German-born actress Suzanne Bernert was among the first to jump on to the KOO bandwagon last year, much before the rest of India discovered the Indian social media start up. In fact she has 240k followers there as compared to 24k in Twitter. She says she is in love with Ganapati (the eco-friendly version) like all Mumbaikars and is fond of Diwali.
Her father is a retired customs officer and was interviewed by a German newspaper a few days ago on how he nabbed a kidnapper and a fugitive. Suzanne has come far from her childhood roots on the Austrian-Switzerland border. She is a Bollywood actress today. “It was a gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful place but with no scope for acting,” she has said in an earlier interview.
Her formal training in acting began when she was 16 years old although her mother was an amateur theatre artist. Suzanne did participate in the odd school plays and ballet lessons as a child growing up in Germany.
“Nowadays kids, who want to take up acting, have various options at hand—be it in Germany or here in India. They have so many activities from which they can easily choose but back then it wasn’t so common. I remember that my mother used to drive me two times a week for my ballet lessons to a place which was 30-40 km away from where we lived,” remembers Bernert. Most people would not have heard of Bollywood then, she says. After her initial years of acting in school plays, Bernert was trained by the noted German actress Heidelotte Diehl in Berlin for three years.
She subsequently did an acting course under American producer and acting coach Susan Batson who is known for mentoring leading international actresses like Nicole Kidman and Juliette Binoche. “In 2004, while doing theatre in Germany, I was holidaying in Dubai when I saw a casting notice looking for the role of a lead Indian girl’s best friend. So, I called up the guy and we met. Things got finalised with me ending up as the film’s lead. The film was named Destined Hearts and has been released this year on Amazon and Tubi TV."
Bernert subsequently got an invitation from Ajay Sinha to do a small character in a movie called Stop! which starred Om Puri. “The producer was launching his son through that movie and so they took all these actors around him. Ajay then invited me to come and visit India. In those days he had a television show running called Astitva…Ek Prem Kahani starring Niki Aneja Walia and Varun Badola. Then I went back to Germany and about six weeks later, he called me regarding a role he had for me in Astitiva and that’s how my acting journey in India started,” she explains in an interview to a film magazine.
Bernert was encouraged by Alyque Padamsee to pursue theatre in India. While doing theatre in India she met her future husband Akhil Mishra, a veteran film and television actor who is perhaps best known for his cameo as the librarian in Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots. After Astitva, Bernert landed roles in TV serials like Aisa Des Hai Mera and Kasauti Zindagi Kay before getting signed for Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.
Multilingual, she says she knows “English and my mother tongue German. Am still learning more and more Hindi ..that is a work in progress. Marathi and Bengali I have worked in but I cannot hold a conversation in either of the two. As for similarities between German and Hindi ..definitely the pronunciation is similar. That made it easier for me,” says Bernert, who acted alongside Konkona Sen Sharma in Aparna Sen’s 2011 Bengali film Iti Mrinalini.
“My teacher once told that like Julia Roberts and Kate Winslet, I like to feel my characters from the inside, as opposed to the actors who need a lot of external inputs. I think every actor has their own method and they need to go by that method,” explains Bernert, who played Queen Helena in the popular TV series Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat.
Suzanne has acted in several films and television serials in India over the last decade. She acted as Italian born Sonia Gandhi in The Accidental Prime Minister, a 2019 Indian film directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte and written by Mayank Tewari, based on the 2014 memoir of the same name by Sanjaya Baru.
Suzanne would appear at the shoot as herself, go upstairs to the make up room and then appear for the filming. Someone came up to her in the course of the film, asking her what she was doing as she would disappear everyday morning, so convincing was she in her role.
How does the real India relate to the reel India. “A fictionalized account will always be that. Fantasy brought to life on screen. It can never represent real life but definitely slices and impressions of it,” says Suzanne who loves everything Indian, writing to CSP from Kochi.
Suzanne is very fond of wearing Indian outfits and drapes the saree with ease. “I am very fond of Indian wear, from sarees to salwaar to the many kurtas I own. I also strongly support the Vocal for Local movement and the many up and coming designers are a delight. Fusion wear is amazing,” says Suzanne.