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Praneet Akilla in Iceland.
How do we evolve past human greed?
Actor Praneet Akilla shares his acting journey and becoming Halim.
Praneet Akilla calls himself and his fellow acting community empathy machines. His greatest reward in his career is impacting lives with stories, putting smiles on faces, tears in eyes and laughter in bellies. He says he wants to evoke feelings from the audience. And within the play Iceland, he’s sure to evoke a mixed bag of emotions playing Halim.
Praneet was born in Mumbai, and after living in Kuwait, his family immigrated to Canada to seek better education, opportunities and lives for him and his sister. This is what put Praneet on the path to entering the world of oil and gas, and pursuing a career as a chemical engineer.
Praneet attended McGill University in Montreal, but did not just focus on his engineering pursuits. Praneet had developed a passion for the arts and acting during his grade school years, and while in university, he would feed his desire by acting in a musical theatre group.
“Every summer I’d come back to Calgary and intern with oil and gas companies and see old friends, and everyone would be surprised to hear the career I had chosen. All my friends thought because of my love of the arts, that’s where I’d be.”
Over 2013-2014, Praneet began to feel like he was in ‘auto-pilot’, questioning his life path and where his passions and ambitions lied. To continue to feed his burning interest in acting and film, he decided to work on a project called Jewel Fools. Praneet shares he would go to school all day, and film all night to make the film, burning the candle at both ends. After the film premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival, he had a wakeup call, and realized he wanted to fully immerse himself as an actor.
“I had started working with Suncor as a chemical engineer at this time, but people started to be laid off. I knew my path there would only lead to a certain point. So I followed my heart, and fully pursued my acting career.”
In 2016, Praneet landed his first general audition with Theatre Calgary. “I had no idea what I was doing, but they gave me a chance,” said Praneet. “It was a risky thing to do, but it was tried and tested for me, I had accumulated the data, I knew I could do this and had seen the reception to it. That’s the engineer in me. And I knew if I failed, I had a backup plan.”
Praneet continued to build up his acting career in Calgary, and joined Front Row Centre Theatre doing community theatre for about one year. He finally got an opportunity to work at Theatre Calgary though, playing the role of Orlando in the 2017 Shakespeare by the Bow production of As You Like It. While honing his skills as an actor, Praneet shares the greatest challenge that he still faces is the insecurity of the business.
“We actors in some ways are anxious narcissists. With the volatility and competitiveness of the industry we’re in, especially when there is no job security, we constantly second guess our abilities and look for external validation. I’m sure as I continue down my career path, this will become less of a challenge, but it’s there for me now.”
But Praneet’s hard work and dedication to his craft is paying off and he is now a full-time actor. He plays one of the main characters in the soon-to-be released and highly anticipated Netflix series, October Faction, and in Iceland, takes his first major role and second appearance on the Theatre Calgary main stage.
Praneet shares he is excited for his return to Theatre Calgary, calling it his home theatre because it is where he got his first professional opportunity when playing Dick Wilkins in the 2017 production of A Christmas Carol.
“I wanted this role to work with Stafford Arima (Artistic Director) and Jenna Turk (Director, Iceland). They are both visionary artists, and it will be my first time working with Jenna as a director which I’m really looking forward to.”
“The script is what really drew me to this opportunity. Billon won the Governer General award for this play and it is an incredibly timely and riveting piece of art that speaks to the problems we have today.”
Praneet will also be flexing his acting muscles, performing his first-ever monologue playing what is a divisive character. He shares he will be drawing upon his personal experiences working as an engineer and tapping into his capitalistic frame of mind that once drove him in his former career.
“I used to be Halim in some ways. I was money-hungry and I thought success equated to money. I also know many people like him more than I want to know,” said Praneet. “My character is a very meaty character. It’s very easy to make him the villain of the piece because he says what most people won’t say out loud. But I can’t judge my character, I have to see where he’s coming from.”
Praneet shares he loves studying and researching human behaviour, and through his own experiences he can come up with a version of Halim based on this and the people he’s met in his life. But he’s going deeper into the character he’s building.
“I could have easily become a Halim, and the irony of that is not lost on me. It’s easy to play the idea of Halim, the real estate investor, the person all about success and money. But to really prepare, I am trying to find my own voice through Halim.”
Praneet knows that this play will provoke many feelings and emotions, but it’s not a feeling he wants the audience to feel so much as it is a question he wants to pose.
“How do we evolve past human greed? Greed is instinctual, so how do we move past that? We keep telling the same stories but we never learn.”
I knew my path there would only lead to a certain point. So I followed my heart, and fully pursued my acting career."
Praneet in rehearsal for Iceland