Comedy felt like home to Sindhu Vee
In her first ever film outing, UK-based Indian stand-up comedian Sindhu Vee stars in the 2022 Netflix adaptation of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical”, an inspirational tale about a young genius girl, Matilda Wormwood (Alicia Weir), who discovers her extraordinary superpowers and uses them to teach the villainous authority in her school, Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), a lesson.
Sindhu Vee plays the role of Mrs. Phelps, the story-loving librarian and owner of the mobile library where Matilda loves to escape and lose herself in the magic of books and storytelling, a character, she says, her immigrant experience prepared her for.
In this exclusive interview, she talks to India Currents about the experience of working on “Matilda The Musical” and how her Indian origin and identity influence her work. (The interview was edited for brevity).
IC: What was your experience of working on “Matilda”? What preparation did you do for the role of Mrs. Phelps?
SV: “Matilda” is such a fun, vibrant movie – the colors, the songs, the kids – are all extraordinary. I’m just absolutely delighted. It’s my first film, and I’ve been spoiled for life. That’s a fair conclusion. It was incredible. Matilda is also the age of my youngest kid. We had so much to talk about because I know what 12-year-old girls are thinking. So we had a lot of fun when we weren’t in front of the camera. Director Matthew (Warchus) was very understanding about my nervousness about doing a movie. He was very good at giving me just the right amount of direction before a take, so there was no overthinking. Everyone around me was definitely more experienced, but they only put that to use in a good way.
I really like Mrs. Phelps’ character. When I watched the musical and thought about the story, I thought Mrs. Phelps was the coolest adult. I think everyone should have a librarian like Mrs. Phelps in their life. She’s quite on her own trip. Have you seen her clothes? I mean, she is incredible. I’m glad that I got to play her. But it also really resonated with me because as a child in school, I had a stammer. I’d gone to a new country, I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I was bullied a lot. I had a teacher who always let me read rather than go out into the playground. I’ve always been an avid reader as a child. So when you have a stammer and you don’t like to let it be known, you go into your own world. I did that with books.
In terms of prep for Mrs Phelps, I really thought about her backstory. And I have a huge backstory on her – like where she came from and how much she likes fragrance. I liked having that backstory because that made her come more alive for me when I got to play her.
IC: You are an award-winning comedian, writer and actor. You have also been on a number of shows on TV and radio. Previously, you were also in investment banking. Tell us briefly about your journey so far. How did you decide to make the career shift?
SV: Well, I didn’t really make the shift, the shift happened. I was a banker. At some point, I didn’t know how to be the mother I want to be and the banker I want to be. You can’t quit being a mom and you don’t want to but you can quit being a banker. So, I did. Then, I got into stand-up comedy by chance. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m home’. As a stand-up, you write your own material. Being a comedian, you’re really using a set of muscles. Some of them are expressed in different parts of your performance. Writing it is one of those muscles. I was lucky enough to be asked to join a writing room and then to start writing some of my own scripts. Acting found me and, so far, so good. It all grows organically out of being a performer. You’re asked to do things, and you exercise a different muscle. But it’s coming from the same place, which is comedy, wanting to be funny.
IC: How does your Indian origin and identity influence the work you do?
SV: A lot of my initial stand-up and even some of it now is about my mother. She’s such a strong personality and character in my head. She had a very specific Indian mother quality –repeatedly saying inappropriate things that were funny. In the way I’m dealing with my family, marriage and children, for sure there are some very strong Indian elements in there. They are just there, because it’s part of me. When I gig, I like to gig in Hindi and English as much as possible.
When you prepare for a character – even if it is not Indian – being Indian just adds certain layers of thinking about it, which have a very subtle influence. I say this only because I can’t separate being Indian from being myself.
IC: Who is your favorite Bollywood actor?
SV: I’m a huge fan of Amitabh Bachchan. He has been my idol since I was seven years old, when I watched “Kabhi Kabhie”. His comic timing has had a huge influence on me, especially when I’m on stage. My absolute all-time favorite Hindi movie that I can watch again and again and again, is “Namak Halaal”.
IC: What are you working on next?
SV: I have another film I wrapped up earlier, which will be out in 2023. There’s also a very funny TV series that we’re getting close to getting off the ground in early 2023. My hour-long special show, “Alphabet”, has been on tour in the UK. In 2023, I hope to come to the US with it. “Alphabet” will eventually get filmed. And of course, I’m on stage every time I can be.