Movies

I wouldn’t want a Adithya Varma-Meera relationship in my life: Banita Sandhu

Banita Sandhu says, “Cinema is a means of telling these stories, yet there is a fine line between portraying and glorifying it. I really hope we haven’t done the latter.”

Banita Sandhu says, “Cinema is a means of telling these stories, yet there is a fine line between portraying and glorifying it. I really hope we haven’t done the latter.”   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The British-Indian actor talks about choosing the much-debated script for her debut Kollywood outing, why it could be different from ‘Kabir Singh’ or ‘Arjun Reddy’, and how female audiences will perceive it

She’s all of 22, but Banita Sandhu’s piercing glance and more importantly, her matter-of-fact persona, belies a refreshing maturity far beyond her years. Debuting with Shoojit Sircar’s October in 2018 happened almost accidentally, and suddenly the British-Indian actor, who is based in London, was touted as a Bollywood ‘find’ to watch out for.

Post the film’s release (and critical acclaim), almost just as suddenly, she decided to take a sabbatical.

A year on (and an American TV series later), Banita is making her Kollywood debut in a remake of a remake, with a divisive role that has split opinion among audiences across the country in the two previously installments of the story. We are talking, of course, about Adithya Varma, which comes in the wake of the commerical highs of Kabir Singh and the original Arjun Reddy.

While the titular character’s arc received the most scrutiny, there’s no denying that the heroine’s avatar was also fiercely-debated: “How could a girl accept a boyfriend like him?”, “She encourages toxic masculinity!”, “Such a character could never be in love in real life.”

Yet, the films becoming blockbusters reiterate that beyond the momentary angst of social media, the on-screen fictional relationship was relatable to many youngsters across the country, whether they liked it or not. There’s also no denying the fact that the careers of actors Shalini Pandey and Kiara Advani — who played the heroines in the Telugu and Hindi versions — catapulted towards national fame.

So, how will Banita’s interpretation of the role be? Is she nervous of being vilified for portraying the role, or excited to see how female audiences will respond? Does she think an Adithya Varma can exist in real life, and find love at that for who he is?

Excerpts from an interview:

What were your plans about life before you decided to step into films with ‘October’?

I always knew I wanted to be an actor from a young age. I was already participating in school plays growing up and I signed my first agent when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I feel really lucky I had such a strong sense of direction so early on in my life, but my parents made it clear that education comes first.

Ironically, my professional career started to take off when I started university. I did a few TV commercials in India, which lead to October. I guess it felt like a whirlwind because I didn’t expect it to happen so suddenly whilst I was still studying.

Why did you take a break after the success of the film?

There were many reasons: the main being that I was still at university and I needed to go back to finish my finals and graduate. My mental health also wasn’t great, and without my health I’m nothing. That year of my life (balancing October and my last year at university) was really difficult. There was a lot of noise that I could have easily gotten lost in. For me, the one thing I want from my career is longevity so I understood that I needed to take a step back and be mindful of my choices rather than rush into the hype.

Were you concerned that your burgeoning career could be affected?

Of course, I went from juggling a degree and a film to literally nothing: it was a hard transition but one that was necessary. I remember speaking to my American manager about not working and he said, “Look Banita, the most successful actors only work six months of the year. This is part and parcel of the profession you have chosen: take up a hobby, keep your mind busy and everything will fall into place”.

So I started taking Spanish lessons, going to acting classes again, reading for pleasure again and little by little I started to feel grounded in myself again, rather than anxious all the time and lost in my own head. After that, everything work-wise fell into place. I learnt a lot of valuable lessons in that year I took off: the main being patience; you can’t rush things, you really just have to trust the timing of your life.

Hollywood calling
  • The TV series Pandora was my first American project and it happened very quickly. I almost wasn’t able to do it because the dates clashed with Adithya Varma so I had to say no at first. Luckily, the producers really wanted me on board so they shifted the dates by a couple weeks so I could wrap the Tamil film and head straight out to Bulgaria for a four month shoot. The series also aired midway through shooting; I’ve never seen a quicker turnaround before. I learnt so much from that experience and met some really amazing people.
  • My English film Eternal Beauty happened soon after I graduated, we shot in Wales where I grew up and I got to meet Sally Hawkins: I was so happy!

When ‘Adithya Varma’ came your way, did you know that you were replacing another actor in a cancelled version of the film?

The producer, Mukesh Mehta, called me and was very honest that they had already shot the film yet they were unhappy with it and so they had decided to reshoot, scrapping everything apart from Dhruv.

For most actors, I’m aware this could have been a red flag but it was actually the green light for me to jump on board the project; knowing that the team’s intention was to make excellent content for the audience was really what gained my trust.

 

You were given small creative space in the shaping of your role; does this make the film more watchable for women who have complained about the male toxicity in the original and the remake?

Yeah, we all had the intention of giving Meera (my character) more autonomy and agency whilst also maintaining the passion and intensity of the film. I think, also, the chemistry between Dhruv and I has made the relationship more innocent and sweeter just because we are younger than previous versions.

 

I haven’t watched Adithya Varma as of yet and, like I’ve said before, the film is determined in the editing room so it is out of my hands, but I really hope that female audiences will feel better with what we have tried to do with this film.

How is your relationship with Dhruv and his father Vikram?

I adore Dhruv, I really didn’t expect us to get along as well as we did. We just have a lot of similar interests: film being the main one. Obviously, his relationship with his dad had a huge presence on set as well but because Vikram sir is so down to earth and wonderful, it was never intimidating or overbearing. They’re both really hardworking and talented creatives to work with, so it was an enjoyable experience all-round.

What has been your biggest takeaway from playing this much-debated role?

It was a real challenge playing Meera because she is so different from me but luckily we had Giree sir on set, who co-directed Arjun Reddy, and he was a great source of reference. I remember he kept telling me to smile less and be more subdued because I’m a very animated person in real life and the complete opposite to the character.

Do you believe a ‘Adithya and Meera’ relationship can exist happily in real-life, among the people we know around us?

I can’t generalise or speak for everyone but I know that it is not a relationship I would like to have in my life. He is a toxic and flawed character and these relationships do, unfortunately, exist in reality.

Cinema is a means of telling these stories yet there is a fine line between portraying and glorifying it. I really hope we haven’t done the latter. From what I’ve seen so far, in the trailer, I think we’re on the right track: we’ve focused more on suffering and pain as the root of his aggression and toxicity rather than just being like, “Look, here’s an angry guy on a motorbike!”

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 3:19:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/i-wouldnt-want-a-adithya-varma-meera-relationship-in-my-life-banita-sandhu/article30015427.ece

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