CLOSE-UP Culture kick-off our coverage of the BFI London Film Festival 2018 by interviewing one of the lead stars of Mia Hansen-Løve’s romance-drama Maya.
In a ‘luminous’ debut performance, Aarshi Banerjee plays a young woman called Maya who falls in love with emotionally and physically shattered war reporter Gabriel (Roman Kolinka). As the two drift through stunning Indian locations, their love affair offers hope of rescuing Gabriel from the traumas of his past.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Aarshi about her first feature role, working with Mia Hansen-Løve and much more.
Q: ‘Maya’ an incredible film to make your acting debut in. Can you tell us about getting cast for the role of Maya?
A: I could not have asked for a better start to my career and to work with Mia was an honour.
It is an interesting story about how I got this role in the film. I was sixteen years old when I got this opportunity. I did not have any experience and after the audition I was really nervous as it was a completely new experience for me. The next thing I knew, I got a call from the casting director [Nandini Shrikent] that Mia wanted to meet me.
Q: Mia Hansen-Løve is one of the best directors around at the moment. How did she help guide you through your first feature film?
A: MIA took a lot of initiative to guide me throughout. She wanted me to be raw in the film and she had asked me not to read the script more than once, no acting classes or workshops. She taught me how to be in the moment and perform authentically. We did rehearsals but it was mostly for the technical reasons and not performance-wise.
Q: How did you find the overall experience? Were there any struggles along the way?
A: THIS film was shot on a 35mm camera which is very unusual these days. It was a learning experience everyday. There were no struggles as such for me as Mia and the entire crew were always very patient and supportive. Everything was planned and thankfully went as planned.
Q: The film also had a predominantly female crew. What was the atmosphere like among the cast and crew during filming?
A: IT was a liberating feeling to work with a predominantly female crew. The atmosphere was very nice, easy and like a family. Everybody took care of and helped each other throughout the process.
Q: It looks as though the film has many stunning settings. Where did you film and how was the shoot?
A: WE shot in Goa and Hampi – both are beautiful locations. The crew was minimal and it was a collaborative effort during the shoot.
Q: Can you talk about your character and how you connected with her?
A: THE character of Maya is more like me in real life so I could connect with her more easily. Maybe that is also one of the reasons why Mia chose to use my own clothes and props from my home in the film. The relationship and dynamics with other characters in the film was something which was new to me and she helped me in finding to those senses.
Q: You star opposite Roman Kolkina, who plays Gabriel and has worked with Mia in the past. How did your relationship develop while working on the film?
A: WE did a bit of driving and acting rehearsals before the filming. Roman was aware that I was new to this field and set up. He was more like a friend [than a colleague] because he was so grounded that I could just be myself and I did not have to think much while I was with him.
Q: I imagine this project is very special to you and a great learning process. Can you tell us what is means to you?
A: IT was more like a film school to me watching the best of the technicians like Mia, Helene [Hélène Louvart, cinematographer] and others at work. I got to learn about the pre-production and what the team undergoes to prepare a film until it is the shooting stage.
Q: What has your family’s response been to you getting this role?
A: My mother has always been very supportive in whatever I have chosen to do. She has seen my film and was very happy.
The rest of my family and friends are yet to watch it, but they are quite excited to see my film!
Q: Have you had chance to think behind ‘Maya’? Do you have a preference now for making films in India or working on European and US projects?
A: I think the process is more important that the result.
I am an actor looking for good roles be it India, Europe or US. I am open to all kinds of films that have a good storyline, which would enlighten me and add something to me as a person.