WOW | Coverstory
SHILPA MASKEY – More than meets the eye
Of the many rising stars that the industry has seen come and go in the past few years, Shilpa Maskey is someone who has a grip on what she wants from her career. The talented 27 year old who has the experience of working on the sets of Hollywood in Dr Strange, Mission Impossible and Star Wars – albeit shadow roles – is set to make her mark in the Nepali film industry. She has already given two hits and will be soon seen in an upcoming movie that is already gathering attention. In a conversation with WOW’s Mannat Shrestha, she talks about life aims and the reality of the film world.
Tell us about your life story…
I was born in Biratnagar, but as my father’s job required him to frequently move to various locations, I lived in different parts of the country including Dhankuta, Birtamode, Bhairawa and Sankhuwasabha. Since I was young, I loved dancing. I remember being glued to the television for hours observing and practicing dance steps. When I was in grade two, my parents enrolled me in an internationally funded school in Sankhuwasabha that allowed me to explore stage performances. After a year I was transferred to a school in Kathmandu. I felt very lost. It was a big school and I was never selected for any dance programmes; I am guessing I was not cute enough (laughs).
I was always certain that I wouldn’t be an eye candy. I wanted to be in women-centric films and strong female roles.
In grade six I was transferred to another school in Kathmandu where I learnt Bharat Natyam from Gajit Bista. I was extremely happy here as I got to be a part of the stage again. I even won many awards for my dance performances. As soon as I completed my grade ten, I moved to London for further studies. Initially, I did try to continue dancing, but I could not afford to enrol into dance classes. As a 17-year-old student, I was earning around £500 a month which would barely cover for my rent, travel and studies. If I wanted to dance I occasionally went out clubbing. Four years later, I came back to Nepal to renew my visa. The process was taking a long time, so I decided to study here for some time. While doing my first photoshoot for a magazine I got to know about the audition for Shooting an Elephant. The movie makers required a Burmese-looking girl who could perform Burmese traditional dance and I decided to try my luck. I went for the audition unprepared and just danced to Makmali Choli which was already playing at the venue. After a month I received a call saying that I was selected. We were shooting in Chitwan, and the temperature was 45 degree celsius. I had to get ready at 3am while my shot came only at 4pm. We waited for hours under the scorching heat and I had rashes all over my skin. This is when I realised that even in that harsh condition, I loved the whole movie-making process and it was what I wanted to do.
When I went back to London, I got into a London-based Bollywood dance company called Bolly Flex. Then, I got into Dr Strange. At the set, I met people who had studied acting formally and it was really inspiring to learn from them. Dr Strange motivated me to continue my acting career. Later, I even got the stand in job for Emily Clark in Star Wars. I got to learn how it works behind the scenes and this encouraged me further.
How was your experience working on the sets of Akshay Kumar’s Gold?
I always wanted to work with Bosco Cesar, one of the biggest choreographers in India. I did go for a lot of auditions through Bolly Flex, but I never got selected. Then once again he arrived in London, and this time it was for the auditions for Akshay Kumar’s movie Gold. As my mum is a big fan of Akshay, I was determined to get into this one and make her proud. The shooting was four days long, four hours away and I had a full-time job at a clothing store. I called in sick at work, took the risk and went. When I saw Akshay for the first time, I was star struck, it did not feel real. He was really tall and looked very young for his age. He is very hardworking and professional. On the last day at the celebration party, I took an autograph from him for my mum. I wish I could take a picture but the security was too tight.
What about Mission Impossible?
Mission Impossible was another dream project to be a part of. When we arrived at the Warner Bros Studio it felt like we were on a different planet. However, we were not allowed to take any pictures. At first, we encountered Tom Cruise’s body double then we saw him. It was unbelievable. We could not go near him due to tight security, so we witnessed him from afar, he looked a bit shorter than I had expected. I must say he has a very good personality and seemed very down to earth.
What made you come back and join Nepali Films?
During the two years abroad, I did a lot of supporting roles and worked as a background dancer. Looking at the main leads, I wanted to be in the spotlight. My desire grew with time. I was worried that my passion would fade if I did not return back and start working in the movies soon. Also, I wanted to bring a breath of fresh air into the Nepali film industry.
I was always certain that I wouldn’t be an eye candy. I wanted to be in women-centric films and strong female roles. So far, even the characters that I’ve selected are strong woman leads. For example my character Sara in The Breakup is an independent woman of today, similarly, Bunu in Kagaj Patra is very determined. Also, the storyline of Sano Mann revolves around the female lead.
You worked with Aashirman DSJ in The Breakup and now you are working with his brother Aayushman DSJ in Sano Mann, how did you find them as co-stars?
I don’t know how they are perceived outside but personally, I felt really comfortable working with them. The shoot of The Breakup was extremely long. Initially, it was a bit awkward for me and Aashirman as we had to even share a kissing scene, but later we literally became ‘bros’.
Your, second movie co-star Najir Husen seems completely different, how was it working with him?
Najir is on a different level, he is not only a talented actor but also a very good human being. His journey is very inspiring. Kagaj Patra was very challenging in comparison to The Breakup and Sano Mann as I have never been to the far west. Throughout the shoot Najir guided me. Also, he gives his 110% to the character which inspired me to do the same. I found a very good friend in my co-star.
In both movies, you shared a kissing scene, which obviously received a lot of comments, how do you feel about this?
I was already mentally prepared but it was still challenging. I took it as a part of emoting. When two people are in love they kiss and we are just showing this on the big screen to make our love look more believable for the audience. It was just part of my work but I was a little worried about how society would perceive it. However, I received a lot of positive feedback. I was not expecting this.
Are you prepared for the flip side of the industry: rejection, insecurities etc?
I was already prepared when I joined the industry. Even in London, sometimes I have experienced unsuccessful auditions. Also, people will keep making negative remarks, but you can’t let that pull you down.
Do you think female actors struggle with gender inequality in the industry or have the dynamics changed?
In our society, I feel it exists not only in cinemas but also in other sectors. In the films, there is a pay gap between male and female actors despite equal working hours. Also, people perceive a film is not complete without a hero, hence they prioritise on the male lead than the female. I think this perspective is gradually changing worldwide and I hope it will change in Nepal too.
What kind of movies do you want to do in the future?
A movie of a different genre; it might be an art or action movie.
Other than acting what do you like to do?
I like to reconnect with myself and spend time among loved ones.
Location: Vivanta by Taj
Located in the vibrant Patan neighborhood, the hotel whisks guests into an oasis of modern comfort in one of the most far-flung locations in the world. It flaunts sophisticated and versatile architecture with rooftop pool and Koko Bar. One can enjoy the finest views of Kathmandu over delightful sundowners and hors d’oeuvre. From millennial design and trendy Saturday brunches at the pan-Asian restaurant Akari to the whiff of local Newari dishes at Mynt, the all day diner – you’ll be enveloped in warm Nepalese hospitality and Vivanta’s impeccable global standards and service.