|Namrata Singh Gujral on Americanizing Shelley
|Roles on hit TV shows & popular commercials wasn't enough for this diva. She just had to headline in a feature film of her own. Luckily, I had the chance to sit down with one of the sultriest and smartest South Asian faces to hit the silver screen in the US!
Namrata is one of the very few South Asian actresses in the US who is accomplishing just as much as her "Western" counterparts. Ironically enough, her success comes from the fact that she is talented and intelligent as an American actress who just happens to have an Indian background. As opposed to others, whose ethnicity is more of a notable characteristic.
She's been on countless TV shows and has been generating a buzz for some time now. Her star is about to shine brighter than ever before because she is not only starring in, but also producing the feature film "Americanizing Shelley." We were lucky (and cool) enough to chat it up with Namrata... and what fun we had!
Tirusha Dave: Namrata, you've been coined "America's Spiciest Sweetheart." Where did that nickname come from?
Namrata Singh Gujral: The nickname started after I was voted "Babe of the Week." That picture had people writing that it was hot & sexy and that the picture had a lot of 'oomph' but still very "girl next door-ish." I made a joke one day and said that in India they would call it a "masala pic." So a friend of mine says, "that's a 'masala sweetheart'," and of course, white folks don't know what masala is. So therein comes the nickname!
TD: You graduated from the University of West Florida in 1998. Give us a little background on what your educational background consists of.
NSG: I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in film & TV/communication arts.
TD: How keen were your parents with the idea of you going into acting?
NSG: They weren't at all. I was a pretty good student... straight A's. I don't think acting as a profession was something that was encouraged.
TD: If you could make your "dream movie," whom would you cast in the lead role with you? Who would you want to direct and produce the movie? And what would the story line be?
NSG: It's going to sound crazy but I have always been a HUGE fan of Beau Bridges since "The Fabulous Baker Boys" and I remember thinking, 'I am going to work with that guy one day.' And then lo and behold, along comes "Shelley," which not only stars Beau, but is also a dream role for me. So I'd have to say I am fortunate enough to be living my dream by being a part of "Americanizing Shelley."
TD: Since you've been acting, the roles you've taken are quite unique. You played Pakistani-American "Saira Ahmed" on CBS's "Family Law" to playing the lead role of German-Samoan beauty, Anna Kraus in "The Shark Hunter." What has been your favorite role till date?
NSG: Shalini Singh/Shelley was by far the most fun role. It is SUCH AN AWESOME character arc, but a close second would be Saira Ahmed in "Family Law." The character had a strong vulnerability that not many roles will offer - they USUALLY tend to deviate one way or another. I remember the director, Fred Gerber walking up to me the day we wrapped, giving me a hug and saying how special I had made Saira - two weeks later, Columbia Tri-Star nominated it for the EMMY in 2002.
TD: How does your sex appeal play into your acting and even into your lifestyle? Do you experience the benefits of being a female beauty?
NSG: To be honest, there have been a lot of times where it has worked against me. I can't tell you how many times I have not booked a role because someone thinks you're "too pretty" for it, which is a shame and somewhat annoying. I have never looked at myself like that - I am a normal person - the kind of gal that will dress in sweats, sneakers, hair in a ponytail and no makeup on any given day that I am not working. It is also interesting to note that EVERY role that I have booked (with the exception of 'Nurse Kathy' on NBC's "Passions") has been "love interest" related - so my big desire now is to play a role where I can play a professional. It would be a nice change of pace.
"...I am a normal person - the kind of gal that will dress in sweats, sneakers, hair in a ponytail and no makeup..."
TD: You were also given the title of "Babe-Of-The-Week," where other gorgeous personalities such as Heather Locklear, Jessica Simpson and Faith Hill are in the same category. How does an 'accomplishment' such as this feel?
NSG: It is always an honor when a bunch of folks will honor you with any title and it does feel quite complimentary and special but again most days - I am the gal in sweats and sneakers - the "real" Namrata and that title holder is Namrata the "actress" and a product of the "entertainment industry." I believe it is very important to keep grounded in Hollywood or you will lose your sense of perspective very quickly and with that your sanity.
TD: Everyone is anticipating the release of your latest film, "AMERICANIZING SHELLEY." Give us a little insight on this film. How were you offered the role of "Shelley?" When is the movie releasing?
NSG: The film releases May 4th in select theaters across the nation. Just like "The Namesake," it initially releases in a few theaters and then will platform out. Although there is a Nashville sneak preview starting the 27th of April, right after our world premiere at Nashville Film Fest 2007 as CLOSING NIGHT FILM on the 26th. The synopsis of the film basically is that, in the vein of "Bend It like Beckham," and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Americanizing Shelley" is a contemporary 'Pygmalion' like comedy, set in LA, featuring an American country boy from the South and a Himalayan village belle, thrown together due to unavoidable circumstances. Responding to a challenge thrown by the CEO of a Hollywood management company (Bridges), "Americanizing Shelley" tells the story of a wanna-be Hollywood player from the deep South, who sets out to Americanize an Indian girl straight from the Himalayas. As he creatively teaches her all about the American way of life and what it takes be a Hollywood celebrity, he ends up learning a thing or two about his own life. Their clash in cultures soon gives way to understanding, unity and love as they begin to see the world through each other's eyes.
TD: How do you think the South Asian community will react to the movie? Will they see it as another "American Desi" flick or is there a more deeper meaning to it?
NSG: Well right off the bat what is different is that it is SO NOT a story about the Desi identity crisis or the strife of the Indian life in the US. There's nothing wrong with any of that and some cool films have been made that way but enough already with that. It's time to do something different. "Shelley" is such a breath of fresh air - a very mainstream romantic comedy that not only has mass appeal but also something so new and entertaining for the South Asian audiences in particular to enjoy. This is Shaheen Khan's second comedy after "Bend It Like Beckham" and all I can say is that as my mom in the film, she rocks more than any other film. Just for that alone, it is worth a watch, except this time her "aloo gobi" rants have been replaced. Also, what is cool about this film is the mind-blowing soundtrack. One of my duets in the film is currently on VH1 and CMT and it is the first time in history that an Eastern artist or language made it to CMT - so how cool is that?! We are a part of a whole new world! Amen!
TD: In comparison to the character of "Shelley," where do you see yourself and "her" as similar? When you were rehearsing your lines did you ever think, "Wow, we're so much alike!"?
NSG: Oh yeah, I will admit I have lied to my parents when I didn't think they would understand and felt the generational gap that 'Shelley' does and some of the decisions she makes based on that. So yes, more similarity that I could ever point out.
TD: Do you have a role in the film, beyond being an actress in it, from a production or distribution level? If so, how is it being a South Asian female involved in the movie business from that angle?
NSG: Yes, I am one of the producers and it feels great to be on the upswing not just as an actress but also heading the studio APFG. But forget South Asian - not many women of any ethnic background are wearing these multiple hats so it rocks not just as a woman but also as a South Asian but then let's not forget, our roots come from a land where Indira Gandhi was the head of a nation far before a lot of western nations will give credence to such a thought. So as South Asian women we should be very proud!
TD: What advice do you have for those who want to make a career in film?
NSG: Follow your heart; life's too short to do it any other way. Let your spirit shine! And then measure your success by happiness and you are the richest person you'll meet.
TD: Namrata, any final words for your fans and the readers of DesiClub.com?
NSG: I am so proud to be a part of such an amazing, supportive community... thanks for all your support over the years... all of you who write in thru my website and offer such compliments - I am truly humbled. Besides that, please do come out and support "Americanizing Shelley" when it opens in theaters near you. I will personally guarantee that each one of you will walk out with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Live it up and God bless!
Check out this great movie, for listings and more info, visit the official Americanizing Shelley website.