From Bihar to Hollywood: Nitu Chandra Srivastava on her grand odyssey
Actor Nitu Chandra Srivastava, who has forayed into Hollywood with Never Back Down: Revolt, that is set to release this Friday on BMS Stream, looks back at her journey
Halfway through the telephonic conversation with Nitu Chandra Srivastava, ahead of the Indian digital premiere of her Hollywood debut, Never Back Down: Revolt, the actor connects our chat to one of her learnings over the years. “It’s important to stay humble and grounded, regardless of who you are and what you are trying to do. Everybody in this world is working hard to give their best; look at you, working on a Sunday morning, look at the person who put us together for this interview... Everyone is trying their best, especially amidst the chaos surrounding us, when the world is changing at a drastic pace. This is major learning from the Indian film industry.”
The actor seems quite aware of the hardships and failures she has circumvented over the course of her 17-year-long career and takes pride in it. “From where I come, Bihar, young girls don’t really aspire to become actors or sportswomen,” says Nitu, who holds a black belt in taekwondo, having represented India thrice in World Championship. “I’m proud that I come from a place where the burden is not about making it big in life but giving your all to whatever profession you choose. After debuting with Garam Masala in 2005, my thought process began to evolve as I got exposed to one brilliant talent after another, such as Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah. That’s when I started to get into the groove of acting and tried to educate myself every minute. Acting, after all, is all about living, not just thinking. I guess it has all paid off,” she says.
Nitu believes her sports background played a vital part in helping her land the role in Never Back Down: Revolt. Sharing how the project came her way, Nitu says, “I started traveling to the US to seek opportunities and was invited to the premiere of Bad Boys for Life, where I met the producers of Never Back Down, who were working on the fourth instalment. I pointed out in jest that they were action producers and I’m an action actor and that got them curious about my work. When I told them about my tryst with taekwondo, they roped me in. Landing in a film without an audition and look test is uncommon in Hollywood, and it was made possible only by David Zelon (one of the producers), who placed a blind bet on me. It only added to my happiness when he told me that nobody would have played the character, Jaya, better than me.”
Nitu has one more reason to cherish the film—her character Jaya was apparently written around her real-life persona, with her ethnicity seeping into the role. “When I met Audrey Arkins, the film’s writer, we chatted about my life and how people of Bihar are tough from the inside, although they maintain a persistent, pleasant smile on their faces. She quickly asked, ‘What if you played a character that’s the opposite of what you just described?’ And the result is Jaya, a cold-blooded killer.”
Her taekwondo experience came in handy but didn’t mollify the difficulty of the assignment she had signed up for. “We trained for the action sequences for almost a month, every day beginning at 7 in the morning, and this was followed by two and a half weeks of shooting. Doing it with bare feet in freezing temperatures was a crazy experience. After a point, as punches landed on my body, I got numb; I didn’t feel a thing. Tim Man, the action choreographer, did a wonderful job with composing the sequences. Every punch, slap kick and back kick were carefully choreographed. In fact, it was like music. Fighting is no different to dance; it’s about rhythmic movement between two people,” observes Nitu, who feels that the film has opened doors for her in Hollywood, where she supposedly is to work on two more films.
Nitu has been an advocate for “cleaner” Bhojpuri cinema, propagating the need for films in her mother tongue to shed the “crass and adult-centric” tag they have come to be attributed with. She produced two films so far, with the sophomore project, the Maithili-language drama, Mithila Makhaan, bagging her a National Award in 2017.
It’s a struggle, she admits, but it’s a path she is willing to persist in. “Five languages of Bihar—Bhojpuri, Magahi, Maithili, Angika and Vajjika—are spoken by over 50 million people globally, but there is no content to watch with their families. I want to change that.” Nitu says her mission is to “produce films from my roots” while “acting in national and international films”.
She concludes by referring to Robert Frost’s, ‘The Road Not Taken’. “People never tend to take the uncommon, untouched path, but I have and will continue to. I’m glad to have chosen this route and I hope many will follow.”