Banita Sandhu, who made her feature film debut alongside Varun Dhawan with Shoojit Sircar’s 2018 film October, plays a modern woman battling personal problems and conflicts in a communal disharmony-hit Kolkata in her first international project Mother Teresa & Me. In a free-wheeling chat, the 25-year-old opens up about the Kamal Musale-directed film, her “biggest mistake”, and playing an emotionally challenging character.
When and where was Mother Teresa & Me offered to you?
Banita Sandhu: I was actually shooting for Sardar Udham (2021) with Shoojit Sircar and Vicky Kaushal in Amritsar when the script came to me. I definitely wanted to audition for it. I tried to do an audition in a vanity van but it was a very hectic shoot.
So, when I came back to the hotel very late at night, I did my audition and sent it. Kamal Musale, the director, obviously saw something in it so he flew to India to meet me. We did a screen test. I also auditioned a lot in London. I was good enough to be offered the role [chuckles]. I worked hard for it.
What do you like about your character Kavita? Is there something that you don’t like about her?
Banita Sandhu: I think it is hard for me to not like my characters. Because no matter what decisions they make in their lives, as an actor it is your job to empathise with them. I really understood that Kavita was not really leading her life in the most positive, optimistic way. I understood why she was making the decisions that she was making.
Kamal and I would talk for hours about her emotional unavailability and her abandonment issues and how she didn’t really have a connection with herself, let alone a true connection with other people. She was very disconnected at the beginning of the movie. I think through the course of the movie, the trials and tribulations she faces, and through the discovery of Mother Teresa, she actually begins to connect with herself and others around her.
How do you want to position yourself as an actor in today’s times?
Banita Sandhu: It comes down to the simple fact that I want to do good work whether it’s in India or overseas. I think as an actor, to be able to have so much scope and reach in the world and to be able to work with some of the best teams in different countries is really a privilege.
I don’t have a set direction about this country or that country. I am blessed to have an opportunity to be able to work in both. The deciding factor for me is not where it (the film) is. The deciding factor is who it is, what it is, and whether it is good.
What did you learn while shooting for Mother Teresa & Me that you’d like to use in the future or avoid doing in the future?
Banita Sandhu: As a young actor, I am learning so much on the job. Especially on Mother Teresa & Me because there was a wide range and space we had to play and try different things and realise what works and what doesn’t. I learnt a lot of technical things and emotional things. I kind of grew with the character of Kavita as we were filming this movie.
There was one moment while we were filming and it was my biggest mistake. I can’t reveal the moment because it will ruin the plot. But we were shooting the scene and we did a couple of takes and it was fine. But then we did one more take where I kind of just let go and a lot of emotions started coming and I stopped myself in that moment.
Because in the script, the director didn’t want so much emotion. I yelled ‘cut’ myself because I thought I was doing it wrong. It got a bit too much in my head. When I spoke to Kamal Sir after, he said that it was actually a really wonderful moment. I didn’t realise that we could go that far with that character. It would have been nice if I didn’t get in my own way. Because it was something different. I’ll never get in my own way. I have learned that.