“I have always been a rebel since I was a child; I always knew I was made for greater things in life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I would do something more than just living in Punjab all my life and getting married and making babies.”
Model and actor Teena Singh talks about her journey through advertisements, about her upcoming film Akira and her personal vibe!
Journey towards becoming an actor: Born in Ludhiana, Punjab, in a very conservative, Sikh family, acting or the idea of moving to Mumbai was never on the cards. It was very unlikely thing for us. No boy in our family has ever left Ludhiana. I never thought of it in my wildest dreams.
I was sent to a boarding school when I was 7 years old because my parents split, and I was given to my father. I studied in schools at Ambala and Shimla which is where I developed my wings and found my voice. Had I been in Punjab, I would’ve never thought of getting out. I then decided to go to Delhi to do college. I was 17. When I told my decision to my father he was upset because he thought that Delhi was this big city and I wouldn’t know how to be because I am this naïve small town girl.
That was the first disagreement between me and my dad, considering we were very close. To me, he was my mum, dad and everything. I moved to Delhi and studied Fashion Design and English Honours.
Modelling Career: About 8-10 months after having moved to Delhi I got a call saying my father had passed away. I was on my own totally after that. My first job was with Marriott Hotel in Delhi, as Guest Relations Executive. Next year I got a job offer from a PR firm. I had no formal education in PR but they had offered me on the job training and soon I was handling PR and events.
I went to Goa for a 2-month yoga retreat. I was at Thalassa, my regular hangout place, when the restaurant lady offered me a bartender job. So it was the third time I got lucky and got on the job training. As she predicted – my pretty face boost her sales, boys got lined up every day, and I got good at making cocktails! (laughs) I ended up working there for a year.
I soon got started with an Events company in Mumbai. While doing events, casting people would approach me everywhere asking to give test for their ads. I had never done a play in school or I had no inclination towards theatre or had barely watched Hindi movies. So I was really hesitant. One girl, Gayathri Smitha from Nirvana Films, was however persistent to cast me. She even sent a camera guy to my home to take my test. I felt terrible in front of the camera. I didn’t know what to do. My legs would shake. It’s not easy as it appears!
It was not my best audition but that’s how I got my first campaign for Vodafone, three years ago. But soon I was getting casting calls from other production houses. I wanted to hack my fear of facing camera. I took it as a challenge. And eventually the bug bit me and soon I was convinced that acting was my calling. I have done over 70+ ad commercials in three years. I am a full time actor now!
Were you overwhelmed working with the big actors, sets, directors during Fitoor?
Fitoor happened in my early days at ad scene. It was a massive production with massive sets. But I always had this mind-set – I was made for bigger, greater things in life. Unlike other small town girls who come to Bombay in awe of Bollywood or big actors or people, I believe that we are all extremely gifted. If I work as hard as any established actor, it’s just a matter of time.
Did you have the same attitude even while working with Aditya Roy Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha?
Absolutely! I wasn’t in awe of Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapoor in Fitoor, or Sonakshi Sinha in Akira. I fell in love with the sets for sure. If you see Fitoor, it’s very beautifully shot. Art and creativity turns me on; I would walk on to the sets every day and be so excited! That was little overwhelming for sure.
Aditya was like all my other friends are. He’s extremely friendly, chilled out and amazing to work with. I noticed this nature with all the younger generation star kids. They are much grounded, stable, and sorted. This is the life they’ve seen always.
Sonakshi was lovely; she is super, super amazing! She immediately broke the ice, made me super comfortable and she’s always smiling and happy on the sets. She always comes on time. It’s a pleasure being around her. My first scene in Akira was the scene with Sonakshi, the one that is in the trailer, where I drop her plate. I wasn’t overwhelmed at all. The fact that they’ve auditioned several girls for this role and I got gives me the self confidence that I’ve done something right.
Director Murugadoss: Murugadoss sir is extremely friendly and chilled out person. He has made several super-hit films; he’s unassuming, always smiling, always completely in-charge of the situation. He’s a true professional; it was such a great experience!
Tell us about Akira. How did you get that film?
I’ve done Fitoor and Akira in the first year of my advertising career itself. I was just 11 months in the industry when I got a call from the casting crew. I had to play the college bully. There was no exact line given so I had to improvise and it was a good audition. Then again, there are incredible actors in Bombay. I thought someone else must have got the role. Three months later I got a call from Fox Studios calling for costume look test and I was selected.
I believe in magic in the universe more than most people do. The UTV office building, where I did Fitoor, also has the Fox Studios office. I met both my directors Abhishek Kapoor and AR Murugadoss sir here. It was extremely special for me. I felt that the universe was telling me something.
The Bollywood industry is becoming women-centric and heroines are no longer the sidekick, but protagonists. Huge shift? Your thoughts.
Bollywood is a reflection of society and there is a huge shift in the society the way women are seen today. Suddenly everyone is talking about women empowerment. Every country goes through a certain journey. America went through the same journey so many years back. We are at that point where we are starting to realize we need to respect our women. I am a feminist, I was so happy when Akira was offered to me; it’s a film that has everything I believe in. It has a very strong female [Sonakshi] as the hero of the film, a bully [Teena], and there is Konkona [Sen Sharma] in a strong police officer character.
Akira is remake of Tamil film Mouna Guru. All these roles were played by a man. It was Murugadoss sir’s idea to switch roles. I think it is the time opening up to really strong female characters.
We read in an interview, that you wanted to make a statement with your natural skin color during shoots.
I do, I do. A lot of times on commercial shoots, I always insist on using my color for every campaign, and lot of times the directors or producers have turned around and told the makeup artists: “inko thoda bright kardo” (make her a little fairer). Not blatantly but that really pisses me because if you want a whiter girl cast somebody who is whiter. You’ve seen me in my audition, and you cast me based on my audition. I’ve been told by certain casting directors to wear foundation for auditions because it will increase my chances of getting work but as a principle I never wear foundation.
But isn’t this stigma of fair skin slowly starting to fade away? There are actors like Nandita Das who have “Dark is Beautiful” campaigns?
Like you said it’s happening slowly. All of us, in our own little ways, are trying to change it, but it’s a slow process. We get messages from casting coordinators for even big brands which say: “looking for fair, tall upmarket girl”. Why should fairness be a criterion!
I’ve been insecure all my life, because when you are growing up in North India, people make you feel like you are ugly when you are dark. I’ve been made to feel I was unattractive all my life. It was only when I got out of Punjab and when I travelled to Europe and Mumbai I realized how much other countries and the West seem to love this skin colour. I’m extremely proud of my skin colour. Even at shoots there are times when I’ve told the clients that I am not going to keep fairer colour on me.
What are your hobbies and what is your personal fashion statement?
I love reading. I also love travelling by myself, backpacking across various parts of the planet… I am 60% hippie at heart with a very basic sense of style. When I travel alone, I look for organic, boutique hotels, really quite, small little places that have a personal touch. That’s my vibe. My personal style is also very minimal. It could be like a crop top with jeans or a pair of shorts. I’m comfortable in flowy draped clothes. You can say street fashion is more my style.