It’s almost as though she was leading a double life for some time. When she went to India, cameras flashed everywhere. When she returned home to study in London, or go back to her home in Wales, she was a twenty year old, university student writing essays. The way October has blown up though, I imagine she will be a worldwide sensation in no time. Here’s my chat with the Shiuli who stole my heart – Banita Sandhu.
London is home for you. You had to go to India, do October with Shoojit Sircar – it is such a different culture in terms of adjustment. What was that adjustment like for you?
We shot in Delhi and then we went to Manali. To be honest terms of cultural difference, when you are shooting, you don’t really have the time to experience that different culture but otherwise, you know, I’ve worked with Shoojit sir before and for me, it was just like, no matter the city, I was working with him.
You mentioned working with Shoojit sir before – working on a commercial. It’s not as though you hadn’t been to India before. What kind of dynamics do you share with him?
The thing is I don’t have any family in India so Shoojit sir treats me like a daughter. I have so much respect and love for him. I trust him when working on a project with him, no matter what the project it is that I am doing. I’m in absolute awe of him – he is such an incredible person and wonderful human being. He is also so wise.
He also makes fun of my fashion sense (chuckles) – he’ll be like “oh, what are you wearing?” because he just doesn’t get it. It’s a very father-daughter dynamic. It’s very sweet.
You’re actually fairly young – 20 years old – not only to be in the industry that you are in, but also young to be away from your loved ones. How do you cope?
I think that is one of the struggles with this job – well, this profession. See, I do live away from home, in that I study in London, but I am actually from Wales. But I mean, when I’m there, I do always try to make sure I am in touch with my family, I will FaceTime. There’s nothing, though, quite like being like home.
How are you adjusting to the paparazzi, the media, the promotions…people are getting to know who you are?
I think, right now, there is still a divide between my professional life and my personal life at home. When I’m in India, I see the gush of people and reporters, and when I’m at home, I’m on my own. In a way, it is such a crazy juxtaposition - but I do think it is kind of amazing because I get the best of both worlds, so it is a very humbling experience, to be recognized in one country and when you come back home, maybe a lot of people don’t know who you are. I feel like “Hannah Montana”! (chuckles).
Varun Dhawan has talked about being protective of you. What is the relationship you share with Varun – is he a bit too protective or has he laid off a little bit?
Oh, he’s very protective – I mean, he tries to be very protective. He did that a lot while we were filming but I was very clear with him and Shoojit sir that there wasn’t any need. I was kind of like, “you know, I’m a big girl. I’m fine. Lay off a little” and he did. But obviously, when it came time for the media and interviews, that is something that I have never done before since I live in another country. I think he recognized my sense of unfamiliarity so he would tell me and warn me, “you know, there is going to be paparazzi when we come out of here.” But honestly, no matter what he says, I still cannot adjust yet because I still think it is such a weird situation to be in.
It is quite intense in Mumbai – you can be walking out of the gym and there are cameras outside. He also talked about you gave a lot of yourself to your character, and he felt protective of you during the project, because you were making yourself vulnerable? When you leave set, what kind of impact does it have on you on a personal level?
I gave my 110 percent to this film. And maybe, at some point, you could say I did go a bit too far with it. The way I gave myself to the film, it actually took a toll on my health. It is something that people took notice of and told me to just go easy a little bit – that I couldn’t impact my mental and physical life.
The thing is…this is the life you live for that type, you get into that bubble. But it was weird, like I wanted to stay that way, until all of the feelings I was feeling were done. I was just living that character, which was very unhealthy – which you can tell when you see the film.
When I moved back to London, for about two weeks, I really struggled. I missed the character, no matter how intense she was to play. I just wanted to keep playing her. It was very hard to detach myself from the character I gave so much of myself too. It almost felt like a breakup even though it was impacting my health.
Did the character change you as a person, in the long term?
When I eventually let go of her, she, as a character, was a very sensible, grounded, focused character. She was not frivolous; she didn’t time for something silly. Whereas I would sometimes be super hyper and have teen angst, and all of that, so I didn’t initially comprehend Shiuli. But she just changed me. I had to struggle to get back to myself – and that struggle required some meditation. It made me grounded and focused and mature. It gave me a lot of strength as a person.