Thursday, July 25, 2024

Did you know? Sheena Chohan was onboard for her H’wood debut after 28,000 submissions

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Sheena Chohan, who recently completed filming her Hollywood debut, talks to The Pioneer and shares some trivia about the project, which involved filming in 26 different places, as well as her thoughts on her Bollywood debut.

Tejal Sinha
Six months into the year and the all-round actress Sheena Chohan is already having her best times. Out of the many other accomplishments, the adept actress was not long ago awarded the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, at a ceremony in the USA.
“I’ve never had such a response from directors that I know,” begins the star in this quick exclusive chat with The Pioneer. She was no less than being overwhelmed to get the award signed by President Biden and an Oscar-nominated director, who personally congratulated her! But at the end of the day, she says, “I have to remember why I’m doing this—it’s not for awards; it’s the purpose of spreading awareness of basic rights and equality. That’s what I got the award for, and getting the award got so much press that I reached another 4 million people last week, calling for mandatory human rights education in India.”
Well, in our previous chat with her, she revealed to us that she’s going to make her Hollywood debut soon and that she was back then working on the project. But guess what? Now she has wrapped up the shooting for this project titled Nomad, the Hollywood film that equaled the Guinness World Record for shooting in the most number of countries—26! “I love working in international films and Taron Lexton is brilliant,” enthuses an elated Sheena as she speaks of her experience. “It’s a fascinating film he’s made—he equaled the Guinness World Record for shooting one film in 26 countries—and it opens with a stunning shot of a lifetime—during an eclipse on a mountain. His team, TXL Films, is so professional and my character was delightful. Taron is a very fluid director; he knows what he wants, but he also gives a lot of freedom for his actors to bring things to the table that he hadn’t thought of.”
Currently having so many debuts, her film, Amar Prem, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year and now with her Hollywood film, she is more than just blessed. “It’s interesting because what’s most important for me is understanding and fitting into characters—being a blank page for a director and using all the acting skills I gained in five years of theatre, so sometimes I have to pinch myself when all of these wonderful things happen as a result of that hard work.”
Nomad is a story about a man, who finds himself unable to control his teleporting around the world and the difficulties this brings to his life and eventually his love. In fact, she shares, it’s a story born from the director’s love of travel: “I know him because he made all the films that humanrights.com uses to spread awareness. If you watch those films, you can see his love for humanity—for every race and culture—and this film is an expression of that.”
In this upcoming film, she plays the character of a free-spirited traveller called Nadia and she gracefully shares some exclusive tidbits about her character: “She’s very lighthearted and philosophical; she’s an inspirational character for the partner of the teleporter. The director especially wanted an Indian character because of that philosophical aspect and because there’s such an element of travel in the film—Americans associate India with remote travel. In fact, the director’s daughter’s middle name is India. So, I’m a free-spirited traveller, searching for spiritual answers, but the rest you’ll have to find out by watching the film.”
She goes on to reveal, “The  shooting was done during COVID; you see what an achievement it was. The production team had to overcome constantly changing protocols, quarantines, Red Country lists—all to get the cast and crew to the world’s most beautiful and exotic locations, to tell a story that is going to let anyone who sees it travel the world with them, in a thrilling ride of drama and love.”
A super overwhelmed Sheena takes her hat off to the team at TXL Films because even under all that stress, they made things so much fun for her and gave all the support to Taron so he could direct her in his very special way.
Basically, “I know Taron because of his work for the United for Human Rights; I am the South Asia Ambassador and I was given the Human Rights Hero Award from them at the United Nations in New York. The casting process for this project was huge; the casting agent, went through 28,000 submissions to pick the cast. They were looking for an Indian traveller who had a certain look and they kept seeing me pop up in places like the UN in New York, so they picked me!”
Then there was her Hindi film Amar Prem being launched at Cannes, and she speaks of how surprising it was for her to know the news— “I was in the US on a project when I got the news that the Joint Secretary for Broadcasting and Information for India, Sanjiv Shankar, had launched the film at the Bharat Pavillion in the NFDC section at Cannes! Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had just walked the red carpet, Payal Kapadia had just won the Cannes Grand Prix and then suddenly my film was revealed in the main Indian section by the minister! Honestly, my main feeling was that I wished so much I could have been there when it happened, but if there’ one thing I would miss that moment for, it was to be shooting for my new film.”
She’s also been in the news for her Bollywood debut, where she will be seen playing the character of Avalai Jija Bai, wife of Sant Tukaram, opposite Subodh Bhave in Aditya Om’s Hindi historical drama. “I live for creating characters—it’s why I’m an actress—but for this, I had to take it to another level,” she shares. The film is set in the 17th century and Aditya was focused on making sure it was historically accurate and religiously sensitive, so she had to have 300-year-old Marathi manuscripts read to her. The costume department was like something from a museum and she had to travel miles in the early mornings to find village women, who lived lives not too different from Avalai Jija Bai’s, to study their mannerisms.
The film, she says, is a great labour of love, directed beautifully by Aditya Om and Subodh Bhaveis is rightly known as the king of biopics.
Having got to relive all her favourite moments again while speaking to us, on a concluding note she shares, “While I’ve been in the US, I took the model of my podcast, Born Free and Equal, where I worked with artists like Sonakshi Sinha, Preity Zinta, Imtiaz Ali, Raveena Tandon, Sonu Sood and others, to bring awareness to human rights—and we did a similar thing in America. I shot eight video episodes with leading artists and personalities with a voice and we discussed human rights from an Indian and US perspective in a show series called East Meets West. We took up the right Don’t Discriminate; we looked at the basic right, which was the same in both countries, but then we looked at what the main issues were in each country and those are very different—in India, caste discrimination exists, while in the US they don’t have that. I was the only Indian that the United Nations Human Rights Office personally reached out to to ask me to help promote the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.”

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