Marisa Williams
Mercury Staff

UTD freshman, aspiring actress makes film debut with independent Indian flick

A UTD student celebrated what aspiring movie stars constantly dream of — receiving an important role in an independent film.

Finance freshman Sasha Singh hits the big screen in a Telugu film, “Appatlo Okadundevadu,” which follows the life of an aspiring cricketer.

“It is based on a true story about how he gets involved with the underworld,” she said. “He kills a crime lord, and after that, he becomes wanted in the eyes of the police. He was an innocent man who is a cricketer and who is just living his life.”

The film is set in India, where Singh lived for months following her sophomore year in high school.

“I got the role because I was living in Mumbai at the time and they came to Mumbai to audition for the film. I got a call from a casting director to go to the audition and then I got it,” she said. “Fortunately, the UT system actually does online high schooling for students that don’t have a traditional career or school path and want flexible hours … so it was super easy for me to continue my education.”

Singh’s passion for acting began in high school. She made the most of her new experience on “Appatlo Okadundevadu” even with her lack of exposure to on-camera acting prior to the project.

“It was the first time that I saw how much work goes into it. On set, there was never less than 100 people,” she said. “It opened my eyes up to what cinema really is and how movies are so different than theater and advertisements. There is so much work and so many details that go into it and then when you see it on screen, you don’t really think about that stuff.”

Another hurdle Singh faced was the language barrier.

“It’s in Telugu, which is a South Indian language,” she said. “Actually I don’t speak this language, so it was an alien language to me. My part is dubbed, so it is not my voice. It is someone else’s.”

This challenge didn’t stop Singh. She tried her best to learn her character’s dialogue so the movement of her mouth would match the voice the audience heard. Despite the language discrepancies, she enjoyed her time on set.

“In terms of being in a new city and with people that speak a different language than me and that speak minimal English, I never really felt I was out of place. Everyone always made me feel like I was at home and I really enjoyed seeing the city, too,” she said.

Singh’s character is an 18-year-old girl looking for the man who is wanted by the police. When she read over the script, she was pleasantly surprised by its individuality.

“It wasn’t really mainstream Bollywood cinema. … It had the aspects of an independent film,” she said.

Singh believes the movie is also made unique by its setting.

“It is set in the ’90s in a major city in South India. The film is very different than what it would be if it were filmed in English and if it were shot here. … I feel like the message of the film at least is relatable and applies to all languages,”  she said.

Ria Varma, an undeclared freshman who has been friends with Singh since the sixth grade and has followed her journey from the stage to the big screen, said she was one of the group of close friends and family who attended the film’s premiere on Dec. 31.

Varma typically watches movies in Hindi, which made watching Singh’s film a new experience.

“It wasn’t even in my language, so I thought it was really interesting and this was the first movie I had seen from (the Southern) part of India. So I didn’t know what I was expecting or what I was going into, but when I watched it, I actually really enjoyed it and it wasn’t like any other movie I’ve seen before in India,” she said.

Although the showing of this film didn’t include subtitles, Varma didn’t feel like it prevented her from enjoying the movie.

“The language barrier kind of made it interesting because I had to interpret and look at all their facial expressions and see how they were talking and what they were doing. I had to really concentrate and focus on what was happening in the movie,” she said.

Even though Singh’s role required her to take on another individual’s mindset, Varma believes she did it well.

“I feel like it was a lot about who she was because the character was very sincere and genuine and emotional to where I felt like it was a really good role for Sasha,” Varma said.

Unfortunately, with Singh being away, her older sister and UTD alumna Sanya Peshwani wasn’t able to be by Singh’s side while she worked on her first film. But Peshwani understood the year they spent apart boosted her sister’s career.

“I only got to hear it through her and I went to visit a couple times, but it was just cool to see my baby sister grow up and become a woman,” Peshwani said.

As Peshwani got to know the character Singh would be playing, she further witnessed Singh’s abilities as an actress.

“I think her character was a lot more serious than she is, so it was interesting to see how her bubbly personality had to kind of be turned off and her acting personality had to be put on. … So when you see someone on screen versus when you see them in person, especially if you know them, it’s very difficult to separate the two entities,” she said.

The film will play at FunAsia, a movie theater in Richardson, and at Regal Cinema in Irving.

Singh said the cast and crew she got to know through her time on set put a lot of effort into the film despite its low budget, and she recommends attending the showings to share in its movie magic.

“I think people would really enjoy it because of what aspects it has. It has drama, sports, action, romance. It has a mix of all these flavors. That is what makes it unique and that’s why people should go watch it. It is really easy to relate to,” she said.