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Local Independent Film Spotlight: Jyoti Singh

This week’s Local Independent Film Spotlight highlights a one-of-a kind, local to  global acting, and filmmaking talent. Everyone, meet Jyoti Singh. I was drawn to Jyoti through her acting work in the short film, “Samosa”. The film was insightful, and entertaining. This led me to further discover her wider scope of talent and work, and I was drawn to her involvement with creating work here and abroad. Being a huge Bollywood fan, who has come from a tradition of watching one Bollywood movie per Sunday with my Dad, naturally I wanted to learn more about Jyoti’s current film in the works, “The Dignified Princess”. 

Jyoti thinks big, and her approach to getting the job done, and realizing her dreams is inspiring. Let’s get the conversation started.

Sit back, relax, even grab a snack if you like, and Read On to learn more about the impressive Jyoti Singh.

Hello Jyoti, I am truly excited to have this opportunity to speak with you. I have seen you in the role of actress, and loved it. However, please give us a detailed break down of your skills in the film industry.

Hi Diane, Thank you so such a wonderful opportunity. Thank you for watching “Samosa,” our short film. When I started in this industry after moving to Midtown Manhattan around 2009, I didn’t aim to perfect any single skill in particular. I was just so passionate that I enthusiastically jumped on any project that struck my fancy and boy, there were so many! My presence, accessibility and interest allowed me to explore the roles of writer, voiceover, critic, Producer/Manager, promoter, director and even, cinematographer. But most of all, I consider myself an actress. In front of the camera is where I feel most at home; portraying the emotions of a character…that’s where I get most fired up!

Where did your passion for performing, and film work begin?

My passion for being an actress goes pretty much back to the time I was a child. I started acting in school plays from nursery to about 4th grade; this was in India. Then a huge obstacle presented itself when I was asked to be partially nude in a role as Eve in “Adam and Eve,” a middle school play. In response, I opted out and actually just skipped school the day of the play. In hindsight, I guess it was my conservative upbringing and my effort to preserve my “Indian family dignity” that kept me home that day and pretty much ended my streak of acting. Until I reached college – in America, that is. I led several college dance performances (Indian folk dancing) and took part in talent shows. When asked to choose a major, I told my parents I instead wanted to move to NY and join acting school but of course, they were shocked and wanted me to focus on Academic career. It wasn’t until 10 years later that my life journey thankfully brought me to NY, where my childhood passion of acting actually started to blossom into real gigs.

What variety of projects have you been involved with up till now? What is your Bio, if you will?

I have worked mostly in Independent Cinema, student films, short films, hosting in Indian TV, some featured background work in TV shows like Gossip Girl & Monsters Inside of Me, industrials, commercials, voice-overs, theatre, Internet TV, music videos, reality chef in a cook-off TV show, supporting roles and by now 3 lead roles in feature films. Most recently, I had a Principal role (Pharmacist) in “The Slap,” the NBC mini series.

I was born in India and raised there until 1987. I have lived more of my life here in America. My father was an Army engineer and my mom an Assoc. Prof. of English Literature and also belonged to a famed royal family (daughter of King of Maihar, Estate of Madhya Pradesh).

I wanted to act when I was young, but was encouraged to more conventional career choices by my family. Since my deepest desire had always been to help people in need, I chose nursing and worked for American Red Cross, then with a psychiatrist. Meeting a man who was also dedicated to altruism and humanitarianism, I got married and moved to NY and slowly found myself in a position of complete financial freedom after my diligent husband met his career goals quicker than expected. With all the time in the world, I could do anything, go anywhere and that was about when the bad news of the 2004 tsunami hit. So I went to volunteer at a hospital in India. This facility was run at no cost to the poor by a great spiritual leader named Amma, better known in the USA as The Hugging Saint. During down time from volunteering, I started reading some of the books there and actually ended up having an unexpected, pretty profound spiritual awakening.

When I got back to NY, refreshed with a new self-knowledge, stronger sense of direction, I started singing classes, acting classes, and met a working actor who allowed me to write his scripts for his weekly TV appearance. I put my heart and soul into that every weekend and acted in a few student films. I slowly crossed the challenges of the shyness everyone feels in front of a quiet camera and the vulnerability an actor feels during an audition.

I then got a big boost when I enrolled in a course with Bollywood’s most well known acting coach Professor Taneja here in NY. That is the first time I realized acting was being true to who you really are in an imaginary situation or character. When I asked for feedback on a certain sobbing performance of mine, I was taught “It’s not about the actual crying, it’s about feeling the moment. You don’t always have to cry, your emotions will show. You can cry before you come to the scene. Give yourself time, be in the moment.” That was some valuable stuff I’d never forget. By the end of the course, Professor Taneja told me I needed to stop taking classes and now just jump into working as an actor. That surprised me but gave me tremendous confidence.

Then I auditioned for a lead role in the feature film 9 Eleven and truly did a fantastic job. But the film didn’t go far financially and remained independent and relatively unknown. I recalled the lessons I had learned: “prove yourself…know your craft.” I knew by far my best work up till that point in time had been 9 Eleven. So with my own personal money, I took the leap to submit it to as many film festivals as I could. Somewhat surprisingly, it became recognized, receiving 10 awards, and my work was applauded. This opened doors and I got numerous supporting roles as well as a lead role for feature film, On Golden Years with prominent Indian Actor, Ranjit Choudary. I played his wife, a 55 year old lady. The movie’s about immigrants who worked hard to achieve the American Dream and now find them retired, elderly, reminiscing about their country of birth.

I followed this work with my own short film Samosa and submitted it to film festivals. We ended up winning 5 awards and I won the Best Actress award at The People’s Film Festival. So in my lifetime, I have accomplished two of my major goals: one as an actress and other as a humanitarian.

Thanks for sharing your background Jyoti. I have also seen the trailer for your upcoming film; “The Dignified Princess”. Please fill us in on the full details of this film. How was this feature conceived? What is it all about? What is your specific role in the production?

Yes, that teaser of course was made by Vick Krishna himself. “The Dignified Princess” was my sister’s (Gauri Singh’s) idea. She always wanted to make a film on my grandmother’s life. It is basically a story about her journey as a woman in 1930’s and her struggles. So my sister wrote the screenplay, and then the script. All I wanted to do was act in this film. Never really intended to produce or direct or to work as a production manager. But as time went along, about a year and half, the project seemed stuck, and nothing was moving along. Since I intensely wanted to act in it, I pushed for it. So, I decided to finance it, even with a low budget.

Where is the film being shot? Is any of the film being shot in the United States?

Since this film is about an Indian royal family, to shoot in the USA was not possible. To get that palace setting here would be so expensive…the money we didn’t have. We knew a majority of the film would have to be shot in India. Since we come from Maihar, Madhya Pradesh, where my ancestors and relatives still own the palace, we decided to shoot in India. I had spoken to my cinematographer and that was it ! We jumped in & found ourselves at the palace. But one of our Uncles, whose son is a major TV producer in India, told us to come and check out his son’s shooting sets, close to Mumbai. We told him we only had limited funds, probably just enough to pay the crew. When we actually saw the sets, our mouths dropped, they were beautiful ! So our many thanks to Contiloe Entertainment for giving us access to such a wonderful royal location.

There was one particular scene, which we had planned to shoot in the US, so that scene will be shot here, otherwise the entire shoot in India is finished.

Have you had any unique challenges with this production?

Yes, it was unique indeed. Firstly, I have actually never worked in India. I am Indian, but lived more of my life in US. So of course I don’t understand the system. There is a hierarchy system present, which I learned pretty fast. So knowing I have little control as a woman and knowing how people were ripping me off, I faced obstacles everyday. Secondly, it is not easy for traditional Indian men to handle orders from a woman, often younger than themselves. Thirdly, it was a challenge to work with different teams who were simultaneously shooting other TV shows on the same sets…to arrange the schedule. We had to work around their schedule, that was a pain. Getting actors, arranging their travel, managing everything, accounting/money, directing and acting…boy, my plate was more than full !

I remember I hardly had any sleep. I am glad I had my cinematographer, Jigme Tenzing, and my sister, Gauri Singh, Vibhu Raghav who helped me immensely in this journey. Gauri did costumes and sets and was also assistant director. The crew was good, which was so helpful. They saw us struggle and saw our motivation and did their best to help us.

Can you tell that I am extremely thrilled about this? What are your plans for the release of this movie?

Well, interestingly I hardly went in with any planning besides motivation to shoot. I still have to shoot connecting scenes, which we are doing soon. After that we work on music and dubbing. It will still be few more months. Probably close to end of the year the movie will be ready. Then the hopes are to show the film to some investors, in hopes the film will be picked up. I do believe it should release in theatres. If not, there are always film festivals.

 How are you getting the word out about “The Dignified Princess” film?

We will definitely focus on marketing, once we have the product. So far what we are doing is giving out little bit of information every now and then. Some will say the movie loses steam, others will say, it keeps people interested. But yes, when the time is right, we will go all out.

What is your ultimate goal for the movie? What is the extent of the reach that you would like it to accomplish?

It is an international film. I do want to gain back the money I used for the film. At least even out. Film is a risky business, I am not a producer. Short films are easy in the sense, you know the market for it. Full features on the other hand can go either ways. God willing it will do well. At least in my mind I will never have regret, the “what if?” thought. At least I took the chance. Rest is up to the viewers to decide. Not just for me, for all the people who have worked hard on this project. It is never one person, it is the whole team together who wins when the film does well.   So good luck to all of us.

How can everyone learn more about “The Dignified Princess” today?

Well right now I have not created a website. But we do have a Facebook page where we regularly add updates as things get closer to release time and we will soon also have an IMDB page and website. Everyone can also check out “The Dignified Princess” teaser here on YouTube. 

So what’s next? What are you “cooking up” for the near future?

Well that is one thing about me. I take it as it goes. Next, is finishing “The Dignified Princess”. Wrapping up the film and then postproduction.

The other thing is I will have to join the union (SAG) soon, as I acted in a TV serial “The Slap” as principal role of Pharmacist. Since it had speaking lines, the next time I work on SAG project that is requirement.

Good for you on snagging that speaking role on a national TV show! Please share your thoughts on the Local Independent Film Industry? Do you think that it is a well-oiled machine, or can it stand some tweaking?

Well, I am from NYC, where yes things are done. I have shot stuff locally in this area for a while now. In fact my career pretty much picked up from here. I have worked with several independent film directors in this area. Of course the person I closely work in this area with is Vick Krishna. I think the industry is getting bigger in this area, with more filmmakers and fimfestivals coming up. Glad the market for independent cinema is more accessible, but being international actors, and being in independent cinema, I think what is lacking is the distribution of independent films. We have film festivals, but what after? –  that is the question!

I hear Ya! Which national and international filmmaker, and/or screenwriter, and/or actress has been an inspiration for you?

I have always looked up to Mira Nair, as I had seen her films growing up in the international market. It was inspiring. Because when I started acting, I hardly got any auditions in 2009. I think Slumdog Millionaire opened doors for Indian Actors. Then Deepa Mehta, also has made inspiring films. Water is one that stays close to my heart. And as an actor, Birdman…what an artistic work, go Alejandro González.

So, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years as it pertains to filmmaking?

Well as an actress, I feel I can play any kind of role. To me acting is a passion. Filming…I was never a filmmaker, I only intended to act. As for the future, I was never a person who planned things, I take it as things come to me. I like the balance between life and work. I believe in staying positive, but I never did this for name and fame in the first place. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to be able to accomplish my goals. Thankful for my Husband, my family, and some friends, who have supported me whole-heartedly. What I have learned is, we never know where life takes us, so best is to stay focused, positive, and hope for the best. Life is short, I rather stay humble, and hope my talent is recognized only if I deserve it. Hopefully, my work can touch people in some way or the other.

What are your long-term goals in this industry?

I just plan to act, when time permits. I have been lucky to attain what I have in such short time. Hopefully, I am able to work in projects that inspire people, touch their hearts and soul so they can laugh, cry, or feel something when they watch my work.

What advise would you give to others with a similar talent, and desire to make their mark as an actor and/or filmmaker?

Know your craft. Some people are gifted, others have to work hard. Stay positive, because challenges will come, and so will disappointments. Also, never forgot, be humble. “Never forget who you meet on your way up, because you will meet the same people on your way down.” My cousin, Chandrachur Singh, a highly respected Bollywood actor, taught me this.

Jyoti, I am inspired by your talent, creativity, and drive. What else would you like to share with us about Jyoti Singh that may surprise us?

Well, as I’ve said, my second passion is helping people, so many less fortunate, so many in need across the world. So I am a Co-founder of a non-profit we call RVP Charitable Organization. I need to spend more time in it.

As a hobby, I also train in Hindustani classical music & love to sing.

I love to cook and experiment while I cook.

That is some good stuff! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Any final words?

First of all,  I wanted to thank you. Also want to thank my teachers, directors, My Parents, Husband & my Sisters. All the people who have supported and believed in me. Want to thank all my fans, I never thought I would have them, but I do and all the 200 people waiting n Facebook to be accepted as friends. Thank you for looking me up and for supporting my work. It takes courage to make a fool out of yourself in front of people, I have been there a lot, so all I will tell people is “never give up; there is always something better out there. Life is short, so follow your dreams if you can.”

Peace

Peace to you too Jyoti. I wish you much success with “The Dignified Princess” and everything that you put your hands to. Your non-profit work is admirable, and I hope that it makes a tremendous difference in the lives of those it impacts. Thank you for being an inspiration today. 

Everyone I hope that you enjoyed this story about yet another phenomenal talent. Thank you for viewing this article. I look forward to welcoming you back next week.

Jyoti Singh

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On Set – “The Dignified Princess” 

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Jyoti Singh 

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