British Indian actor, model and former Miss India UK Deana Uppal's directorial debut 'India's Forgotten People' is visualised by her as one of the most in-depth documentaries on India's tribal communities.
The film, which is now screening on Netflix, is about the life and hardships of the Gadia Lohar community of Rajasthan, India. The film was shot for a year in different parts of Rajasthan, exploring the unique ways of living of the community. The film also underlines the poignant question about the system that deprives and outcasts this community.
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Why 'India's forgotten People'?
While talking with iGlobal, Uppal reflected on how she decided to work on this documentary film.
"After studying filmmaking at London Film Academy, I decided to make a documentary on a subject in India. Whilst I was in Jaipur, Rajasthan, I saw a nomadic community that looked unique in their dressing style and life travelling in a cart. I asked my friends and was told they are a completely nomadic travelling community, left out from the rest of society. This captured my attention. I then researched further and believed that making a film on this community would be both interesting and educational," she said.
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The heart of the desert
Rajasthan seems to consistently feature as one of the places Uppal is emotionally drawn to. This Diwali, Uppal took care of around 200 disadvantaged children and their families from Jahora village in Rajasthan, who were supported to enjoy the festival of lights with great zeal. Her charity organisation DKU Kindness Diaries Trust, delivered sweets, firecrackers, basic necessities, and educational kits to children from the financially deprived section to make their Diwali unforgettable.
"I registered Kindness Diaries Trust two and a half years ago, based in Jaipur, Rajasthan. I always knew I wanted to start a charity but was waiting for the correct time to do so.
“The charity has now grown, and we do weekly food and essential distributions, provide free education and enrol children on schools free of charge. During Covid, we helped to save many life's delivering free oxygen machine supplies and medications. The charity's motto is to spread kindness, so we help poverty struck communities wherever possible. We also have regular celebrations and events to encourage the children and give them something special to look forward to. Next month we are starting a programme to help many children from rural areas to learn English," Uppal elaborated.
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Beauty is skin deep
Beautiful in mind and body, Uppal started her career as a model and an actor. From the beginning of her career to this day, the down-to-earth artist manages her work and doesn't have any management in the UK.
"My mother was born in Phagwara, Punjab. She came to the UK when she was 16 years old. My father passed away when I was only one year old, and my mother didn't remarry. So I have a very small family and no siblings," Uppal gave us a glimpse of her early years when life wasn't served on a silver platter for her.
"I connected to my Indian heritage and Sikh religion from a young age and always loved going to the Gurdwara. I grew up in Birmingham and moved to Mumbai, India, alone when I was 21 years old for career purposes," said the hardworking actor-director.
"I now have many businesses in India and go there often. I enjoy the freedom of having both the UK and India as countries to call home and work. It brings so much more opportunities."
Reportedly, the multi-talented star can sing, dance and even has a black belt in Karate. She said her background and upbringing have always made her want to work hard.
With a penchant for meaningful, substantial roles, Uppal has acted in several movies like 'Hard Kaur', 'Yeh Hai India' and 'Parking'. She was also one of the housemates in the British reality series 'Big Brother', and one of the Indian reality show 'Khatron ke Khiladi' contestants.
"Because I am British Indian, I found working in Punjabi cinema difficult due to the language barrier. My Punjabi speaking is not great; therefore, it was difficult to get roles I felt I should be getting. 'Hard Kaur' was a nice film to shoot; I enjoyed the experience. However, it wasn't very pleasant when the director or producer did not put in enough effort to make the film as good as it could have been.
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The turning point
"All these factors led me to concentrate on different avenues in my career. I believe it's essential to be honest with oneself when deciding career goals, even if the truth is not what you initially would like," she said.
"I am still taking selected projects for modelling with certain brands, but yes, my main focus now is directing and producing. I like to have control in making my own content rather than relying on others and working with productions where I have very little control of the final results," she added.
Apart from 'India's Forgotten People', Uppal has been working in the directorial and production team of several feature films since last year.
"The last film I co-produced will be in cinemas next June. As you know, my documentary 'India's Forgotten People' is now on Netflix. And I plan to direct and produce another documentary which I will start working on very soon. I also want to expand the charity and one day produce my own script."