Banita Sandhu admits ‘the industry doesn’t know how to place’ her: People constantly want to put me in a box

“I think this industry doesn’t know how to place me,” she rues, further elaborating, “People constantly want to put me in a box. “Are you a Bollywood or Hollywood actor?”, “You look a certain way, so we can’t see you doing this role”, “Do you work in film or television?”. I’m like, why can’t I do it all? Why do I have to stick in one lane? That literally goes against the essence of being an actor.”

This has propelled Sandhu to tap into her creative side. “I want to push boundaries and discover new spaces. I feel like this industry, not just in India but worldwide, sometimes lacks imagination in that respect. That’s why I want to get into writing and production eventually, so I can create roles for myself and others like me,” she elaborates.

Sandhu, last seen in Sardar Udham Singh, has been acting at the age of 11. Sets have been her practicum. “I’ve always learnt on the job. Whether it be technical, like finding your light and hitting your mark, or creative, such as how to ground yourself and be present in a scene amidst the chaos of a set. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning as long as I’m working,” she states.

A quick glance at Sandhu’s Instagram, and one realises that the actor has been quite vocal about mental health. “I feel like it’s important to speak about it. If it can help just one person out there, then it’s so worth it,” she suggests. Sandhu had her own tryst with mental health. While she refrains from talking at length about it, she further continues, “Dealing with mental illness can be a very debilitating and isolating experience. It’s important to know that you’re not alone in your journey with it and that there’s a lot of strength in the community. I was diagnosed at a time of my life when I should have been thriving, I was at university and my first movie was releasing but back then, mental health wasn’t really spoken about as much; I didn’t understand why I felt so empty and melancholic. It took a lot of time and work to recover and develop a stronger relationship with myself and my mind.”

Her next project is Mother Teresa & Me (directed by Kamal Musale) wherein she plays a girl with internal turmoil. Ask her how she related to the character, and she shares, “At that point in time, I was going through similar things to her. As a character, she is strong-minded but lost. Creative but an escapist with it. That too is emotionally unavailable and a lone soul. It was quite natural to tap into those parts because that is also who I was at the time. It was almost cathartic as it helped me to confront those sides of myself and I have definitely worked through a lot of it during and after the shoot. I don’t relate to her as much anymore.”