International Women's Day interview with Nikkesha
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? … Who is Nikkesha Rangwala?? Who are you, where do you live and what do you do?
Nikkesha is an artist (actor/model) and someone who’s all heart. Whatever she does, she does with love and passion. Nikkesha is originally from Vancouver, Canada but lives between Mumbai and Canada and pretty much wherever work or love takes her. She was last seen in ‘Haq Se’ on ALT Balaji. She plays the lead Amal Mirza – It’s a story about 4 sisters.
How did you get your start in modeling and acting? Was it something you always wanted to do or more like found yourself in … was it like your dream since you were a kid and what did your parents think of your choice?
I started as a dancer. I was a student at Rangeela Dance School and then started teaching at the age of 14. I did many shows professionally and that led me to modeling in commercials. It was always something I wanted within my heart and slowly the universe helped me manifest it.
My parents have always been very supportive and they are happy with anything I choose, as they trust me to make choices that fuel the fire within my heart. They encouraged me to travel to Mumbai during high school to learn some new skills even though they did worry about the industry and its stereotypes. My ex-boss Suki Pangalia was also a huge support and helped push me towards my desired path.
Did you ever take acting classes and who was your mentor? Tell us about your audition experiences when you started the journey as model and actress? Were you nervous while facing the camera for first time?
I went to John Casablanca for modeling. Vancouver Film School for acting and also Roshan Taneja’s film school in Mumbai. I would take the skytrain after school and go to auditions for commercials in Canada and booked a few after my first portfolio at the age of 14. I had no idea what to expect but yes I was a little raw but not nervous.The first time I was on set, all I did was attack the crafty (aka craft food services as it’s known on set) – food!!! My audition journey is still always ongoing and I enjoy going for them and being open to new and enormous possibilities.
In Canada, it’s one person at a time with the casting team. In India however, you may give the audition in front of other talents. Sometimes up to 30 people in a room; which was a little nerve wrecking initially but now I enjoy the process of the unknown. I still give auditions, sometimes five a day. I love that I get to give it a shot – one more time, new day, new chance.
Tell us about few favorite photographers and directors you like to work with and share why you like working with them?
Over the years, I’ve worked with so many photographers but I love working with my friends such as Ravi Bohra whom I share a good bond with. It’s more teamwork. Munna is a really good one too. My recent favourite is of course Ken Ghosh. He’s so calm, caring, energetic and will make sure he gets what he’s looking for.
I also loved working with Pradeep Sarkar and Puneet Malhotra for commercials. My L’Oreal commercial by Big Mama Production also tops the list.
What — or who — in your life has informed and shaped the person you are today.
I would say working really young at Rangeela Dance school being independent, handling a dance team, producing events and plays. I was also one of the first people to be part of the creative team in AAJ magazine. My motto is always – “fall down 9 times and get up 10 more times; never give up”. I’m stubborn at heart and I’m grateful that I’m blessed to have my own timeline and be able to do what I please.
My dad has also always encouraged me to follow my dreams. He helped me make the right investments in my craft or with my money. I bought my own house at the age of 21 in Mumbai. I was saving up from my teaching days, working at restaurants, being a production head, performances and commercials. My inner core (friends) have been the same since childhood and their support means the world to me. And of course my mother’s love, faith and prayers
Tell us about the projects you have done so far and are you working on any new projects that you would like to discuss? What is your favorite or best project?
I’m working on two Telugu movies which are in production and soon after hopefully “Haq se” season two. My favorite project is yet to come. (Wink)
As a Canadian model and actress, did you find it difficult to create a space for yourself in Commercial Industry in India? Do you believe Bollywood is a welcoming Industry for new talents? What's your take on nepotism in Bollywood?
Nepotism definitely exists and it helps one break into the industry initially, however, it’s your talent that keeps you there for the most part. I know many industry kids personally whose fathers were superstars but still struggle more than me, to get another chance. They have a preceding name to live up to. Whereas we have the advantage of being fresh, without expectations and the ability to create our own name. A clean slate when you start or need to try again.
You are always looking for your next gig and there are no guarentees. People are welcoming towards your faith and hard work. It’s an ongoing journey to make a mark and find a place.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing women your age today? Do you think there's equality between men and women in your workplace?
I think modern day feminism and the word specifically has been muddied over the years. We don’t need to wear a tag or be different because we are women. The work place is defined by human beings and the humanity we show each other. Equality comes from one’s belief in self and the environment.
How do you like to define Fashion? What do you consider 'female' attributes? Who are your ideal female icons?
I define fashion as classic; trends go out of style. One must be comfortable in your body and feel good in what you wear. I like a mix of designer and random brands. That can be street shopping or flea markets too. Audrey Hepburn is a fine example of being classic. I like simple things in life and that goes for fashion too.
Vancouver Fashion Week organizers were under fire after issuing a casting call for female models with 20- to 22-inch waistlines. What is your view on this news and the statement? Is this a usual instance of discrimination in the world of commercial casting?
I think it’s ridiculous. People are born with different bone structures and fashion is for everyone. I believe there should be plus size models and petite ones too. I’ve had the opportunity to walk for Salon International, India three years in a row for Seema V. Jerajanis show. We created height with hair – so that shorter models could participate and break the moulds historically created by the industry.
Honestly, most people don’t have 20 to 22-inch waistlines. Perhaps we need to feed them. That’s creating unrealistic expectations and leads young girls to feed into such false ideals and develop eating disorders as a consequence.
How you feel about how women are represented in the media and modelling industry? Can you see yourself in any of them?
Kangna Ranaut is a fine example of leading by your own choice and voicing your beliefs. I like her guts. I don’t like the gender stereotypes perpetuated by the industry. Women tend to be overly sexualised in the modeling industry and within the media. My little brother Noah loves to play with Barbies and loves the colour pink. I resent the fact that society expects him to conform to specific ideas of what it means to be a “boy” or a “true man”. Men can feel, they can be vulnerable and sensitive and be human, but the expectations and gender stereotypes continually being perpetuated within the media doesn’t allow for this.
We even see such historically prevalent ideas in India, as fair skin and skin whitening ad campaigns that insist upon unrealistic ideals about status and beauty that excludes so many. I do acknowledge and appreciate the changes we see today though, in social media and awareness campaigns. These acts of social activism continue to break the moulds created in the past. Again, it’s about choosing the projects that resonate within you and voices your beliefs.
About projects, what’s the one you’d absolutely refuse, and the one you’d like to receive but you still haven’t?
I wouldn’t do anything that involves nudity or sex. I’m not comfortable with it. Though I do think it’s amazing that people can be so uninhibited. I would like to be part of a period film. A different era piece and also something ‘slice of life’ (aka in the industry “real world relevance”).
Do you believe the modeling and film industry exploits young and vulnerable workers especially women? How Has the #MeToo Movement affected the Fashion Industry?
I think any industry exploits you if you allow it. We are our own mirrors and we have to set the boundaries. That being said, the movement is powerful and one of my friends who’s a male model spoke up about his journey at Lakme Fashion week.
So again, it’s not the gender that defines the wrong doing, it’s the individual that is corrupt. But we do have the power to change it and dismiss its approval.
Many people assume that the ‘selfie generation’ — or younger people — aren’t as engaged in social issues as much as previous generations. As a model and an artist, how do you contradict this notion. What are your thoughts about critics of the ‘selfie generation’?
I hate selfies! The person taking them looks like a bobble-head. I try my best to avoid them.
That being said I try to put a timer on my social media so i can be more productive with my time. Inner work is important so that we can engage in social change for the better. I would say this generation needs to meditate and focus on the simpler things more.
As a woman, what do you believe society’s role should be in preventing sexual assault, and how do we better support women who have been sexually assaulted?
I believe we should talk about it and schools should encourage teaching it just as sex-ed is part of the curriculum. One should have free means to get help and move past it. We need to teach our children at home, right from wrong. It should not be an uncomfortable dinner table conversation, as many are unaware of those being victimized by it.
On the upside, Twitter or social media allows you to reach out for help without having to identify yourself with such movements as #metoo
Tell us more about the importance of the arts in our society, and how has art helped you speak on issues that other mediums may not allow?
Theatre is an important medium and so is film-making. You can tell stories and inspire others to change or feel a certain way. It’s powerful because you create what people desire to be or see.
What does the International Women's Day 2019 campaign theme: #BalanceforBetter mean for you in your Personal and Professional life? What do you think women in our society is fighting for?
A woman is a mother, daughter, professional, lover, sister and so much more. She’s been gifted by God to balance and create a world that is nurtured by love.
Start within. Self-love and loving oneself most defines your balance and relationships in life. To be able to balance family and your dreams and desires creates opportunities for the better, for me.