Aruna Shields speaks on her role in Mr Singh Mrs Mehta
Newcomer Aruna Shields recently made her Bollywood her debut as the ‘desi Bond girl’ in action-thriller ‘Prince’. She talks about her second release ‘Mr Singh Mrs Mehta’. Excerpts
How did you land up in Bollywood?
I am of an Anglo Indian descent. I began my education at a convent school before winning an academic scholarship to attend boarding school. I went onto gain a distinction from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and also a degree from Central St Martins, London. My passion lies in performance and while at a theatrical workshop I was spotted by an acting agent.
Tells us about your new film Mr Singh Mrs Mehta.
Mr Singh Mrs Mehta is the directorial debut of Pravesh Bhardwaj, who has assisted directors like Shyam Benegal and Gulzar and is produced by Medient. Set in London, it is the story of Ashwin Mehta and Neera Singh who find that their spouses are having an affair. Drawn together by shame and anger, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful mates.
How do you view this whole issue of extramarital affairs which have become now so common in the modern society?
I don’t believe in affairs as they cause pain and secrets in relationships…but people will always have them for a variety of usually selfish and complicated reasons: neglect, insecurity, boredom, midlife crisis, weakness, excitement, stupidity, loneliness, revenge. In this film, Neera has her affair out of loneliness, despair and confusion. Also her conscience is relieved because she knows her husband is also cheating on her! Every relationship is different and it’s hard to judge. Nobody is perfect. To make your relationship less vulnerable to an affair you really have to communicate, not take your partner for granted, and respect each other.
What is you role in the film Mr Singh Mrs Mehta?
I play Neera Singh, a girl from small town who is an agony aunt columnist who advices others on their relationship and discovers that her husband is cheating on her. It’s a film about relationships.
From ‘desi Bond girl’ to an agony aunt, that’s quite a jump in the range of roles.
From a high action film like Prince to a film based purely on relationships, you can say that it has been quiet a jump.I’ve been blessed to have done a variety of different roles so early on in my career. I’ve played everything from femme fatale, girl next door, action hero to working class, even animalistic tribal woman. Even so, roles are easier to get when they are closer to what you actually are, because that’s how you’re perceived. Otherwise you have to work hard changing yourself and making it believable. Plus you’re competing with other actors who naturally are that type with no effort. You can do it, I’ve done it but it takes preparation.
It’s difficult changing your voice and physicality but extremely rewarding when the hard work pays off. You need good observational skills so you can watch how different people behave. Having intuition, spontaneity and trusting your choices is also important and has helped me a lot.
How did you bag your second Bollywood film?
Pravesh was meeting actors from my agency at Pinewood studios and asked to see me. We met and we clicked. We went through sections of the script together. We communicated ideas about the script fluidly. Many actresses could have played my role and interpreted it in their way… but looking back I think I was chosen because I listened carefully to the director and we got on so well. He sensed I was very relaxed, laid back and relatively low maintenance which means less headaches and dramas for him. He knew I would work extremely hard and get the job done
Do you relate to a character like Neera in real life?
Neera is evolving throughout the story. At the beginning she’s a young innocent, naive girl who has recently got married and is besotted by her husband. As she discovers he is cheating on her, her world is shattered and her journey of self-discovery begins. Her ideals and life philosophy are challenged throughout. She eventually has her own affair, later she allows herself to be a muse and painted naked …and in doing grows in confidence, her body language changes and she becomes more extroverted. She blossoms into an independent woman who can take on the world.
I related to Neera on many levels going back to when I was an insecure teenager, remembering and transferring those experiences in my own life which changed me. Remembering my behaviour and thought processes when I had been hurt in relationships. I often used subtle physicality to express her feelings
Working in Hindi language must have been difficult?
Yes it was. The words are not important to me… it is the feelings behind the words which count. But in order to allow emotions to flow you can’t be fishing for lines as it takes you out of the moment…so I had a HUGE task making sure I knew lines extremely well.
What has been your experience working in Bollywood so far?
What I love about Bollywood is it’s energy and life. Mumbai has an strangely addictive quality and even though you’re hot and bothered when you’re there….when you leave you miss it’s craziness. Everywhere you look there is a mini drama going on which is intriguing to watch. I have friends who have emigrated from England to Mumbai and when they come back to the UK they feel like they are entering utopia, everything runs smoother, however after a couple of weeks they get fidgety and bored.
My understanding of Bollywood is that it is The Matrix… a complex mystery, I have no idea why things happen the way they do and everything runs at a much faster pace. Everything is constantly changing…including scripts!!! I think I learnt 9 versions of Prince, last minute. I try to look on the bright side…it’s good for the mind. Also I’m too busy learning lines so it keeps me out of trouble.
Any plans of making Mumbai your base?
I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to work in the incredible world of Bollywood cinema, and at such a high level. Depending on the scripts I will continue to consider work offers from India. Even so, I’m not a Bollywood actor but an international actor and would like to remain so. This means I have management in different countries (England, America, France and India) Regarding shifting base to one place, this is difficult because of the nature of my work. I’m a bit like a gypsy and travel all over. Maybe I will settle one day, I’ll go with the flow and see what happens.
What are the other projects you are working on?
It’s an exciting time of my career and I have the starring lead in studio feature film called AO The Last Neanderthal releasing in September. It’s a gritty beauty and the beast love story based 30,000 years ago.