Double Mint (in Shoojit Sircar’s directorial) and Vodafone, and short films in the past.
We chatted with the new starlet on her experience shooting the film, Bollywood and her director Shoojit Sircar and co-star Varun Dhawan. Here’s what she had to say:
Q. You’ve been born and brought up in London. What was your first Hindi film experience like?
Banita Sandhu: My first Bollywood film interaction was with my mum. My mum is an avid fan. She would be cooking and doing her chores with Hindi songs being played in the background. I’ve grown on Shah Rukh Khan films, Aishwarya Rai (Bachchan) films and the (Sanjay Leela) Bhansali films. I was young and during my teens I was getting a lot more independent and I was getting to choose what I wanted to do. I chose to watch American or European cinema back then because of the language barrier and never considered Bollywood. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do justice to it. But when this (October) happened, I didn’t expect it at all but it just made so much sense for me to do it. Because Shoojit Sir is behind it I knew I would do a good job. It was very instinctive for me to do this film.
Q. What was the biggest challenge while shooting this film?
Banita Sandhu: The language definitely was a challenge. That’s what we worked hard for because we were stubborn that we didn’t want anyone to dub for me. There was so much in this performance that we both (Varun Dhawan) gave that we didn’t what to dilute it. And also jumping university, I thought it would be easy. I was studying before I came here.
Q. Was dialogue delivery difficult for you?
Banita Sandhu: Yes it was difficult and it’s not that my Hindi that was difficult. It was the British accent that came when I had to speak English. My Hindi would come out perfectly but it was that one English word in the dialogue that always came with a British accent.
Q. How did the film come to you and how did you prepare for it?
Banita Sandhu: 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 Sir 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, I would also talk to his assistant director and hear him talk in English to understand his accent. By the time we went to Delhi to commence our shoot, I had an awfully mixed accent.
Q. What kind of rapport do you share with director Shoojit Sircar?
Banita Sandhu: I want to point out that Shoojit Sir is so great in his direction that when you’re in his film, he puts you inside his world for the entire shoot. That talks a lot about his unconditional love and passion within himself beyond the narrative and the relationships that we made through our shoots are once in a lifetime experience. Ours is a father-daughter relationship, he’s helped me overcome some really challenging scenes.
Q. When did you first visit India?
Banita Sandhu: This (for October’s shoot) is not my first time in India. I was here to shoot an ad the first time. It was a win win situation, I came to do ADs and got offered a film.
Q. Were you aware of Varun Dhawan’s arena of work before you started shooting with him?
Banita Sandhu: I had no idea who he (Varun Dhawan) was before I started working with him. My Bollywood interaction was always limited to Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Salman Khan, who are of a different generation. I only learnt of Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra when I started to work here. I came to know who the current actors are. I have seen some of his (Varun Dhawan) films.
Q. What was his reaction when he found about this?
Banita Sandhu: He laughed and found it kind of funny.
Q. Would you be signing up more films after ‘October’?
Banita Sandhu: For sure! I honestly think I’ve been so blessed and lucky with this film that I have a great director and co-stars, it’s like I’ve hit a jackpot. It’ll be very diffcult to find a film that is on that level worldwide, not just Bollywood. I’m very picky and have a lot of faith in the industry with their content driven films, would love to consider them.
Q. What’s your idea of Love?
Banita Sandhu: I have not explored that aspect so much. The love that exists in my life is from my family and that’s unconditional love.
Q. How much do you relate to your character Shuili from ‘October’?
Banita Sandhu: Shuili isn’t much of a person than I am. At first I really struggled to connect with her. When I first came to Delhi to discuss everything and I sat with Juhi (Chaturvedi), the writer of the film for hours and I had to draw her in my head because I couldn’t connect with her. 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. We have a lot of similar stuffs like we are focused and quite mature for our age. But I was given Shuili and she was kind of my life and I was in a bit of an anxiety. I was 19 and going through university and didn’t know where life was going. He (Shoojit Sircar) spotted that straight away and said you need to calm down, slow down and meditate. Shuili is such a centered, grounded and non-frivolous character. While becoming her, I feel like I’ve become a better person through that process.
Q. How was your experience working in ‘October’?
Banita Sandhu: Varun and I describe the process of making this film as a spiritual journey. When you watch the film, you get to relive that journey.
Q. Were you aware of Shoojit Sircar’s cinema before you signed up his film?
Banita Sandhu: I did an AD with him (Shoojit Sircar) before. So before doing that AD, I watched all his films like ‘Piku’, I love his films, I watched them to judge if I should be signing ‘October’. And that’s when I said ‘Yes’, and once you work with him, you want to work with him again and again.
Q. How was it working with Varun Dhawan?
Banita Sandhu: Varun (Dhawan) is the best co-star I could have asked for. Not because of his fan following or success but genuinely because he is a very nice and humble person. For him, it was a lot like his first film as well since he had never done such kind of cinema. You’re going to see a completely different side to him. It was both of your firsts so the relationship we’ve built is very special and unique because no one but us could have understood these characters so well.
Q. Varun Dhawan is already a star, were you under any pressure while working with him?
Banita Sandhu: Sometimes I consider it as a bliss that I didn’t know of his stardom and star power before filming this movie. For me he was just another actor and a guy who was so sweet. I think there was more pressure for him because this film is very experimental because the level of this film is different from the kind of acting he’s done before, it’s a very unique medium. For me this was my first film so I had a week with the entire crew and the first day of shoot was like coming back to a family whereas he was more new to the set on the first day.
Q. Which Bollywood actor would you like to work with?
Banita Sandhu: I love Aamir Khan and Irrfan Khan.
Q. How would you describe your journey so far in India?
Banita Sandhu: For me, I was coming to my motherland. It’s been a journey more than making my career but a means to discover more about my heritage. 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. To come here and feel so welcomed and accepted was amazing. Apart from my career, it’s been an emotional journey.
Q. What are you immediate plans after the release of this film?
Banita Sandhu: My current focus is this film and have my graduation pending. I have to submit four assignments in May and then I graduate in July. I major in English Literature.
Q. Did you get any Bollywood offers before ‘October’?
Banita Sandhu: Before I’ve had Bollywood offers but nothing that I would consider because I guess nothing interested me as much as ‘October’.