“The only love stories worth telling are the forbidden ones.”
(tg) Simon Frenay, a successful French actor and casting director and known for Elias (2013), was at the screening of his latest film Shab (2017) at the 14th Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart. The story revolves around multiple character’s search for happiness and love in a complex, unforgiving, and cold city located in Delhi where Simon Frenay is playing a French named Benoit caught between truth and lies.
theinder.net had the chance to talk with him on his debut in Indian cinema being on the set with Raveena Tandon and acting in a movie directed by National Award winning Onir and produced by Sanjay Suri who have been few years back at the Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart as well with My brother Nikhil (2005).
Welcome to the 14th Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart! It’s great having you here, Simon. You are a French actor and a casting director and came to this festival with the movie Shab (2017) which is an Indian production. Previously you have acted in the movie Elias (2013). How did it come that you joined the Indian film production? Please share with us your personal story, how you came to this opportunity and how it was for you being part of Bollywood.
|Simon Frenay on the red carpet | (c) by theinder.net|
Actually I always say the same thing, the same story – it’s by luck. If I had to imagine countries where I can work one day, I wouldn’t think about India. I’ve never been to India before. But beside this I would have travelled to India. But working there seemed so far away, an idea I couldn’t imagine. And it came through a friend named Grègore, a Belgium photographer who lived in India for a long time. And I met François Matthis who is a friend of Onir. And Onir was looking for a French guy. And on a side Onir contacted actor agencies in Paris. And I got his contact from Grègore. He knew about it from a model agency. He knew that I am an actor and he told me that Onir was looking for a French guy and that I should have a look. So I said OK and got his e-mail address and I contacted and then it started like that. I got the script. Onir was very open from the beginning. It was different than usual. Because usually you enter a room and there are several actors, like one by one you go and do your audition in front of the casting director. But I got just his e-mail address and I read the script before even the audition. So Onir came 6 months after “Le festival cinema du monde” where I am (2010) and My brother Nikhil (2005) have been screened there which was in 2013 I think. And so it was important for me to watch his movies and also to meet Onir. So I met Onir at this moment and we already had a good feeling about each other. After he returned to India he asked me to do an audition on Skype. So there was a casting director, Ambika Suri, and the audition was awful over Skype. I did not know where to look because you see yourself on the screen and I was somehow lost – and I felt I did a really bad job. I never thought that I will work in India with what I have done, I thought it was very bad. But it worked (laughing) and I was very surprised and very happy and I think it wasn’t that bad. And I had the chance to meet Onir personally and I think also the other actors in the audition had the same chance. After this I met also Merle Kröger, she’s a co-writer with Onir. I was visiting my sister in Berlin and she was there and we met. It was kind of a chance again. And then there was the Cannes film festival in May and Sanjay Suri was there, the producer of the movie, and I met him. Then I got my ticket, I needed to apply for my visa and I went on August 2014 for the first months for the shooting. It took a year. And this year I was thinking about it since there are lot of projects, projects which are attracting you. Mostly you are involved in these project not being sure if it will happen. The more you give of yourself, the more it is dangerous for your emotions. And there was India, it was so exotic!
What was the most exotic thing you remember when you reached India for the first time. What was your first memory?
First I thought that it’s going to be boring. But when I came out of the plane in Delhi in August there was this heat! I mean it’s already like a huge change. You know, when it’s hot in Paris sometimes, it’s nothing compared to that like in Delhi! (laughing) And still I think that in August it is OK in Delhi. I stayed like 1 to 2 hours in Delhi just to grab something from the assistant director and then I flew to Mumbai. And then we flew back to Delhi for the shooting. The production company and Onir are based in Mumbai.
Simon Frenay on his first Bollywood experience | (c) by kahwaentertainment
Where did you do the main shootings?
In Delhi. Most of the movie is happening in Delhi, a bit in Missouri and also Rishikesh. But Rishikesh was more about for the promotion. And also a tiny part in Mumbai.
That’s really interesting. So if we are talking about your movie Shab (2017) which is going to be screened after our interview here. It is a story that revolves around multiple characters’ search for happiness and love in a complex, unforgiving, and cold city. Did the movie come to you or did you want to act in such a genre movie and in addition being part of the Indian film industry?
It’s more the first. I mean, the second came as well. When I have done Elias (2013) we shot in Barcelona which is not as exotic as India. As long as you are facing a different language everthing seems to be exotic and kind of different. And I had to shoot that movie in Spanish with a half Spanish and half French crew. And after this movie I thought – I just thought – I would love to keep travelling by working, by shooting. But it was a wish like you see a star in the sky – a shooting star – and you say that ‘I wish that I will travel by working’. And that’s what happened! It was just at the end of the shooting when I got Onir’s email address. I don’t believe in this kind of stuff but there is an energy, there is something …
… you have been in a kind of a flow which attracted you at the right time at the right place and actually took you to this project.
Yes, and now it seems so natural. I’m wondering what my life would be without this. Without this experience, without the meetings I’ve done there. And I think it couldn’t exist without all these factors, it was like written.
After shooting for Elias (2013) and Shab (2017), tell us about your upcoming projects and
your wishes. Maybe where your journey is continuing towards or you want to continue it towards?
|Simon Frenay after the screening | (c) by theinder.net|
I answered this question yesterday in a kind of way – let me tell in French – je vais ou le vent me porte. I mean I’m not stupid going everywhere, you know what I mean (laughing). But things like that, I cannot miss them. Of course, there is a part where my heart is attached to. And it is also an industry and it’s my job. I mean if it was not an awful experience, maybe I wouldn’t wish it. And of course I would love to work in India again and in some other places as well. If I have the chance to discover other cultures and other people I would be very happy. So after Shab (2017) there is a movie named The Bioscope Water, directed by Deb Medikar which we shot in 2016, in January and June. And I don’t have more news to tell you about it. But I know that they have finished with the editing. Now I’m doing some stuff, but more in France. And I’m working on a French-Suisse project named Etat a sur sac. It’s director is Valentin Merz. And I saw the first version, we have not finished the movie yet. It’s very special in a way, but it’s very free. And I really like the way the director is working. Actually it’s about bonding with someone all the time.
True, because you need a lot of trust as well in this business. So that you can feel free, you can be yourself. You can actually do what your heart says and follow this way. Right?
Yeah, you said trust. And trust is the main word. Because I’ve done some job where I couldn’t trust and I didn’t know the guy who was directing. And you are having a smaller part in a movie, they are not very interested in you. So you have to do it and I mean you come and you go – it’s very fast. So you don’t get the chance to meet the director and also the director is not very much interested in your character. But when this happened, I had the chance to do what I love. So if I’m not having fun meeting nice people there is no point. I’m very happy because for now I had some project. But since few years back from now I’m following my feelings.
… and maybe your dreams as well.
Yes, I’m kind of a dreamer. You know, I have to pay my rent and stuff like that. So it is not like shooting for 10 months in a year. But I feel very happy. I’m doing this job for 10 years now. It took me some years to do projects which have an impact. But now I’m doing stuff I’m proud of. And that’s the most important thing for me. I relayed to the people and to the movie which I’m doing. And I’ve my work in it. Not in a way that I have authority. I can say that being an actor is being under the desire of different people. And I like the fact that I can talk to the director and we can speak and create something together. I mean not during the movie, but before the movie.
… and grow together as well, right?
I mean it makes the thing much more interesting and much more complex. It brings a lot of things. And it makes the shooting easier. There is not the best way. Everyone has his own way. And I’m following something which I like and – inshallah – I would say, you know what I mean. But for now I’m very happy.
I one can see it that you are feeling comfortable and happy while you are talking to me. Since you already have gained experience as an actor and casting director. What would be your personal suggestion for upcoming actors and casting directors who want to grow in this field?
I’m feeling like I’m new myself in this field as well. I mean I got the chance to do Shab (2017) and The Bioscope Water and Etat a sur sac. But if I can give a humble advice that if you think that you have something to tell, just do it – but work! Do something which is close to you and follow your heart, it sounds maybe stupid but it’s true. Follow your heart and work. And it will happen!
If you would describe the Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart with only three words – maybe even in French – which three words would you chose?
Passion, ouverture and gentillesse!
|Tomal K. Ganguly with Simon Frenay after the interview | (c) by theinder.net|
Simon, thank you very much for your time and the nice interview. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Me, too. Thanks for having me here. And now let’s go to watch the movie!
Shab (IND, 2017)
Drama, Romance, 1h47m
Release: 1. May 2017 (New York Indian Film Festival), 14. July 2017 (India), 20. July 2017 (14th Indian Film Festival Stuttgart)
Producer: Sanjay Suri
Writing credits: Merle Kröger, Onir, Adhiraj Singh
Music composed by: Mithun Sharma
Film editing by: Irene Dhar Malik, Onir
Cast including: Ashish Bisht, Simon Frenay, Gaurav Nanda, Arpita Pal, Sanjay Suri, Raveena Tandon
YouTube song videos from Shab (2017), copyright by TIPS