Never Back Down: Revolt actress Neetu Chandra on bringing her production house to UAE

From sports, martial arts to theatre and acting, Neetu Chandra has done it all. The artiste talks about her recent Hollywood debut and why she believes in creating her own opportunities



by

Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 15 Sep 2022, 6:37 PM

Hailing from a small town in India, being the proverbial outsider in an industry infamously known for ‘keeping it in the family’, actor and martial artist Neetu Chandra has been beating the odds for as long as she can remember. “I come from Bihar. Girls are not really allowed to have big dreams, especially when it comes to sports and acting. But I always believed in creating my own opportunities,” says Chandra, who was adamant about making it ‘big’. In a recent conversation with wknd., the actor who’s a fourth Dan black-belt in Taekwondo, talks about her latest Hollywood flick Never Back Down: Revolt, the fourth film in the action series, directed by Kellie Madison, and her upcoming UAE venture.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about your formative years. What shaped your interest in acting and the arts?

Nothing was ever planned. When I was growing up, my mother enrolled me into sports, and I realised sports was my way to get into anything I wanted to do. That was the driving force. It gifted me with the never-give-up attitude, the discipline. My mother was always standing by my side saying, ‘Get up superstar’ when I didn’t even know how to spell the word. She would always say, ‘You will do something, which nobody would have ever thought of.’ I wondered what she meant by that. I just connected all the dots and kept pushing myself, opening different doors, which were usually shut for girls, especially girls from small towns in India. I didn’t know how the path would be made but I always knew the goal.

Tell us about this goal that you were chasing.

The goal was to become an icon, a beacon of hope for all those people who don’t come from a notable background. They give up on their dreams, they feel ‘small’. I always knew this was the path I wanted to take. I couldn’t afford to get diverted. You have to spend your energy wisely. You need to have focus. I don’t smoke or drink or go out partying frequently. I told myself the first time I’d go to Las Vegas would be after I have done some solid work there. And now my latest Hollywood movie is out on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and other platforms and the world is talking about it. It’s a film that is very close to my heart. I performed all the action sequences myself, with no body doubles. I was shooting barefoot, in one degree Celsius in London, for almost three months but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was thanking God everyday for getting me this opportunity. In Covid times, how many of us had the chance to go out there and work?

What did your training entail?

I worked very closely with my acting coach Saxon Trainor, who has been an acting coach for Rami Malek and a lot of other actors. Then I trained extensively in martial arts — Taekwondo, Karate and Jiu-jitsu. Everything came together. My training as fourth Dan black-belt in Taekwondo really helped me as I already had a solid background. It took like two and a half, three months for us to prepare and shoot. The best thing was it was such an inclusive set, I never felt out of place doing action sequences as a woman. The film also has a woman as the captain of the ship, Kellie Madison, who’s the director.

Were you always this headstrong and driven?

It has been inculcated in me through sports since my childhood. When I was in the ninth grade, my father met with an accident and he was in a coma for two years. He lost his memory. My focus became even stronger, to become something in life and accomplish something massive. It’s only in the adverse conditions life throws at you that you realise your true potential. Being launched with legends of the industry, from Mr. (Amitabh) Bachchan to Akshay (Kumar), John Abraham and seeing them in action has also given me so much motivation. I have seen them work really hard, fighting to be better than themselves. It has influenced me to be more disciplined and focused.

You’ve also done a lot of movies in the South Indian film industry. Do you believe there’s a shift towards pan-Indian cinema?

I, personally, feel that all the languages are now one because we have subtitles. If you have a good script, no matter where you come from, it’ll do well. I’ve done Greek films and I’m doing a Korean film now. I’ve worked with some really big names down south like Surya, R. Madhavan, Nagarjuna sir. South Indians films were always the backbone of Hindi cinema. I think it’s now become a level-playing field. The world has become very small. Anywhere in the world, people will welcome you if you are talented. I got an opportunity to do a film in the US, I went there. I got an opportunity in the UAE, so I’m here. Today, I’m really proud that in the UAE, I get all kinds of crowds.

What brings you to the UAE?

I want to set up my base here in the UAE. I find this land, with over 200 nationalities if I’m not wrong, extremely fascinating. There are only good vibes, positivity and action, and after Mission Impossible, my producers were like, why don’t you shoot here. So, I thought of bringing my production house, Champaran Talkies, to the UAE. It’ll be great for attracting and nurturing new talents in the region. I am also planning to bring Umrao Jaan, the stage production, to the UAE. It’s in Hindi-Urdu with Rekha Bhardwaj’s music and I play a girl from 17 to 85 years of age.

It’s also time for the “outsider” in Indian cinema, with the #BoycottBollywood movement. Do you agree?

It’s time for talent and hard work. Business needs business and that needs serious talent. You cannot fool people anymore saying, ‘Just do this song and dance’ and that’s enough. I was out of 3-4 projects because of wrong casting. These were action movies with renowned filmmakers and I had requested them to consider me for the role. They did not. I have trained myself for 18 years. All those films didn’t work, not even for a day. The irony is, I went to Los Angeles and was the total opposite of all the girls there. I’m a curvaceous girl with brown skin, black hair, black eyes. But I was the unique one there and I made it my strength. I was welcomed with open arms. That’s when I also met David Zelon, who’s a producer for Never Back Down: Revolt. And that’s how this whole journey started.

somya@khaleejtimes.com


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