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Catching up with: Harleen Sethi!

By Armin Sethi Wednesday, Jul 10, 2019 02:01: AM

Harleen Sethi first caught my attention with a viral video on social media, one which showcases her phenomenal dancing abilities on “First Class”. From there on, I was hooked. I watched many of her other videos on social media and then, I got into her web series, 'Broken but Beautiful”, alongside Vikrant Massey. I got in touch with her and we spent some time on the phone. She has been one of the few who has asked me about me, and that speaks volumes about her. Truly a conversation I enjoyed, here is my chat with Harleen.


Harleen, you live in Mumbai. What is that like?

I think I’m located in the hub of where everything really happens, in terms of Bollywood, so it really helps in terms of my career. But I have also been born and brought up in the same house, so I have actually never moved. This is my home. I have lived around the same people for almost thirty years now. It is a very special feeling. It is not like I moved here on purpose. I was born at the house. I’m just glad and blessed to be at the centre of it all. If I had to relocate, I’m not sure if I would be doing this. Everything has just kind of happened.


And your parents? How has that worked out for you, being from a Punjabi Sikh family?

My parents have really opened up with me in a way. I was never really rebellious, but I was very smart (chuckles).


What does it feel like to have such supportive parents?

I feel extremely happy that my parents have always been supportive. In fact, growing up, I have actually enjoyed a lot of extra-curricular activities right from my childhood. My parents recognized that about me. My mom used to take me for X number of classes, be it dancing, be it singing, be it anything, any kind of sport. I have always been a very active child, apart from studying as well. They always wanted me to have all-around development.

There was a point in time when I had just finished my graduation and I was waiting for my exam results, and meanwhile, you know, you can just join a summer workshop so I had paid up for my MBA classes but I was also offered a dance scholarship right after I finished my summer workshop. So I had a choice. I was in the top five out of my university. Even though, academically, I was doing great, I was also offered this dance scholarship through which I could learn for free, you know, ballet, contemporary, and jazz – something I had never imagined in my life. And then, on the other side, I had paid a good sum for my MBA. 

So, my dance teachers said that if I wanted to take up the dance scholarship, I would have to do it as my sole focus, as it was from 10 am to 10 pm. So then, I realized I would have to pick one. And there was never any resistance you know. I feel very blessed. I feel wherever I am today, however “small” it may be, I feel like it is because of them. I wouldn’t have been where or who I am if it wasn’t for them. They keep adapting with me, but of course, I keep pushing the boundaries (laughs). We have had a lot of discussions, sometimes arguments as well, but they always adapt.


And you have a sibling as well, a brother. What is your relationship like with your brother?

Now, we have reached the stage of being friends. Until a couple of years ago, we used to fight like cats and dogs. Like Pataakha – I cannot tell you how much I liked that movie. We were that bad. He would get any information about me that he knew would not go down well with my parents, he would purposefully go and tell them. So, we were always finding ways to put each other down, in a very fun way. Given a choice, I still would want him to be my brother – he is very loving in his own way, he is very supportive; he is usually the first one I go to, to get any kind of approval now. 




Changing the tune a bit, you are such a fantastic dancer. You have a certain joy on your face that never changes and you have these expressions that show that you are in a zone and completely enjoying yourself. When you are dancing, what does it feel like to you?

When I’m dancing, I feel like I’m truly living in the moment. I'm truly living in the present. Most of the time, we are always thinking about the past or the future. When I'm dancing, I am actually living that moment, I am actually listening to the music. I'm really enjoying myself. I really don't care about how I look. Even while I am lip syncing, I know that I shouldn't be lip-syncing the boy’s part, but I just can't help myself and I just can't stop myself from smiling! I don't know what happens to me. When you put on music and it's a song that I like, I am just so happy! It's not just dance, it's the way I connect with music. Music really brings a lot of joy to me. It brings a lot of happiness. I think it's that connection of dance and music that comes together. 

Because I have trained in jazz and contemporary dance for about two years, dance has also became an acquired passion for me because I did it for so long, from morning to night, for 6 days a week. Something that you do for that long, once it's in your system, you are just flowing. I think that is what happens to me when music plays. 

There is a recent post on my Instagram page featuring a dance video with Karishma Chavan. I went to her class after a long time. I haven't been doing the techniques after I left my training in dancing. I started dancing with Melvin Louis who isn't technical. He’s more about heart and more about enjoying dancing which is where him and I connect. I just completely left technique behind so going back to Karishma’s class was very challenging! Her choreography is very fast but also fun. I was actually struggling. When I looked at the video from the class, I thought to myself, look at me, I know I am struggling, I know I am forgetting the choreography, but I am still smiling! Sometimes I look like a complete fool, but I cannot stop smiling when I am dancing! 



You haven’t posted many technical dancing videos but in the video with Karishma, I saw that you were getting back to the techniques and you are right, it's definitely something that doesn’t go away. 

I think because you have trained for so long, you just understand your body better than other people who haven't trained in technique. Even if you leave it for a while, if it was something that you practiced enough, it is in your system. It just comes naturally. I was still struggling a lot because her choreography was so fast and because your hand and your leg coordination has to be fast as well. If you aren't practicing regularly, you will be running behind in the choreography.



Let’s move onto “Broken but Beautiful”. Your character in Broken has a way of expressing vulnerability without saying much. When Vikrant Massey’s character in the web series is shouting at you or losing his temper at you, you look at him and have a slight smile/smirk but you are still expressing a vulnerability and are expressing an understanding of what he is going through as a character. When you were approached for this project and you were told about your character, was it difficult for you to understand your character as well as her motives and intentions? How did you get into that frame of mind. 

When I first read the story, the first thing that came to my mind was “Wow, it’s a brilliant part. It's completely performance oriented. Will I be able to pull it off”? That was the first question that came to my mind. I kept reading the script and I realized that it is a part where almost everyone has been there and done that in one point or the other in life. We have all been in a relationship in which we didn't want to leave or let go. We didn't want that partner to go away and we have all been there. I just had to go back and visit that mind space in order to bring those vulnerabilities out. At that time, I remember it was pretty tough for me because I remember on break days, I used to just keep sitting at home and my character has this characteristic of emotional eating, so I still remember putting on Netflix and sitting at home, binging on chips and other food.


I became that character for the months that we were shooting. I remember when I used to be on set, if there was a very emotional scene, I would tell my makeup artist not to talk to me so that I could get into the headspace. The time when you are in your makeup van and you are going through the scene, that is when your preparation really starts. It is before you actually go on set. To have a co actor like Vikrant Massey who also gives in and helps play off your energy was a lot of fun! Acting is reacting! We had a lot of fun and did a lot of improvisations that our director Santosh let us do. It's a blessing to have a director that lets you experiment as an actor. I think all of those things came together. It was definitely an extremely tough part. Sometimes when I sit back and think about whether I would be able to replicate the part, my answer is no. 





Your character also has claustrophobia which is something that hasn't been explored a lot in Hindi cinema. It is not easily understood. In the web series, you had to depict your character going through a claustrophobic attack. How do you emote during the time where you have to play a claustrophobic character? How do you get into the inner workings of a character who has claustrophobia, which is outside of your understanding.

First of all, when I was told that the character has claustrophobia, I went online and tried to do my research and made pointers in my book as to what are the characteristics and how does a person feel, how does a person get there. What makes them have an attack and how do they behave during it. I did all my research and then, keeping all of those points in mind, I also knew that there wasn't much exposure or videos for me to go back and see in terms of how other people have performed such a character. There were barely any references. I had to rely on the knowledge that I got from the research and before the claustrophobia scene, I used to actually hold my nose and stop breathing. When the director said “Action”, I would start to catch my breath. It's sort of method acting in a way. I had read that when you are getting a claustrophobia attack, it literally feels like the walls are closing in on you. This is why the individual can’t take it because it feels like the space is getting smaller. I used to keep these points in mind and these are the few things I did to play the characteristic out. 



Broken but Beautiful has done wonders and you have had several viral social media dancing videos as well.  On a professional level, where do you see yourself going in the future and what is your current head space?

 

First of all, I feel very grateful that everything has worked out. The dance videos went viral out of nowhere! The fact that Broken received so much love from all over the world made me feel so validated and I felt that although sometimes you question yourself, when you get so much love from people, you feel like they are accepting you and that they want to see more of you. Maybe you are now on the right path. Those are a couple of things going on in my mind.

As of now, I am very excited that Broken 2 is coming up. We are going to start shooting Broken 2 very soon and it is currently in the writing stages. Apart from that, I am really looking forward to working with some really good directors because at a certain point, as an actor you bring something to the table, but if a good director is directing you, the magic that they can bring out of you is something that even you have not explored. I’m really looking forward to working with good directors and really looking forward to working on scripts with good content. I have been very choosy, even with my commercials. I’m at the point where I am just waiting it out. I am reading a lot of scripts. A good platform, a good director and a good script - everything coming together will probably be my next project. I am looking forward to doing some films as well.

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