The Exclusive on Niyar Saikia
Crown The Brown: Niyar Saikia. Niyar Saikia, born in Guwahati, Assam. The Indian actress and dancer is well-known for her lead role as Lakshmi in the 2014 movie, Sold. Sold showcased the harsh realities of human trafficking of young girls. It was directed by Jeffrey D. Brown. It was also based on the novel by Patricia McCormick. The movie received five awards, including best picture at the Washington DC South Asian Festival!
Above all, the move impacted many lives. It created awareness around human trafficking worldwide. Personally, the movie was hard to watch as it depicted the tragedy of trafficking so openly and enabled viewers to share the experience with the victims. Niyar played the leading role of Lakshmi, a 14 year old girl that gets enticed by the stories of a foreigner only to end up being a victim of human trafficking. Niyar was brilliant within her role and we wanted to know more about her experience on this nail-biting movie! Here is what Niyar shared with us.
Actress, all round ray of sunshine! What makes Niyar Saikia different? Tell us more about yourself.
I am Niyar Saikia, with a bachelor’s degree to run after at the moment. Still trying to figure out how to college after a year has passed by! I have also realized the hard-hitting fact that college is not as cool as it was shown in Main Hoon Na or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai! But, sailing through it. I am an avid book-lover and book hoarder, who makes a college course presentations on memes – it’s very much true (and was super fun), (not going to lie).
I had never sought myself as an actor when I was young because I come from a musical family. My parents have given me a background of music and dance which relegates to the folk culture of Assam (the state where I come from), so acting came as a chance for me to explore what’s more there to performing arts than to the music and dance I have been practicing. I got hooked on to it.
It’s been 13 long years since I got a taste of theatre and movies, but every time I go up to the stage or stand in front of the camera, it still gives me the jitters. There’s this thrill, and an unparalleled love I have for this craft. Similarly, I have learnt theatre under the Seagull institution. I also write stories and poems and hide it from everyone! I get real competitive on the dance floor, but all in all, I am your unusually usual “losing-your-flight’s-boarding pass-minutes before boarding the airplane” girl.
You are known for your incredible performance as Lakshmi in the 2014 film, SOLD. What was your experience like working on such an in-depth film?
Being in a movie is always a grand of an experience. With a heaviness of what settles down when Jeffrey (the director of Sold) said “lights, camera, action,” during every scene of this movie is what entrenched me more into this experience. Every day was a challenge. Likewise, every take was a challenge, every saree change was a challenge. Even the expression I had to conjure up was a challenge. But, I guess more than that, to tell the story of millions of children and women who get trafficked into this business, was a challenge and an unforgettable experience.
The mere thought pushes me on to work more by stabilizing. Getting a clear foundation to the education that I have access too. As well as standing in the fight against this terrible crime. The experience of getting in accordance to the work ethics displayed by Jeffrey and all the other co-actors, the space that they all gave me to be comfortable in the role I was playing. Providing a space where I get to question and peek at my curiosity on particularly difficult scenes. Similarly, where everyone answered to, how amidst the chaos of filming you would always find the calmness of them letting you evolve in your own character, of the entire set being one united family, was one of the most beautiful experiences.
Along with that, the stories that I heard from all the people around me. From the cast to the crew, supervising me and helping me. To being in the same room as them made it all worthwhile. It was a worthwhile experience.
The film focuses on bringing awareness around the topic of Human trafficking. Why do you think it is important to make people aware of this topic?
Being humans ourselves, if we are not aware of the heinous crimes done against our own kind, then we shouldn’t be considered into the folds of humanity. Awareness is a trait we should also use for accessibility of the unknown paradigms of crime against us. Human trafficking lies behind a veil. Which we tend to ignore or sometimes. We are merely not given any right to use the information, because of it being blurred out. This veil needs to be removed.
I was thirteen when the shoot started, and before that I didn’t know what human trafficking was. I had no clue. Above all, I was on the other side of the veil and I couldn’t do anything about it. Being a child myself, I did not know or wasn’t aware of the atrocities going on with the children around the world. And that’s shameful to not even know about it.
Being on set, I am sure you learnt quite a lot. Playing a victim of human trafficking, how did you prepare for your role as Lakshmi?
Lakshmi was everything but, me. She was a totally different character to what I was in reality. I belong to a privileged section of the society. She belongs to the living proof of what the underprivileged section is threatened and attacked with. And I learnt it the hard way. She was the living proof of millions of girls who faced human trafficking, who were trampled under this crime and still are. As I said before, it was a challenge. To carry on and take in the essence of this character over my shoulders was daunting.
She was one of the strongest, fearless character that I had ever played and I will ever play. It was hard, to know what she had gone through and to put up the same fight she had gone through. But, all I could think was the fact that I was doing it for the rest of the girls around the globe who were going through the same situation of the wrongdoings inflicted on them. I was doing it for them, and not for my own self-satisfaction. Lakshmi is someone whom I’d always look up to.
It took me time to get in the groove of the reality with what was happening, beyond Lakshmi. She wanted me to give it all, and I don’t know if I did, but I’d really hope I did some semblance of justice to her. I didn’t get into preparation, I did what I had to.
What was one thing you learned about human trafficking whilst filming and how did this film change your perspective on social issues in society?
There were several things which I learnt about human trafficking as a whole subject. The fact that anyone can be targeted, with no protection or safety net is what haunts me. And it’s a hard life for these trafficked children – when they are rescued, to get in touch with the same reality that they were snatched away from. Every person has a right to be protected from such wrongdoings which takes away their right to life in an instant. It is an important issue. It changed my views on social issues drastically for sure. I was ignorant about these things, and I can’t blame it or use it as an excuse on my age of being twelve or thirteen to not know about them. I have full rights to know about the fundamentals behind my own safety.
Doing this movie, made me believe in the fact that I could be doing things for the betterment of the society. Maybe it’s me for now, but later, there’s always a possibility that there will be thousands of people working accordingly. If we know the right thing, and if we can work on it to create a better society for us and our future generation to live in, then why not? Why not raise our voices through these social issues which affects us as much as it affects them? The movie’s biggest aim was to shine a light on this topic, and let people take action.
As an actress, what are some of the best moments and the worst moments you have experienced on set or in the industry in general?
Every moment on stage, or in front of the camera becomes the best moment. To be a part of the set becomes the greatest moment of my life. With the lights surrounding, the buzz of the people around trying to fix up a last minute addition to the set. The make-up artistes trying to fix up round trying to fix up a last minute addition to the set, the make up artist the foundation due to unprecedented amount of tears being shed. Every blooper reel being shot, always make up for the best moments, all these little details.
But, the best part will always be to get the space to act, and be a character, be someone whom you couldn’t imagine yourself to be in real life, and to carry all the imperfections or the perfections they have in themselves.
The worst moments would be, as a young actress, you’re most of the time not taken as seriously. Your execution matter is not taken into account, quite possibly most of the time thinking how young you are. How naïve you are, and how deluded you are. But, youth of the world aren’t exactly the laid back kind. They strongly want to voice their opinion, and we just need a platform to voice it out.
Most of the times these platforms aren’t provided for an actor. As well as the need to be taken seriously to an art form. Which we could dedicate our whole life too, makes it worth it. The mere commercialization of talent. As well as not using it as an amplification to be better at what the society has to provide. How we can raise the standards in a societal developmental progress, is really a need of the hour before things becomes worse.
What do you hope to encourage more of within the entertainment industry and why?
I’d hope to encourage more voices of the youth to be heard, by the entertainment industry. Because God forbid this generation can’t do anything better than to be “on their phones”. Along with it, a set of guidelines to be followed. Whereby the talents of these young entertainers aren’t exploited to the point of them losing out to their own identity.
This goes out to child actors too. To give them a platform where they can grow. Not to lead them to their downfall whereby it can cause damage to what they could have given to the society as a whole, for the betterment of it. Money shouldn’t be the sole reason of someone being attracted to an art form in this industry. It might be lucrative, but the expense of you not being aware of your falsified actions can/will result to damaging consequences.
The notion of learning and educating yourself. Establishing your own identity should be what the entertainment industry should aim for. Also, to break stereotypes and to not make stories on these stereotypes.
Many people have really felt as if they could relate to the character of Lakshmi, what other characters do you hope of portraying in the future? Can we expect any future projects in film?
It’s more likely to see me on stage, than in front of the camera. But if a really good script comes along my way I’d do a movie it in a heartbeat. There’s not a set scheme as to what characters I’d like to portray. Although I’d like a challenge. To be someone whom I wouldn’t have imagined myself to be.
Like a superhero or maybe a supervillain, or an animated character of a fish, or a flower. Anything works as long as it throttles me and pushes me to be out of the comfort zone, and create a own artistic space for myself to be in and let others in, in a cohesive manner. A character which can make people think, make them ponder on it for days, in a way they can feel themselves to be a part of the whole setting.
Do you have any on-screen idols that you would love to work with? If so, why?
I have grown up with movies and music all my life, and yes there are people I admire so much. Possibly my greatest dream will be to be with Daniel Radcliff on screen. But in the Harry Potter world. This whole universe of magic and witches and spells, made my imagination grow stronger. Another one would be Ratna Pathak – oh, everything about her makes me want to relearn everything I have ever known about acting.
Another would be Shah Rukh Khan. I don’t think there’s a single movie that I haven’t watched of his. I have cried, I have laughed, I have been through all of it with him. And it would be an unimaginable Dream with a capital D to come true! There are so many, Saiorse Ranon, Vidya Balan, Steve Carrel, Mahershala Ali, Manoj Bajpayee, etcetera. Them because, they have played characters which makes me want to evolve as an actor and be better. But, mostly because, I’d just want to be able to look at them and not faint, worst case scenario – die. Just maybe, get an autograph until I last.
What advice do you have for other young girls trying to make a name for themselves and execute their craft in the industry?
I would always advise to work hard, work more, and not allow anyone to stop you from achieving something. Today’s world demands all parts of you to be present in a scenario such that you can give something worthwhile to the people, but more than that to yourself. But also, these young girls should know that it’s okay to not give something worthwhile every second. It’s okay to fail.
It’s OKAY to fail. But that shouldn’t stop you. It shouldn’t stop you from breaking stereotypes and emerging as a strong woman through the other side. Because the other side won’t be rainbows, unicorns and daisies. It’ll be hard as well, just like on the side you are. But working diligently, worshiping your craft day in and out, making efforts to learn more and be someone you had always imagined yourself to be, IS worth it. Let go, and learn.
Niyar is surely a young lady worthy of knowing! Her passion and craftsmanship is truly admirable. We are so obsessed with Niyar and her love for entertainment! Lakshmi will surely be one character that we will never forget and we are so glad that Niyar Saikia was able to bring her to life! One boss ass lady ready to break barriers and create more awareness! Watch out for this superstar! Be sure to follow Niyar Saikia on instagram!
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