From Newport to Bollywood: Banita Sandhu's journey

Image source, Kino Works and Rising Sun Films

Caerleon in Newport is better known for its Roman remains than its Bollywood links. But that hasn't stopped 20-year-old Banita Sandhu. Here, she talks of her Welsh roots, reconnecting with her Indian heritage and cracking the big time.

It's a cliche to say I always wanted to be an actress, but it is also true. I used to watch soaps as a child, with the goal of landing a part in Coronation Street.

At the age of 10, I sat my mum down and told her my plans.

Luckily, she took me seriously and found me an agent, but education still came first.

I made a few short films, but it was when I turned 18 that I really got stuck in.

Despite being a second-generation Indian, I had never considered working in India.

But my first big job was filming a Vodafone advert which went viral in India, with one million hits.

Image source, Kino Works and Rising Sun Films
Image caption,
Banita will star in October, released worldwide on 13 April

It caught the eye of renowned independent film director Shoojit Sircar.

He then cast me in a four-minute Wrigley's advert, which received 40 million views.

During filming, he let me know he had a film in the pipeline and that he wanted me to play a part.

Six months later, when I was in my second year of an English Literature Degree at King's College London, I received a phone call with an offer.

I took it, of course, quickly signing up for Hindi lessons and video calling the team in India to help me pick up the accent.

We filmed for 37 days in Delhi and I learnt so much - not just about acting, but also my heritage.

My grandparents came to Britain from the Punjab, northern India, shortly after World War Two. Both my parents were born here and my sister and I were raised in a middle-class existence in Caerleon.

As we had no relatives in India, I had no reason to learn about it or engage with this history. So I loved learning more about the culture and my family's lives, struggles and traditions.

It was also an honour to work on the film, October. Obviously, some may associate Bollywood with dramatic musical romances, but Sircar's films - such as Vicky Donor and Piku - are not like that.

They are critically acclaimed, as well as being commercially successful and appealing to an international audience. They are also great human stories with beautiful cinematography.

October is like this - featuring a group of young hotel management students with their trials and tribulations.

Image source, Kino Works and Rising Sun Films
Image caption,
Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu star in October

Something major happens and then it follows how they change.

Working with the lead actor Varun Dhawan was a steep learning curve - he is a major star out there with a huge fan base. I joke to him that he is the Justin Bieber of India.

As for me, I might end up with a double life. Gradually I am more recognised in India and perhaps I will be more so after the film comes out.

But back in the UK, life is completely stable and anonymous.

I am currently in my last term of university and can't wait to graduate. I promised my parents I would finish my education, so I need to honour that.

I have received other offers for roles but need time to think them over.

Obviously, it's strange the way my life is panning out. During filming, the director teased me about how a girl from a small Welsh village could land this part.

Hopefully I will end up acting here in Britain, but I'm so glad this initial role took me out to India and back to my roots.

October, by Kino Works and Rising Sun Films, will be released worldwide on 13 April

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