Biography Lifestyle Musings
My name is Shaana, which I have been told means “grand” in Hindi and “beautiful” in Yiddish. My mother is a Gujarati from India raised in Kenya, my father is a Swiss Hungarian Jew raised in Zurich. Both were educated in England, which explains how two polar opposite worlds came together, fell in love and decided to create one world.

I was born in Kenya with pale skin, jet-black, poker straight hair and green eyes, but strangely enough looked Oriental. I was this genetically interesting concoction that looked neither Swiss nor Indian. My genes decided to continue changing and turned my green eyes brown and my straight hair wavy. I still didn’t look like I belonged. The Japanese children in Swiss pre-school spoke to me in Japanese, my babysitter spoke to me in French, my family spoke to me in English, my neighbors spoke to me in Swiss-German and the movies I watched spoke to me in Hindi. I was neither here nor there. Nevertheless, no matter what I looked like and no matter where I lived, I always felt my core was Indian. Despite my Swiss passport, when asked where I was from, I used to say, “I am half Indian/half Swiss.” I am too anal with being on time and too much of a perfectionist to be Indian; I am too passionate and emotional to be Swiss. I am a constant dichotomy, never feeling like a local yet being a resident, never feeling like a foreigner yet being an outsider, and always being a foreigner behaving like a local.

My family lived in Switzerland till I was 13 years old, then London. When I was 18 years old I moved to New York City to study Theater and South Asian Cultures and Languages at Columbia University. Meanwhile we were constantly taking long vacations to India and Africa to see relatives and many other tropical places around the world simply to explore. I guess you could say I have a rather unconventional and relatively international cosmopolitan upbringing with exposure to a vast number of very different kinds of people. It has made me adaptable and keenly aware of the play and drama at the heart of existence.

My parents were involved from the early days in The Body Shop and my father spent most dinners discussing business and various campaigns The Body Shop was working on. He spent time working on campaigns for HIV and AIDS in Europe as well as Women Self Esteem campaigns, so activism and engaging in social issues is something I have grown up with and is a part of my blood as much as my love for cinema. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that my mother was watching a Hindi movie while giving birth to me! I love romantic comedies as much as engaging social issues and see no conflict between them.

It is because of all the stories on many different continents that I have tasted and witnessed in my short life that has strengthened my keen desire to tell emotional stories – be they funny, be they tragic. As, Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest actors said, “The office of drama is to exercise, possibly exhaust, human emotions. The purpose of comedy is to tickle those emotions into an expression of light relief; of tragedy, to wound them and bring the relief of tears.”Since my background is so complex that few can understand me at first glance, I guess that is why it is so important for me to find the emotional truth of a character– even if their vision is ultimately flawed. Through all the diversity of experience, I try to look for the common factor that anyone can relate to in a character and express it.

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