Teena’s avant-garde looks, a short pixie haircut and dusky skin amidst fair and feminine aspirants, grabbed the eyeballs of casting directors when she began giving auditions for TV commercials and even films later. “You don’t sport such a haircut if you want to be in this profession. Often casting directors would ask me to apply foundation during auditions because I’m not fair. I faced a lot of censure initially,” she says. “But I’m proud of my skin colour. So, to prove a point I started attending auditions without foundation and with my short hair. This became my USP. The rest of the girls looked the same with long hair and white skin,” says Teena recalling her early tryst with the glamour world. “If someone tells me I can’t do something I make sure I end up being the best in it,” says she. Born in Punjab, Teena spent most of her life growing up in a boarding school in Shimla. “In North India, people make you feel terrible if you’re not fair. All my life, I was told that I wasn’t attractive,” she confides.
Teena, who first began as an event manager, was not keen to face the camera. But when she bagged her first TV commercial in 2013, life changed forever. She ended up doing 80 commercials in three years. While she was doing ads, director Abhishek Kapoor offered her a small role of a tattoo artist in Fitoor. “It was because of my distinctive looks,” she smiles. Then she landed the part of the college bully in AR Murugadoss’ Akira, which has Sonakshi Sinha as the protagonist. “Most girls debut in roles with pretty dresses and long flowing locks. But my role is unusual,” she laughs and adds, “The bad girl part excited me. I play a gang leader in college, who’s the strong silent type but a bully.”
Teena claims that the feminist theme of Akira appealed to her. “There are three strong female characters in Akira played by Sonakshi, Konkona Sen Sharma and me. Mouna Guru, the Tamil film on which Akira is based, was a guy’s story. But Murugadoss Sir’s turned it around and created three strong female characters,” she says. She insists she never felt overshadowed by Sonakshi. “The fact that you got the role out of so many girls, means you’re doing something right. You’ve got to have conviction in your talent and work. I feel a sense of confidence,” she smiles. She’s even acted in Netflix’s American show Season 2 of Sense 8. “My director Lana Wachowski had co-directed The Matrix. I noticed how different it was working with her team as compared to an Indian film set. Nobody needed to scream, shout or rush around. Everything was organised and well-planned,” she states. Teena also features in the second season of Anil Kapoor’s TV series 24.
Coming from a conservative Punjabi family in Ludhiana, her mother wasn’t happy when she began doing ads. “She said, ‘Achhi ghar ki ladkiya yeh sab nahi karti.’ At 18, her dad wanted her to get married but Teena insisted on moving out. “They don’t realise that in trying to protect us, they’re stifling our growth. It’s a big deal to follow your dreams in small-towns. I believe I should chase my dreams rather than a man,” she asserts.
Teena may not have watched many Hindi films in her growing years but she couldn’t remain immune to the Shah Rukh Khan charm. “I used to watch only Shah Rukh Khan’s movies. I was in love with him. But once I grew up, the bubble burst. I wanted to find a guy like SRK. But I realised, men like that don’t exist.” Today, she relies only on herself for inspiration. “I’m trying to be a better version of myself every day,” she concludes.