The Gulabo of ‘Begum Jaan’ Pallavi Sharda: I’m still a Melbourne girl!

By Neeru Saluja

It’s always a pleasure to talk to actress Pallavi Sharda, but this time it was special. Riding high on the success of her Oscar nominated film Lion, Pallavi is now excited about her forthcoming film ”˜Begum Jaan’.

Playing the most challenging role in her Bollywood career as Gulabo in Begum Jaan, Pallavi has come a long way since she was crowned Miss India Australia in 2010 and started her career with ”˜My Name is Khan’. While making her mark with lead roles in Dus Tola, Besharam, Hawaizaada, Save your Legs and a special appearance in UnIndian, Pallavi has always made us proud.

In an exclusive interview with The Indian Down Under while she was shooting in Sydney for an Australian TV series, the beautiful and intelligent actress opened up about Begum Jaan, working with Vidya Balan and how Australia is still close to her heart.

Begum Jaan’s hard hitting trailer is creating waves and Sydney’s Indian women can’t stop talking about it! Tell us a bit your character Gulabo in the film and how pivotal is she to the plot.

Gulabo is a steadfast woman who has enormous grit. She knows what she believes in and isn’t afraid to fight for it. Her life is tough but it creates resilience in her. Despite the fact that the film is set in 1947, Gulabo is as inspiring as any woman of today who lives with conviction. She plays a pivotal role in the running of Begum’s house, and hence Begum Jaan  the film.

How close is this film to Rajkahini, as it’s based on the same story and directed by the same director.  

Begum Jaan  is an adaptation and not a remake of Rajkahini. Srijit Mukherji has given the story a new life and a new setting. With the cast and language differing completely, it is an altogether different film.

How was the experience working with Vidya Balan and Srijit Mukherjee?

Vidya Balan is someone I have always admired as an actor and a person. She exudes a humility which defies the nature of her stardom. I always felt her generosity on set, particularly in our scenes together. I am so excited to have had the opportunity to work with one of my role models. She is fearless and talented and warm at the same time – it’s a rare and beautiful combination.

Srijit Mukherji is a true leader. He combines his intelligence with his craftsmanship to create the right balance on set, making sure that everyone is feeling creatively fulfilled while he weaves together the vision for his film. When the going was tough on set due to the harsh elements and restrictions on how long we could shoot, he managed to instil a feeling of power and responsibility in all of us to combine our collective energy to finish the job. This is the first film I have done in India which has been completed on time, and that too in the toughest conditions – this may not have been possible without Srijit Mukherji. I am delighted that he chose me to be his Gulabo.

Eleven strong women in one house for the film. Was there ever a cat fight?  

We were bound together in our belief of the script. The shoot was tough and without the support of one another it would not have been possible to get through the 32 days of filmmaking. We battled extreme conditions to make this film and Srijit was an exceptional leader. He had conducted workshops between the actors prior to the shoot, ensuring we had a strong bond before we entered the shoot location. The film was above each individual so there was no scope for discord between actors. In fact, we have become life long friends and chat almost every day.
Pallavi you were last seen in award winning international film ‘Lion’. Coming back to Melbourne for the shooting, how was the experience?

It was an incredibly rewarding experience to shoot LION in Melbourne. Not only was the storyline something which resonated with me deeply, being about a man’s search for home in India after having been brought up in Australia, the actual shoot locations mirrored my past Melbourne existence. The classroom scenes were shot at Melbourne University, in spaces where I had once taught an Indian dance course. It was also lovely to be able to go home and sleep in the home I grew up in – a first in my career. All aspects of the film and the film making process were exceptionally poignant for me personally and really felt like a case of ”˜life gong full circle’.

So has Pallavi turned into an aamchi Mumbai girl?

I am still very much a Melbourne girl! I take Australia with me wherever I go and am known in Mumbai for my undying loyalty to the country of my birth. I have lived in Mumbai for a number of years now so it is also very close to my heart, but with the amount I travel for shoot schedules means it’s very difficult to have a sense of where home really is anymore. I feel most at home when I dip in the oceans of my land down under.

We have also heard that you are about to start shooting for an Australian TV series out of Sydney. We would love to hear about it.  

I have been cast in a leading role for a new and cutting edge ABC drama series. I am currently in Sydney shooting. It’s very exciting to pioneer the effort to create diverse representation on our screens. It has always been my intention to be a global actor and my hard work towards pushing the boundaries of cultural cross over is now really surfacing so I feel very blessed. I can’t say too much about  Pulse, but I would love to share more when the time is right. I will say that this show is going to be a game changer in the way diversity is portrayed on our screens.

You are also an ambassador for multicultural relations in Australia and have been appointed the Queen of Moomba. What further steps are you taking to building relationships between the two  countries?  

My work as an actor is the primary way in which I believe I can facilitate change. Apart from the cultural attach̩ roles that I take on, I believe creating art which allows for cross cultural storytelling to be the most effective way of building relationships and bridging gaps between India and Australia. My character in my new TV show is an Australian girl of Indian origin Рin a truly an Australian story. The same goes for the next feature film I will be shooting. In India, I tend to play very Indian roles on screen, but maintain my Australian persona off screen and make sure to highlight that the only way I have been able to seamlessly transition between my two cultures is due to the space given to me by my upbringing in multicultural Australia. Everything that I do, as an actor, or a spokesperson, has my cross-cultural heritage as its backbone.

I am working to create an infrastructure whereby Australian Indian diaspora can aid in development goals in India. It will be a tough but exciting project and something that will roll out over time. I hope I can tap into the goodwill of Indians living in Australia to ameliorate the plight of so many living in poverty in India.

What will this film say to today’s women?

Begum Jaan  is for men and women alike, it speaks to the human spirit within all of us. I do think that being led by women makes it a watershed film as far as content goes. It is a signal of the change that is finally entering the Indian film industry and creates hope for female actors. We are finally being able to play authentic characters and speak to audiences of the strength and resilience of women. The patriarchy of Indian society will only be dismantled through storytelling of this nature. Even though the film is set in 1947, the message is universal and eternal – that if you fight for what you believe in, then the truth will always prevail.


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