by LAUREN CODLING

A LEADING actress has revealed the highs and lows of fame, as she stars in a new “explosive gig-theatre event” in west London this month.

Preeya Kalidas will star as Aisha in Chiaroscuro, described as a “bold reimagining” of Scottish
poet Jackie Kay’s 1986 original piece, at the Bush Theatre until October.

Kalidas, who is known for her roles in Four Lions and Bend It Like Beckham, called the play a
“celebration of women”.

“It is about race, identity, culture and what it means to be female,” the actress told Eastern Eye during rehearsals at the Bush Theatre. “It is about (the female characters) questioning and asking questions that lead back to their ancestry to help them work out where they come from and who they are.”

And despite the piece being published in 1986, Kalidas believes it still feels relevant.

“It is incredible how in 2019, you relate to some of those words and some of the questions that (Kay) asks,” the Londoner said.

A promo image for Chiaroscuro, which has been described as an “explosive gig-theatre event”

For instance, her character Aisha comes from an immigrant community. Her parents came to the UK in 1953 with dreams of opportunities. But they experience the hardships of
adapting to a new life which include instances of racism and exclusion.

In one scene, Aisha says: “My parents came here in 1953. They were the invited guests who soon found out that they were being treated like gate crashers.”

The line is particularly meaningful to Kalidas, whose own parents originate from Gujarat.

“They were here, they were invited and had British passports, and then they had to deal with feeling like outsiders,” she said. “(It was interesting) to see the impact it has on Aisha and
her questioning her history and culture and what it means to be a woman of colour and also be British.”

Working with an all-female cast has been “incredible” for the former EastEnders star.

According to Kalidas, all four main cast members are all extremely supportive of one another.

Preeya (right) in rehearsals with fellow Chiaroscuro cast members Gloria Onitiri (left) and Anoushka Lucas (middle)

For instance, Kalidas admitted that she broke down after reading through one of her monologues. It was a moment of true exposure, and she was aware that she did not know the other cast members especially well. Despite this, she felt comfortable expressing herself.

“I’d only just met these women, they didn’t know me very well, and I didn’t know them, but I felt very comfortable being able to do that and I didn’t feel judged,” she recalled. “We have an understanding — if someone is feeling emotional or sensitive, we get it.”

Promoted as a “gig-theatre”, the play will feature musical aspects. For Kalidas, it offered an opportunity for her to sing. Singing is a major passion for the star; she previously pursued a
music career — she featured on a song by grime artist Skepta in 2010.

Kalidas was also the lead in the West End musical, Bombay Dreams.

“Music just connects to me in a different way, I can’t go a day without listening to music,” she said, adding that she loved every kind of music bar one. “Heavy metal is too much for me,” she laughed.

Having worked in the entertainment industry since the 1990s, Kalidas has had highs and lows throughout her career.

The Queen meets the cast of Bombay Dreams, which included Preeya (left), Ayesha Dharker (middle) and Raza Jaffrey

Admitting that she has had moments when she contemplated turning her back on the industry, Kalidas is open about the difficulties that fame brings.

Rejection is “part and parcel” of the job, she said, and you have to have thick skin to cope with it. Artists need support and a solid grounding. But her passion for performing outweighs
the difficulties.

“It was always about doing things that I felt were truly representative and that I was passionate about, and I could feel that I was telling a story that people could connect to,” she said, revealing that she recently rejected a casting call for a major mainstream comedy show as she did not feel comfortable with the character.

“It isn’t just the fact that it is a major production and I should do it, it has to feel right,” she said. “Not every role that you get asked to audition for is necessarily the right one for you.”

Kalidas cannot recall many representatives of the British Asian community on screen while growing up – although she remembers being inspired by Luther actress Indira Varma.

Despite the lack of representation, Kalidas was determined. She hoped that she could be someone that her peers looked up to. However, she knew it would be a “risky” career move as there were no guarantees that she would succeed.

For Kalidas, her starring role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams remains the best opportunity she has ever had. She starred as protagonist Priya in the 2002 Bollywood-themed musical.

“When I got the call for Bombay Dreams, without sounding cheesy, it was a dream,” she smiled. “To be at the forefront of that — to me, if that was the only thing that I’d ever done in this industry, I’d be happy.”

While working on the show, she was approached by young girls who told her they were encouraged to pursue drama. Aspiring artists need perseverance, Kalidas said, but the positive moments make it worthwhile.

“It is a complex industry — it can be amazing and when you get those moments like Bombay Dreams, it is unbelievable,” she said. “It has been such a journey.”

Chiaroscuro runs from August 31 to October 5 at the Bush Theatre.

Feature image by Helen Murray