Creation is the great pleasure an actor can have: Sheena Chohan
After starring alongside veteran Madhuri Dixit Nene in The Fame Game, actor Sheena Chohan has featured in web series ex Mates, where her character is trapped in a relationship with a careless boyfriend. She also went on to switch off from other things to prepare for her upcoming Hindi film. In a long conversation with IBNS correspondent Souvik Ghosh, Sheena talks about ex Mates, her upcoming project, craft and her humanitarian works.
Q. After Fame Game success, has it become tougher for you to pick and choose the roles?
A. I'm very certain about the roles I want and don't - I know what my purpose in life is, so it makes those decisions easy. My goal as an actress is to enliven, inspire and entertain audiences, so if a character will contribute to that, I'll take it. The arts, particularly cinema, which is a combination of art forms, is extremely powerful - it has the ability to change our thoughts and our thoughts are what determine everything. So the characters I pick or, more importantly, the overall message of a story, needs to be one which is beneficial to society. I don't want to be responsible for making something that drags us down but rather do something that helps lift us up or entertain audiences.
Q. What made you choose the role in ex Mates?
A. I'm dedicated to my craft and by giving my best as an actress, I can bring the director's vision alive! Living the character with its true emotions is the most important element in acting to create a character fully, so when I choose any role I look at the character to see if it will interest me enough. In this case, the character interested me because she was like so many Indian women I know, and I saw elements of myself in her - she had so much potential and energy and focus, but she was being held back and stopped by her environment, her relationship and some of the people in it.
Q. Since we have all gone through the Covid and its subsequent lockdown, did the script appeal to you at a very personal level?
A. We had just come out of the lockdown when I was offered the role and so this idea of being trapped was very real to me, but it was how this character chose to deal with those issues that made me say yes - she really stuck to her integrity, followed her goals, but didn't allow that to make her hard-hearted - in the end she was still able to and willing to help, which is why I fell for her.
Q. Tell us about the challenges you faced portraying the role in your upcoming Hindi film- Sant Tukaram.
A. I always do a lot of research for any character and then take what I've found back to my director to help fit that information into their vision. In this case the story was in Hindi and set two hundred years ago, so the books were in another language and also the time I had to prepare was extremely short. So I had to turn every single thing in my life off, wake up at 6 am and sleep at midnight and do nothing but read up about this wonderful, courageous woman and her hard life, watch past films that my director suggested to create her and then share my notes with the director and get his feedback.
Q. What kind of preparations did you have to undertake for this role?
A. I remember going into villages where we were shooting and observing the local Marathi village women, with her way of walking and talking. Honestly, although it's a challenge, it's also what I live for - to create magic and breathe life back into a woman who led such an important life - it's like I am helping her and her husband's message of spirituality - of God being within - to be channelled through me, which is a great honour and makes every challenge totally worth it.
Q. What is it that you love most about acting and the arts?
A. Creation. That's the word. Creating magic and collaborating with filmmakers to tell stories that ignite imaginations and entertain audiences. Creation is the greatest personal pleasure one can have, but then, there are the fruits of that creation - the effect that your creation has as part of the culture, which is a team creation. To act is to bring life to words on paper and while doing it you feel that life that you are bringing throughout not just your body, but your entire being, and the audience also feels it and receives it - it's a high form of communication.
Life has so much mystery to it and the arts, as a branch of philosophy, are a way to attempt to understand the more complicated or difficult things that we go through or wonder about, so to be able to deeply look into one of these areas and then communicate it to an audience and to see the pleasure they feel when they have a different understanding or they are lifted by the beauty something I've been part of - that's the whole point.
Q. What is happening with your human rights campaign these days?
A. We spread awareness of basic rights and equality to 5 million people in India last year through humanrights.com. Our last podcast was with Sanjana Sanghi who talked about the Right to Play, which was fascinating because she is such a major educational success, so to hear her talk about the equal importance of play was very motivating for our audience.
Actually I had the office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the United Nations reach out to me in late December, as the first Indian they thought of to help promote the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. So I'm looking forward to working more with his office later this year. These days there is nothing more important than every Indian knowing the content of the Constitution of India and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So I encourage everyone to do the free online course here: www.humanrights.com/course