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Character and story excite me, says actor Sheena Chohan

Sheena Chohan has more than one reason to smile. She was nominated for her performance in Ant Story for the Best Actress Award at the Dubai Film Festival, and Shanghai Film Festival alongside Kiera Knightley and Kate Beckinsale.

Born in Chandigarh, Sheena moved to Kolkata where she was later mentored by Sushmita Sen for Miss Universe India. She was crowned ‘I am Voice’ at the ‘I am She – Miss Universe India’ pageant. Her prominent work includes Netflix’s The Fame Game starring Madhuri Dixit, Disney Hotstar’s The City of Dreams 2 and Ex Mates, Netflix’s Ant Story, Malayalam film The Train opposite megastar Mammootty, and two films by Bengali legend Buddhadeb Dasgupta as lead.

Shilpi Madan caught up with her for a chat.

What excites you – mainstream, parallel or international cinema?

Character and story excite me. They can be found in every type of cinema. What matters is quality and my director – in mainstream cinema you have bigger budgets and more pressure to produce a film that will be liked by a huge number of people, which sometimes reduces creativity and therefore quality, but has the benefits of extra budget for wonderful cinematography and effects. When you have a team that has the freedom to produce something off the beaten formula, magic is made – that’s what we are all looking for.

What is your strength as an actor?

Complete conviction in my screen character.

Do you feel you are typecast in a certain template as an actor?

No. In the last feature film I shot, I play the lead female role opposite Subodh Bhave in the upcoming historical Hindi biopic Sant Tukaram. I played the wife of a saint, and then literally three weeks later I was on the set of a web series playing the negative lead. One minute I was doing my usual deep character research at 5 am in the fields near Pune, and the next I was tied with ropes in front of the biggest green screen in Mumbai and flung out of a car to make it appear as if I was flying.

You won the Hero Award at the United Nations for your awareness campaign on human rights. How does it feel?

Accolades that Indians receive on foreign turf get more attention than anything that we achieve in India. I think we care too much about what people in the West think. We need to realise that what we have is extremely special, and precious, and value our culture. India is on the up – let’s be proud of ourselves – let the Westerners emulate us.

What was your experience working with Mammooty, Kajol and Madhuri Dixit?

I worked with Mammootty Sir in my first film and it was such a dream. I had come powered by five years of hardcore theatre in Delhi – experimental work with the revered Arvind Gaur. Suddenly, to play the lead opposite a megastar was a big deal for me. Performing with Madhuri Dixit ma’am was interesting for me because I was nominated Best Actress for my lead role in Ant Story, a film which was bought by Netflix where I play a troubled superstar actress, and there I was on the Fame Game, opposite Madhuri Ma’am, who was a troubled actress! Acting with Kajol in The Trial was surreal as she is such an icon.

What’s your fitness routine?

I am more interested in mental fitness. Give me an acting class, exercising imagination, over a Zumba class any day… But I do get up at the crack of dawn and run, train at the gym and do squats.

What has been the turning point in your career and how have things changed since?

I have so many turning points. I made money modelling as a teenager. I had hoardings all over Kolkata, used that money to go to Delhi for five years of theatre, used that to launch me into films, did back-to-back films with National Award winning directors.

Getting nominated as Best Actress in Shanghai and Dubai film festivals in the same categories as Kiera Knightley really helped me, and honestly, I’ve had so many turning points in my career I feel like a ballerina!

(Published 20 October 2023, 19:36 IST)

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