I'm an Indian woman, born in the Punjab but brought up in Kolkatta. I became Miss Kolkatta while I was still in high school, then a title winner in Miss Universe India and from there I was picked to star in an action film alongside the biggest mega star in South Indian cinema, Mammootty. Since then I've acted as the lead in five other films, three with National Award (India's equivalent of an Emmy) Winning Directors. I also hosted three seasons of a cricket TV show which had twenty million viewers a day. As well as acting I am also South Asia Ambassador for Youth for Human Rights, the largest human rights education program in the world where, due to my work educating tens of millions of people about their human rights I was given the Hero Award at the United Nations in New York earlier this year.
What ignited the spark in you follow this dream or path of yours?
My first role was on stage playing when I was less than two years old - playing a baby, and I've never stopped acting since (though hopefully I've played more challenging roles!) It was my mother who encouraged me to take that part, as she also filled my life with other activities such as karate (I'm a brown belt and competed at state levels), dance, etc. My mother was denied her own opportunity to follow a career in the arts and so her desire for me to take every chance she could not have is what opened so many doors I was lucky enough to step through.
Tell us about your recent Awards, speaking onTed Talk and work on Women Empowerment?
Due to seeing the discrimination my mother faced due to her gender, I have always felt the need to speak up against women's rights abuses. My TED Talk gave me a great opportunity to discuss the power of art and how it can be used to bring about social change - I used examples from Hindi cinema where popular films have literally changed the fate of millions of people, and called for more artists to use their platforms to create such change. Apart from that I love speaking on national and international platforms, as well as in universities and schools in Mumbai, educating the youth about all of their rights, so they can stand up for themselves and others, and also encouraging other Artists to communicate the message of human rights to their audience.
What are or were the biggest hurdles and how did you overcome them?
My biggest hurdles as an actress were not having come from an industry background - having to start from scratch in an industry. The way I overcame it was hard work and persistence! I make sure that I keep my focus on what is the most important thing I should be doing - what has worked before - keeping distractions and negative influences far away from me and concentrating on what is my greatest joy - creating.
Tell us about your international film - Hollywood project and experience?
I shot for Taron Lexton's Nomad - an international film that is set in more than twenty five countries across seven continents! My scenes took place in Hollywood, literally within a few miles of the iconic sign. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best technical crew in the world and Taron, whose last Hollywood film In Search of Fellini got rave reviews, was a dream to be directed by. I never imagined I'd work in a Hollywood film, so this is a dream come true and I can't wait for it to release.
What books are you currently reading?
Women Who Changed the World - The female innovators, inventors and groundbreakers who defined history.
Your recommendation for everyone to read?
The Way to Happiness, by L. Ron Hubbard.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your career pursuits?
Luckily not my family, and no-one I would describe as a real friend. Real friends are people who understand you as an individual and give you encouragement, support and freedom to pursue your dreams. I don't have any time for people who, even if they say they are suggesting it 'to help', try and discourage me from my intention. Actually this is the single most important piece of advice I follow - making sure I stay away from negative energy and ensuring that I have people around me with good intentions and who want to help and are willing to receive help back.
How did you handle it?
I don't hire anyone or join any projects that have people involved that don't think big and work with a pure heart, honesty and sleeves rolled up to achieve it. My friends are artists, freedom fighters and influencers with a good heart who understand the struggle and believe in positive change and respecting one another. I am strong because my mother raised me to be a strong woman, but that doesn’t mean that I am not vulnerable, that doesn’t mean I don’t have dark days when I feel sad, insecure, pressured. There's nothing a person has that is more important to their dreams, and anyone who tries to persuade you that you might not be able to have them is literally attempting to steal them from you - so that's something I disagree with. I believe each one of us have a brilliance and it’s important to let it shine through!
What would you do differently in hindsight?
I wouldn't have done my degree in business management that I was persuaded to take 'to get a degree’. I should have put that time and attention towards my own purpose, not what someone else thought was right for me. I've never used a single thing I was taught in that three years, but I am sure I could use that three years of time back!
What advise would you give to up and coming dreamers and hardworking individuals out there?
I'm a very live-in-the-present kind of person - striving for excellence in the present.
I would say first study your craft - you need technical skills because that is what the audience first takes note of - only if you are technically excellent in your art form are people willing to accept your message. Next, It takes dedication, hard work and perseverance.
Then, give it everything you've got and never give up - never listen to a word of discouragement or how hard it is or anything apart from your own heart whispering to keep going - the world needs your creations more than you may know.