From Hollywood movies to web series, Sheena Chohan is a versatile actress on the rise. Most recently she was seen alongside Madhuri Dixit in Netflix’s Fame Game, and Disney Hotstar’s City of Dreams, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor. Her latest feature film Justice is also being released at various international film festivals this year. In conversation with Hashtag India, she talks about her journey from being crowned Miss Kolkata to her rise in the industry…
From being a versatile actor, and doing humanitarian work, to running a podcast, you are multifaceted; tell us a little about your journey…
I was born in Punjab, but we moved to Kolkata when I was very young. My mother always encouraged me to take part in various activities like swimming, karate, violin, sculpture, and theatre, but it was acting–the creation of characters, that always struck a chord with me. I had a lot of success in Kolkata as a model and while I was still in school, I used the money I made to fund my move to Delhi where I did five years theatre course with experimental director Arvind Gaur. I won a crown under Miss Universe and because of that the South megastar Mammootty cast me as the lead in National Award Winner, Jayaraj’s The Train, which was my launch into feature films.
Your comedy series ExMates is out now, tell us a little about your role in the series…
My character was fun to create because my role in the series is like so many modern Indian women–ambitious, intelligent and hard-working, but yet trapped in a relationship with a man who is just her opposite. I love to research for a role and for this one I spent time talking to friends who had that kind of situation–where they were being held back by the man in their life. Of course, once I do the research I then take it to my director and we integrate it with his vision. ExMates is a comedy-drama and we had a lot of fun delivering it.
What’s the biggest takeaway from the two web series–The Fame Game and City of Dreams that you have been a part of recently? How different is working in Hollywood, as compared to working in India?
In my movie, The Ant Story (Sheena was nominated as Best Actress at the Dubai and Shanghai film festivals) I played a superstar actress who gets in a lot of trouble, so it was interesting for me to watch Madhuri Dixit ma’am, playing a similar character. When I shot The Fame Game I was just back from shooting a Hollywood feature. It was new for me to see how Netflix and Disney were operating in India. No matter how big or small the production company is, it’s the filmmakers’ passion and commitment that makes a film, and nowhere in the world are the crews and directors as passionate as in India.
You made your debut with the Malayalam megastar, Mammootty. Are you open to doing South projects as well?
Definitely, the South has been teaching the entire industry some lessons in movie-making. They love telling big stories and are not afraid to do so as Indians. South movies are packed with culture and that is what we love about films. So, yes, I would love to work in the South again.
Tell us a little about your feature film Justice, it has managed to grab international attention as well.
This was a special one, the late Bappaditya Bandopadhyay directed it and in the film, I play a ghost looking for its coffin. Bappaditya Bandopadhyay wasn’t a typical director. We worked on this movie together; we would discuss ideas and even the storyline. We would have long conversations and he incorporated a lot of my traits into the character. I’m glad the movie is now trending in international circles.
Tell us about your work as a Human Rights South Asian Ambassador and podcast, Born Free and Equal, where you brought together 30 of Hindi cinema’s biggest names on one platform to communicate the 30 rights from the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
We spread awareness of basic rights and equality to 100 million Indians in a year, by working with stars like Preity Zinta, Sonakshi Sinha, Raveena Tandon, Sonu Sood and many more. Each artist we worked with discussed the human right that they found most important and gave us insights from their own life. I along with my co-host would further use this information to educate the audiences on human rights laws, their application in our day-to-day life and more.
What are the next projects on which you are working?
I just got back from shooting, where I played the wife of Sant Tukaram, directed by the talented director Aditya Om, alongside the Marathi star Subodh Bhave. It’s a biopic set in the 18th Century, just after the famine, and the Sant is so beloved in Maharashtra, so Aditya Sir had to be very sensitive, consulting priests and professors to make sure that my character was portrayed correctly both in terms of realism and also with respect to his followers. For my part, I was up at 6 am working in the fields with the villagers to get in character! It was a lot of hard work and a joyful experience.
The show I am currently watching.
Trial by Fire
Favourite series of 2023?
The Wheels of Power
One series you watched and wished you were a part of?
Same as above – what production values – they spent a billion dollars on it!
One thing people don’t know about you.
I’m extremely open and honest. In reality, I’m very emotional and sentimental; I feel everything on a very deep level.
Three must-watch recommendations for the readers?
Avatar: The Way of Water, Ex Mates (my comedy-drama series) and Sant Tukaram (my upcoming Hindi film).
Message to readers:
Be True to Your Own Goals!!