Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Sheena Bhattessa for her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Sheena Bhattessa is an actress with TV credits including ITV Drama’s ‘Whitechapel’, ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘The Fixer’, as well as BBC’s ‘Doctors’. Most recently she completed filming NBC’s ‘Ransom’ and ‘Say Your Prayers’ opposite Derek Jacobi. Sheena also voices Zakira in ‘Paddington’ and features in the upcoming Netflix production of ‘Scrooge’. Her theatre credits include Juliet in the National Theatre’s adaptation of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, as well as Olivier-award nominated ‘The Great Game; Afghanistan’, with which she toured North America and performed for The Pentagon and Theatre Royal Haymarket’s ‘Queen Anne’. She has produced her first film ‘Kitchen Tales’ and working on a series of future productions, including running women’s travel magazine ‘Citizen Femme’.
You are currently producing (and acting) in a film called ‘Kitchen Tales’ that is set over 40 years of marriage, migration and food and the love that binds them all together. What drew you to this project?
Not often do you come across a script that resonates with such impact. As soon as I read it, written by Anupama Chandrashekar, and presented to me by director Jane Moriarty, I was drawn in completely. It touches pivotal themes, including immigration and the immigrant story, tradition vs assimilation, loneliness and distance from family – a subject all too familiar during the last 18 months. The script was able to cover so many impactful subjects, all without spoken words. While I love the work I do as an actor, I don’t get to tell the story of our own culture, which is relatable to so many I speak to, of all cultures, including my co-actor Nikesh Patel.
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A huge part of the film was to encourage and explore the female perspective on screen, and behind the camera. In ‘Kitchen Tales’, we stay in the kitchen – a place in the home that was, and in some cultures still is, the wife’s domain. Most of what we know and see of the immigrant experience is very public, but we were curious to explore the private struggles. The increased alienation, the inability to adapt, and how that affects not only the wife, but the relationship and the family. We wanted to ensure the female perspective is accurately represented, and to address the underrepresentation of women in film, by providing more opportunities to women across the production.
This story could be told through the eyes of any ethnicity; the immigrant story is a shared one. The Irish, Italian, and predominantly white immigrant experience of the baby boomer generation is what is most frequently projected on screen. We wanted to highlight the immigrant story of the lost generation from the BAME [black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] perspective. What was shared, what was lost and what still remains.
What have been some of the challenges of putting this film together and what are the key moments you will always remember?
The main challenge was of course Covid, regulations and precautionary measures, the costs involved in this and the obvious challenges of a tight schedule and difficulty in having to close down the set should this have to happen. At the same time, with so many large productions on hold, it allowed us to secure leading talent who fell in love with the project and were able to commit their time. From hair and make-up led by Sunita Parmar of ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Batman’ and so much more, and Amrita Mudan currently on a SkyOne TV series (allowing the two main characters to age over 40 years in 50 years) to Stephen Warbeck, Oscar-winning composer of ‘Shakespeare in Love’ to ‘Indian Summers’.
We crowdfunded to raise the money for the film, which will always be one of the most memorable parts, being able to raise this during a pandemic and get the film made just before Lockdown 3.0. And of course, Day 1 on set when we realised that we managed to climb that mountain and we are here to do a jolly good job and give justice to a tale that needs to be told. We had all cultures on set, and it was such a memorable production that was so involved and impactful to all.
If you could go back and give your teenage self one bit of advice, what would it be?
If someone doesn’t give you the opportunity you want, create it yourself. All the world’s resources are at your fingertips, it’s your job to go out and grab them. And if you are lucky enough to know the work that excites you early on or that you’re good at, work hard at it and success will follow.
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Which one person has had the greatest influence in your life, and why?
As cliché as it may be, always my parents. My mother for actively encouraging me to try everything, learn everything, she would study before me and my siblings and then teach us. She would sit with me for hours as I badly practised scales and until this day, reads audition lines with me – never stopping me from chasing dreams. My father for encouraging me to always stay positive, chasing my dreams and keeping the door open to let good things happen.
If you could have dinner with four people, living or passed on, who would they be and where/what would you eat?
Firstly, cuisine would always be Indian food, it’s the best cooking in the world! My four – Martin Scorsese, Oscar Wilde, Coco Chanel and Ruth Bader Ginsburg… it would be an odd mix but utterly entertaining.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.