Teena’s avant-garde looks, a short pixie haircut and dusky skin amidst fair and feminine aspirants, grabbed the eyeballs of casting directors when she began giving auditions for TV commercials and even films later. “You don’t sport such a haircut if you want to be in this profession. Often casting directors would ask me to apply foundation during auditions because I’m not fair. I faced a lot of censure initially,” she says. “But I’m proud of my skin colour. So, to prove a point I started attending auditions without foundation and with my short hair. This became my USP. The rest of the girls looked the same with long hair and white skin,” says Teena recalling her early tryst with the glamour world. “If someone tells me I can’t do something I make sure I end up being the best in it,” says she. Born in Punjab, Teena spent most of her life growing up in a boarding school in Shimla. “In North India, people make you feel terrible if you’re not fair. All my life, I was told that I wasn’t attractive,” she confides.
Teena, who first began as an event manager, was not keen to face the camera. But when she bagged her first TV commercial in 2013, life changed forever. She ended up doing 80 commercials in three years. While she was doing ads, director Abhishek Kapoor offered her a small role of a tattoo artist in Fitoor. “It was because of my distinctive looks,” she smiles. Then she landed the part of the college bully in AR Murugadoss’ Akira, which has Sonakshi Sinha as the protagonist. “Most girls debut in roles with pretty dresses and long flowing locks. But my role is unusual,” she laughs and adds, “The bad girl part excited me. I play a gang leader in college, who’s the strong silent type but a bully.”
Teena claims that the feminist theme of Akira appealed to her. “There are three strong female characters in Akira played by Sonakshi, Konkona Sen Sharma and me. Mouna Guru, the Tamil film on which Akira is based, was a guy’s story. But Murugadoss Sir’s turned it around and created three strong female characters,” she says. She insists she never felt overshadowed by Sonakshi. “The fact that you got the role out of so many girls, means you’re doing something right. You’ve got to have conviction in your talent and work. I feel a sense of confidence,” she smiles. She’s even acted in Netflix’s American show Season 2 of Sense 8. “My director Lana Wachowski had co-directed The Matrix. I noticed how different it was working with her team as compared to an Indian film set. Nobody needed to scream, shout or rush around. Everything was organised and well-planned,” she states. Teena also features in the second season of Anil Kapoor’s TV series 24.
Coming from a conservative Punjabi family in Ludhiana, her mother wasn’t happy when she began doing ads. “She said, ‘Achhi ghar ki ladkiya yeh sab nahi karti.’ At 18, her dad wanted her to get married but Teena insisted on moving out. “They don’t realise that in trying to protect us, they’re stifling our growth. It’s a big deal to follow your dreams in small-towns. I believe I should chase my dreams rather than a man,” she asserts.
Teena may not have watched many Hindi films in her growing years but she couldn’t remain immune to the Shah Rukh Khan charm. “I used to watch only Shah Rukh Khan’s movies. I was in love with him. But once I grew up, the bubble burst. I wanted to find a guy like SRK. But I realised, men like that don’t exist.” Today, she relies only on herself for inspiration. “I’m trying to be a better version of myself every day,” she concludes.
“Being an actress is hard for me.” – Nargis Fakhri
by Suman Sharma | Sat, Sep 24, 2016
What attracted you to do Banjo?
First off, the girl was from New York so I was like ‘Oh that is me right there’. It was a combination of things for sure, the character being from New York, being a music student and being a DJ. When I heard the story and heard about her experiences in Mumbai because it is her first time there, I was just laughing because I remembered my first time and all the things that went wrong.
What did you enjoy most about playing your character?
I love my character and I feel very close to her. When you are choosing a film, you have to connect to the character you are going to play. That is really important to me, that I feel some kind of connection when I hear her story. I really felt her!
How was your experience working with Riteish?
He is an amazing actor. He is also an amazing human being. He is very easy to work with. Riteish is down to earth, funny, smart and very helpful.
Any special memories while you were shooting?
The atmosphere on set was good, but they were all speaking in Marathi and it was like coming to India for the first time again. I could not understand anything that anyone was saying. I am hearing them speak and some of them sound like Hindi words. I just could not understand, but then I started to pick up more and more and understand some words but it was difficult.
What do you love about being an actress?
It is hard for me, because there’s a language barrier. It’s also difficult because I don’t see my family, I don’t see my friends. I don’t see my mom for four or five years at a stretch. I committed myself because it was a challenge. It seemed interesting, and it was a great opportunity.
Would you like to do more Hollywood films now?
Sure, I’d like to try but only up to a point. I have been blessed to have made it this far here with no skills, no knowledge, no family, no friends and without sacrificing my values and morals.
Quick 5 with Angad Bedi
by Rahul Gangwani | Fri, Sep 16, 2016
Pink releases today. What’s your state of mind?
Well, I’m excited but my state of mind is peaceful. It’s the people’s film now. I have been in secure hands of Shoojit (Sircar) da and Aniruddha (Roy Choudhary) da. I feel blessed.
The film has already generated a lot of good response from the previews. How do you feel about it?
I feel good. The story is powerful and engaging. It has performances that will stay with you.
The film is a big stamp on feminism…
I’d say the film is a stamp on today’s youth. The film is more for the men actually.
You have always said what a big Bachachan fan you are. And now you are not only sharing screen with him but also touring the country for promotions. Any special memory you have?
I spent a lot of time with him. He’s a very warm and giving man. He wears the best cologne and shoes. In fact, I took his shoes off him as a souvenir. He smells so good!
Is there any woman who inspires you a lot?
I’ll say Jaya Bachchan. She was such a huge star. And then she stood by Mr Bachchan like a rock. And later bringing up gems like Abhishek and Shweta. I salute her.