What is it like to shoot a live-action film with the world’s most famous cat and mouse? For actor Pallavi Sharda, it was unlike anything she had worked on earlier as the film had to be shot a couple of times over to help meld the traditional-style animation with the live-action scenes. So technically, the titular characters were not even there. She cheekily jokes, “Tom and Jerry were super divas, they wouldn’t even come to set.”
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Looking laid-back and camera-ready during a video interview with The HinduWeekend from her home in Melbourne, Sharda is eager for the world to watch the nostalgia-filled Tom & Jerry feature, now in theatres across India. Taking place in New York City, the film sees Sharda’s character, Preeta Mehta, and her fiancé Ben (Colin Jost, Saturday Night Live ) set to marry in a high-society spectacle. The venue, a luxury hotel, is also where the iconic cartoon frenemies have set up residence. Therefore chaos, comedy and camaraderie ensue, in equal measure.
Those close to Sharda have dubbed her the ‘Work Experience Girl’. “I’ve been an ‘experience junkie’ all my life and I’m addicted to achieving what seems impossible. When you’re a performer, you’re free to get to the archetype of that emotion,” observes the actor, who has starred in films such as Hawaizaada , Begum Jaan and Besharam . For her first job, she worked in a bookstore. While she fast-tracked her university degree, she made sure she worked during every break: she even clerked as a lawyer, and was an RJ in community radio in Australia. The different roles cemented her ambition as an actor and her ‘leap of faith’ move to Mumbai.
In a recent interview with NDTV , Sharda, 30, revealed how her father was the “most excited” when she was cast in the live-action adaptation, for her parents (both IIT alumni) used to watch the show on a projector on campus.
At the audition, she read for the wedding scene. “[I was] yelling at Ben about the fact that we are sitting on elephants. It was very easy for me to play an irritated Indian bride; we’ve all seen them or had a friend who’s been stressed in those moments. I’ve been in those situations where you’re having a heated argument within a big Indian crowd but also saying ‘Namaste, aunty’ in between, trying to be cool,” she explains. Playing someone who is the “dignified woman of the diaspora” was important to her. “Preeta’s educated well — if you’re an immigrant family in Australia, the US or the UK, there’s a big emphasis on that.” While she loves her family and holds her culture dear to her, it’s not as important to her as her love for her partner. She has her head screwed on firmly, probably more firmly than Pallavi does!”
The topic of fashion makes Sharda brighten up. For her interview, the #LovedClothesLast believer has opted for a two-piece pineapple-dotted ensemble that she has owned since 2016. “We’ve usually seen a red lehenga with a bindi on the forehead, and so on [at Indian weddings]. But when it is done with the wrong lens and gaze, it won’t look correct. The Tom & Jerry costume department was so collaborative to get it right. And given we were actually shooting in London, we had access to Southall,” she explains. For the film, a “Sabyasachi lehenga was chosen to reflect the high-society wedding look. Because Preeta is Punjabi, I ensured kaleera bangles were used. I wanted those who understood the significance to appreciate that time and effort had been put into this.”
Sharda has been busy right through the pandemic. As soon as the lockdowns had lifted across Australia, she took on a role in a Coronavirus comedy series, Retrograde, which was filmed in a video-conferencing style. “Though the Australian film industry is small and fewer films get made, the quality of scripting and the technicians are first rate. That’s why people love working here, myself included!” she concludes.