Life after Big Brother has seen Deana Uppal appear in Bollywood films, direct TV documentaries and launch a charity to help a remote Indian tribe. Much to catch up on, then, during her return home to Brum
A lot has happened to Deana Uppal since we last interviewed her in 2013. Seven years ago our front covergirl entered the Big Brother house as a Miss India beauty queen with a promising acting career on the cards. Today she has featured in a number of Bollywood movies, been on more celebrity shows and directed and hosted a documentary which will soon be screened on TV.
As if that wasn’t enough, she recently set up her own charity to help nomadic tribal children in India, directed and acted in a number of music videos and was the main lead in Punjabi cinema’s first female-led film. So, there was much to talk about when we had the chance for a catch-up chat with Deana when she returned home to Brum.
“I always love coming back to my home town,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how the city is changing every time I return. I did a winter lifestyle photoshoot in Solihull with local fashion photographer Naveen Zarub. There is so much talent here in the Midlands from photography, to make-up artists and stylists.”
Deana first hit the headlines during a torrid time on Big Brother when she set a record for the number of potential evictions she faced. Her 10 weeks in the BB house was marked by jealously from other housemates who seemed to resent both her beauty and brains.
“When I was in high school I was bullied. So my tolerance level is quite high and my character is quite strong,” said Deana who came to the Midlands with her family when she was 12. She began modelling at 16 which led to two years in India being photographed for magazines, fashion and videos before returning home and entering and winning the Miss India UK competition.
Focusing on acting, she has developed her career in Bollywood and British Asian films, culminating in the lead role in Punjabi cinema’s ground-breaking first female-led film. “The movie was named Hard Kaur and I played the lead character named Seerat from a small village in India,” she said.
“The film was highlighting the issues Indian females sometimes have to go through living in India, such as harassment by men, how society looks on females that speak up and how to deal with these kind of issues. The role I played was completely different to any other I’ve played as I portrayed a very shy and quiet girl from a small Indian village, whereas usually I get categorised to play an outspoken foreigner living in India.”
The film was praised by the critics, and Deana added: “As it was Punjabi cinema’s first without a male lead and the audiences liked the film, it is showing that Indian cinema is slowly progressing now and changing from the typical stereotypes.”
Deana’s directing kicked in after she studied a filmmaking course at London Film Academy two years ago. “Since then I had been searching for an interesting subject to make a film on,” she explained. “While travelling in India in a city named Rajasthan, I saw the Gadia Lohars, nomadic people travelling on carts.
“After a lot of research I found these people had an amazing history, so I filmed their community and lived with them for a whole year. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. I ended up being the director, the host and the producer. The film is set to release mid this year on TV and online platform.”
After spending so much time with the Gadia Lohar community Deana decided that she wanted to try to help them in any way she could. “They were known as one of the poorest communities in India, but to me they where the kindest and most welcoming,” she explained.
“I could see that they were smart and had potential but the problem was their lack off access to education. So, I decided to form a charity and raise funds to provide the adults work to support themselves and the children access to education.”
Deana’s directing includes music videos and she says: “I am really enjoying being on the other side of the camera and plan to continue to direct more. My focus is now changing more towards social issues that need attention.” Deana says she has “a few ideas in mind” for the next project which she plans to make in England.
Modelling, acting, documentary-making and charity fund-raising – we wonder if there is no end to her talents. “Well, I always have had a keen interest in investigation work,” she says. “I feel if I could re-choose my career I would have loved to have worked in the investigation department in the police force – the CID. But I know that’s just a dream now, I’ve got too many other things I want to do first!”