|Shetal Shah, A whole lotta stuff
|Having just come off from the win for best actress at the inaugral south asian media awards, we figured we would peek into the mind of this young and vivacious actress.
Specializing in poetry, directing, acting, fake Indian accents and capoeira, this girl shouldn't have been named Shetal Shah, she should have been named Wonder Woman! (Enter cheesy music). With Parminder Nagra and Pooja Kumar as fellow nominees, Shetal just bagged the Best Actress award at the Inaugral Desiclub.com South Asian Media Awards in New York City. With her impressive performance in Arya, she was well deserving of the honor. We now catch up with this new face on the scene who is creating quite a buzz.
Pauleen Arneja: If you could describe Shetal Shah in 3 words, what would they be?
Shetal Shah: Fun, Intense, Demanding, Sensitive, Free-spirited, Philosophical, Aspiring to the mystical, Exciting, Intuitive, Creative, Intelligent, Peaceful, Innocent... It's tough to summarize myself with only three!
PA: Yeah, I see! Ok, now pretend you are your 5th grade teacher, what would you have said about little Shetal Shah's ambitions at that time?
SS: To make sure her left handed writing looked like the writing of all her right-handed counterparts. That was the goal for my 5th grade teacher. She drove me insane... but she taught me a great lesson: that you can't fit a circled peg into a square hole!
PA: How did you land your first big break? And what was that big break, for those who don't know?
SS: My first big break in the sense of playing a challenging role and in the sense of playing a role that became widely known to the public was being Shilpa and Maya in Arya. I landed it the old-fashioned way, I went to the audition!
PA: What was your role in Kal Ho Naa Ho? Any good and juicy stories on Shahrukh or Saif?
SS: Oh my... you're going there aren't you? Ok, well, look for me behind the weepy Priety Zinta in the train station. I am a sympathetic onlooker. To me, Shahrukh seemed to come alive during his scenes. He has that spark that is fascinating to watch. The greatest thing about being on that set was to see how Bollywood makes its films. There are slight differences from the American way and I really learned a lot observing everything from how they ran the set to what kinds of relationships the actors, director and crew had with one another.
"Right then and there they told me that I had gotten the part..."
PA: How did your friends react to you once you started gaining more popularity?
SS: They, of course, were proud and happy for me, but they treat me just the same. Actually, I think they love how much more they get to tease me!
PA: Out of all the ways there are to express yourself in the industry (acting, writing, theatre, movies, television, etc.) what's your favorite thing to do?
SS: It's hard to isolate just one of my artistic passions because I feel that the essence of me spills over into all of them. Even though each outlet finds it's unique expression and affects different shades of me, they all still interconnect back to the same creative source. I guess they're all my favorites in their own way.
PA: I see your specialty is fake Indian accents. Got any good stories about fooling people with it?
SS: I wish I did! I have one about fooling a stewardess from North Carolina while speaking with her in French on an airplane at the age of 16!?
PA: Ok, I said good stories (laughs)! You're a teacher? How did that come about? Did you ever teach in public schools? Any crazy stories about being stabbed or robbed?
SS: I actually just fell into the world of education after I graduated college. I started working at the Museum of Science in Boston, where I discovered my love for filmmaking, and then I moved back to NY and got a Masters in Education. I've taught all sorts of audiences, from Pre-K to graduate students to adults in a variety of educational settings. As an adjunct professor at NYIT, as an educator reaching out to the community, as the voice booming from the darkness in the Planetarium, as a technology integrator for low-income urban schools, as an after school teacher for my non-profit, "If? Productions" where we used filmmaking, acting and writing to promote self-awareness in 6th grade public school students. I have one story of a second grader in a private Catholic school who stole my cell phone and who had been stealing teachers' phones that whole week!
PA: That's hilarious. So now, tell us in detail how you landed your evil role in Arya?
SS: I went to the audition and just as I was about to step onto the elevator, Mr. Malik, the producer, and Manan, the director, come down the hallway calling my name. I turn around, letting the elevator close and descend without me, and wonder why they have these determined looks on their faces. Right then and there they told me that I had gotten the part.
PA: How are you similar to your character?
SS: That's such a difficult question to answer because she became so real to me. She was within me so much so that I became her. We were one in so many ways and yet I could still feel how she differed from me at our cores. I feel that we share a common passion and intensity for fulfilling the higher expectations we ask of ourselves. We're determined, hard working and innovative. Of course, she decides to use her powers for evil, whereas if I am to follow the comic book based relationship set up by M. Night Shyamalan in his film, Unbreakable, then I am her alter ego as Shetal in my own life, even though we existed within the same body.
PA: Were you hesitant at all to play a dark role in this movie? Are you afraid you'll get slotted as a "Villainess"?
SS: Not at all, I was so excited to play her. It was fun to be her partly because in real life we aren't always allowed to be that forthright. I did get a part in Green Chilies as the feisty one, so perhaps the character type has followed me a bit, but I don't mind playing these characters because I admire their strength and am fascinated by what drives them to be who they are.
PA: What's next for you Shetal, what will everyone see you doing in the coming months and years?
SS: Well, most immediately is my Lincoln Center performance for "La Casita," where I will be performing my poetry. Soon to be released is the film Green Chilies I'd mentioned earlier. I recently finished shooting a Microsoft commercial, which gave me my SAG card and I've just begun working as a radio personality at RBC radio. In the near future, I hope to publish a book of my poems and gather up the funds to shoot both my feature and short film scripts. In the months and years to come, I look forward to the roles that I will play in theatre and in film and am excited for the challenges and discoveries they will bring.
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