The job description of an actor is unlike that of any other professional. With every role an actor must become a completely new person in a completely new world. For British actress Karishma Bhandari, that part of the job came naturally. As the London-born daughter of Indian immigrants, growing up hasn’t always been easy — but her experiences have been an immeasurable asset to her craft.
“I grew up with working class parents… The only time we sat down as a family was to go to the cinema, or watch films on TV. They were really busy working,” recalled Bhandari. “Because I grew up seeing them laugh at the TV, I always just wanted to be on TV to have their attention too. I know it may sound silly, but that’s how it all started and it really pushed me to become a good actress ― into something they would be proud of.”
Now, after devoting years to training and honing her craft, Bhandari has far exceeded her childhood goals. The long list of her credits includes the cult British comedy “The Inbetweeners 2,” Disney’s “The Muppets Most Wanted,” and even a guest appearance on the critically acclaimed series “24,” which starred Kiefer Sutherland and won 70 awards during its nine year run on FOX, including eight Primetime Emmys and two Golden Globes.
But of all Bhandari’s roles, no two better illustrate the breadth of her maneuverability as an actress than the flamboyant Bollywood musical “Club Dancer” and the gritty drama “Six Rounds.”
“‘Six Rounds’ was based around the 2011 London riots,” Bhandari said. “Between August 6th through 11th in 2011 thousands of people rioted in London’s boroughs, and in cities and towns across England.”
At its heart, “Six Rounds” is the story of a morally-conflicted boxer and the trials he faces during a dark week of unrest in Britain. The boxer finds himself forced to choose between leaving everything he knows behind him, or giving up what might be his last chance to make a brighter future for himself. Bhandari’s character is a member of the protagonist’s old street gang, and she serves as a symbol of the harsh life that awaits if he strays from his new course. By setting the story against the backdrop of the 2011 Riots, director Marcus Flemmings created the boxer as an allegory for the divisive choice facing England — stay in the past, or embrace the future.
“She is passionate about being successful and will go to great lengths to achieve what is required of her by others and herself,” said Flemmings when asked about Bhandari. “I can honestly say Karishma Bhandari is one of the most exceptional people I have worked with – both with her professional craft and as an outstanding individual.”
Being brought up immersed in the cultures of both East and West has given her an insight into and an understanding of the human condition that no amount of practice could bestow. For an actor, being able to recognize where cultural differences end and human commonalities begin is key to portraying characters that are not just believable, but real in their own rights.
That insight is what enabled Bhandari to seamlessly transition into the role of a gangster in “Six Rounds,” following her run on the dance floor as Geeta in the feelgood Bollywood musical “Club Dancer.” In the film, Bhandari plays the betrothed sister of a man who bears a striking resemblance to a murderer who has just been killed by police. The film follows the outlandish and hysterical events that unfold as Geeta’s brother works to save up for his sister’s wedding. The role presented Bhandari with a number of challenges, but rather than slowing her down, they only motivated her further.
“It felt great playing this character. I speak Punjabi at home, and the film was in Hindi, so I was faced with a different language and accent I had to learn. I had Bollywood dance training, but to do it on a massive set in front of a lot of people was scary,” Bhandari recalled humbly. “But everyone complimented me after I filmed the song, as that was my first thing I had to shoot.”
The time and energy it took to blend into a totally foreign role is staggering, but Bhandari’s commitment is resolute. That drive is exactly what directors have come to expect and rely on from the gifted actress.
“I believe as an actor you have to be willing to learn, willing to explore yourself,” she said. “Some people get put into brackets and characters because they play them well. But as an actor you should be a chameleon.”
That willingness to step outside her comfort zone is why she’s so respected as an actress. It’s also why her performances in a wildly diverse range of roles have been so successful. Bhandari’s range is unrivaled, her drive is unwavering, and she is blessed with a natural talent that shines brighter each time she steps in front of the cameras.