Profile Series: Global Indian actor Nisha Aaliya on her Bollywood foray

Profile Series: Global Indian actor Nisha Aaliya on her Bollywood foray

Global Indian actor Nisha Aaliya was most recently seen on screen in the Bollywood remake of ‘The Girl on the Train’ alongside Parineeti Chopra, in the role of her best friend Piya.

‘iGlobal’ caught up with Dutch-born Londoner to explore her journey into the film world as a newcomer, her experiences at film school and rediscovering her Indian roots.

Blend of cultures

Born to an Indian father and Burmese mother, Nisha describes her multicultural background as a “mad mix”. Growing up in the city of London, where Western culture was in focus, she didn’t get much exposure to her heritage.

“I’m essentially a London girl”, Nisha remarks.

And in an anecdotal reference to her childhood, she adds: “I was trying to fit in with the English kids since I was living in a predominantly English neighbourhood”.

Like for a lot of British Indians, Bollywood movies enlightened Nisha about the various facets of Indian culture.

“I didn’t have much family here, most of my vacations were in Sharjah. Bollywood films made me feel closer to India.”

By destiny, not chance

As a child, she found society limited the representation of careers that could be pursued by South Asian women. Engineering, medicine and law always topped the list.

The arts and entertainment industry was only something I watched and consumed. It was not something I thought that I could actually be in.”

Nisha began her artistic journey by attending Bollywood dance classes at university, which eventually led her to training in various dance styles. At that moment, she was simply pursuing what she loved the most, dance!

She stumbled upon the world of acting when she was spotted by Samir Bhamra, Director of her first theatrical production, ‘Bring on the Bollywood’.

“At a random audition for a musical, I was spotted. The role was that of a dancer and the personality of the character matched mine.”

After working in the musical, Nisha was bitten by the acting bug and since then has fallen in love with the craft.

“There was always some kind of pull towards acting but I was just not brave enough to take the first step. Now, I want to do it for the rest of my life.”

Bollywood is a dream come true for millions of talented artists and Nisha reflects on the benefits of finding a way into the industry the UK: “It is comparatively easier to be noticed in the UK since there are a few of us who can act, dance and speak in Hindi. That’s the combination Bollywood seeks when they come to film here.”

Theatre school to the set

Nisha cultivated her passion for acting by training rigorously at theatre school. Her degree in English literature supported her theatre training and she built on her foundation. She draws parallels between her experience at theatre school and the literature classes she took at her university.

“Analysing the characters, the stories and the context tied in nicely with my English degree. That is exactly what we used to do with literature.”

Nisha explains how she incorporated what she learned at acting school on the sets of her films. “When on set, it’s almost like you have to unlearn it and it has to be natural. I have found my unique style in being present in the moment.”

For her first musical, she toured the country over six months, performing at much-celebrated venues.

“In theatre, with a live audience you are always bouncing off the energy from the audience. You are the character in one go.”

She goes on to compare this with her film experience: “In film, it’s an on and off thing. Every time there is a cut, you are off and action, you are on. The difficulty lies in staying in character and maintaining the intensity every single time for the different angles.”

Life on sets

Reflecting on the ins and outs of being on set, she shares: “Everyone is setting up their gear. You have to get ready way before your scene and have to wait until you are called in. When you are called in, you have to be ready. You cannot waste anybody else’s time.”

At the start, Nisha spent time a lot of time watching her co-actors while they performed. Later, she began concentrating more on perfecting her dialogues for the camera.

“No matter how prepared you think you are, it can be nerve wracking. It’s best to just keep preparing,” she says.

In her short time in the industry, Nisha has shared the screen with the award-winning Indian actor, the late Irrfan Khan, for a commercial with Syska LED.

With a heavy heart, she recalls: “He had a beautiful aura to him. From being very supportive whenever she fumbled with her dialogues to advising her about her career, working with Khan felt like a dream.”

Her cameo in Shakuntala Devi, gave her the opportunity to work with the dynamic actor, Vidya Balan.

“I learned that calmness is the key thing to have on set because it is easy to be flustered and distracted. Vidya was so calm and focused on the scene despite all that was going around her.”

Leap forward

Nisha is ready to get the ball rolling with several upcoming projects on her plate – thriller-drama ‘Rat on A Highway’ with the talented actor Randeep Hooda and ‘Badnaam’, a Vikram Bhatt production – being some on her list.

“Although I do not want to limit myself, I want to make sure the UK remains my home and I travel for work,” she says.

As the lockdown lifts, Nisha seems to be looking forward to going on a film set. Even though she feels the creative industry had found a way to mould itself to the realities of the pandemic.

“I was doing a lot of self-take castings and commercials and I was being directed on Zoom calls.”

Her message to others who aspire to enter the world of acting: “Never doubt yourself no matter what anybody says. We are our biggest critic.

“Say I don’t want a what if moment and take the leap forward.”

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