Hollywood Dreams – Part II : Jaswant D. Shrestha

June 18, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, Leave your thoughts
Hollywood Dreams – Part II : Jaswant D. Shrestha » My Dreams Mag
Speaking of the glass ceiling of the film industry, working actor, director and producer Jaswant Dev Shrestha describes acting as a “crazy profession”. 15 years into his career, Shrestha has been “crazy” enough to dream big and toiled enough to work with big names in Bollywood as well as Hollywood. With such few Nepalese actors in these monstrously competitive industries, I was expecting some tall stories and famous names to be thrown around. However, a few questions into the interview, I noticed the actor talked of his acting mostly in the present continuous, with the modest adage of the never-ending learning process.

Shrestha’s experiences range from appearing in renowned productions like 300: Rise of an Empire and Disney’s animated film, Planes; working as assistant director to Bollywood directors Sooraj Barjatya and Kalpana Lajmi, producing travelogue documentaries on Manang and Mustang that have gained him praise in and beyond Nepal, and writing several short movies, one of which was awarded by the New York Film Festival.

Despite already bagging these admirable achievements, Shrestha’s passion for acting seems not to have subsided. “I want to die an actor” he declares. Such a simultaneously bold and dreamy declaration warrants further enquiry, don’t you think? DREAMS talks to Shrestha about his life as an actor and gleans valuable advice for ones seeking to shatter the glass ceiling of the industry.


Mr. Shrestha, please tell us about your current projects.I am currently editing an Indian film and writing commercials for local industries. And been acting when I get the chance. I’m also working on two scripts right now, planning an adventurous thriller style movie in Nepal. Also, I’m in the process of releasing my documentaries (Mustang Secrets Beyond the Himalayas and Heavenly Place Manang) to a wider foreign audience.
So how did you get started with acting?I was interested in acting since I was 4. In 1998, I went to Bombay to pursue an acting career. I was there for around three years but as I was quite young and I didn’t get many opportunities to act. However, I did work as an assistant director in some good production houses. I got to work with renowned independent filmmakers such as Kalpana Lajmi, That was a big learning time for me.

Then I came back to Nepal in 2000 and opened a studio in Pokhara. I started making documentaries and editing local films and music videos.

You said you were interested in acting since 4 years old? What inspired you at such a young age?Oh, because I watched films quite keenly even then. The film Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki (1984) was especially inspiring to me and I wanted to be like Mithun Chakraborti (laughs).

But as I got more mature and started interacting with creative personalities, I began to learn about the technical aspects of film and became interested in making films. Right now I am more involved technically as a director and writer, but when a role is offered and if the character is interesting then I take up acting as well.

So what do you enjoy the most; acting, directing or writing?I enjoy acting the most because it allows you to live out imaginary lives or be a different person. Its really fun.
What was the process of you getting involved in American films in particular?Well I went to acting school here in America to witness their level of professional acting. I joined the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Personally I think acting in South Asian film is a bit over the top and I wanted to tone it down.I have always been a very creative person and I couldn’t keep myself from pursuing acting further and learn more. But of course, this is a foreign country and there are hardly any roles meant specifically for Nepalese. I am in competition with Indian actors here most of the time. For example, I got to do a Nepali character’s voice-over in the Disney animation film, Planes (2013). But I was originally booked as an Indian character. Despite the circumstances, I continue to audition and get roles here and there. I’ve regularly acted in short films as well. I wrote the screenplay and played the lead role for a short called Treason (2013) which won an award in the New York film festival. You basically just have to keep trying, you never know when you might make it big.
How was your experience working with American film crews compared to Nepalese?Well the Americans were much more systematic. It took me a while to get used to it, to be honest. It seemed a daunting task before I learnt the system. But once you become as systematic, it has become way easier than working with crews in Nepal and India. There are permits and contracts and they dictate how things are done; there’s no under the table jobs or obstructions like that.






I worked in Nepal, I had to do so many people’s jobs by myself because there was a lack of people or because of remote locations. But here in America you can find much more assistance and people that are specialized in particular fields.
Do you think we will be able to find the same level of professionalism in Nepalese film industry in several years?I think it is possible. Why wouldn’t it? I haven’t been able to watch as many Nepali movies being in America and not having Nepali films available online. However, from some of the movies that have been featured here, I can see that some new comers are doing great stuff.
Do you find discrimination against minority ethnicities in American films?Yes definitely. I find that there is less representation in acting roles. But not in the technical sides interestingly. I mean I have been working every day for the last 2 years; people keep calling in with projects, for directing commercials and such.But then again, its also because they are American films about American people. A Nepalese or South Asian character just might not fit into the context of the storyline. So if you look at it that way, it doesn’t seem like discrimination.On the other hand, no matter where you’re from and whatever great things you have achieved there, you still have to start from scratch in Hollywood. The only thing they care about is what you’ve done here. That’s one obstacle I have faced.
What other obstacles have you faced in the whole course of your acting career? Was your family supportive of it?Yes, my family has always supported me which allowed me to pursue this crazy profession (laughs). Especially chasing after the big time, moving to the US; there can be so many complications but I managed to stick around because of my family’s support.I never wanted to change my profession and I haven’t had to for the last 15 years. I plan to die as an actor.
What advice would you give to the upcoming generation of Nepalese who want to pursue acting?I’d like to welcome the young actors if they are really ready to risk everything, but I would warn them beforehand that it’s a tough business to make it big as an actor.
Don’t think about stardom. Do it if you love it. People use the phrase “overnight success” a lot but there is no such thing. So keep acting, auditioning for roles and take up any opportunity to practice performing whether it be in TV shows or commercials or plays.Just like musicians have to practice hard to play their instruments right, actors have to use their own bodies for their art.





The more you act, the more you hone your skills. So take care of yourself and work hard. The learning process never finishes.Also, auditioning doesn’t have to be scary. In America, even the biggest stars have to audition for a part in a movie. So just try to enjoy the whole process.
Would you advise the young actors to look for opportunities abroad or develop locally?I’d say develop yourself locally. When foreign films want an Indian actor, for example, they also go for names, like Amitabh Bachchan acting in a Leonardo DiCaprio movie. So building a name for yourself locally first is important.
What is the most important thing you have learnt from foreign films?I observed how believable the acting is and just how much hard work these actors put into it. Jorge Garcia who plays Hurley in the famous TV series Lost used to be my classmate at Beverly Hills Playhouse. And even though he is so successful, when he wasn’t shooting, he would always come to class. It’s their commitment to just get better and better.
 To find out more about Jaswant Dev Shrestha, visit his official website, HERE


In Conversation with: Jerusha Rai

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