Shy and introverted, Shilpa Maskey transforms into a confident and expressive version of herself every time she steps onto the stage to dance.
Maskey first found herself dancing as she watched her mother groove to the tunes on the radio. When she was five, she was already awing the audience with her performances.
Born in Biratnagar to a nurse and a development worker, Maskey traveled with her family to different parts of Nepal, wherever her father worked. Until she was eight, she had spent most of her time in Khandbari, Sankhuwasabha.
It was here that the now 30-year-old started dreaming of becoming a choreographer one day. “My mom always pushed me to take part in stage programs and festivals that were held in our village,” she shares. “I was known for my dancing in school and my love for it only grew with age.”
When she was around nine, her family moved to Kathmandu, where she completed her schooling. After holding herself back from her hobby for a while in the new environment, she started dancing and winning competitions again.
As an eighth-grader, Maskey already knew she wanted to become a classical dancer.
After her 10th grade, she again took a contemporary dance class while she was applying to study in the UK. But then she decided to pursue a career in chartered accounting. The demanding curricula meant her dancing got lost between college and working at a restaurant.
“I let go of my dream of becoming a choreographer for some time as I couldn’t afford dance classes,” she shares. “At least until I realized that studying CA didn’t make me happy”. She switched subjects and finished her three-year diploma in Business Management in the UK.
Later, she had to return to Nepal where she would continue with her studies. She started modeling and did her first cover shoot for a magazine. In 2016, she got an audition opportunity for a dancing role in the short movie ‘Shooting an Elephant’ , and she wasted no time in applying. She was over the moon when she got selected. Little did she know that this would be a life-changing experience.
“I hadn’t danced for four or five years at that point in my life,” she shares. “But the moves were always there with me, and with the sound of music, the magic just happened.” It was her first time on a film-set. The part of her that always held on to her love for dancing started falling for the world of films too.
While trying to juggle between dancing and films, she went back to the UK. There she auditioned for a Bollywood company called Bollyflex that recruited dancers for movies. When she got selected as one of the 25 dancers she enrolled in a six-month-long training. “Stepping into the industry among all the professional classical dancers, there were so many instances I felt low, like I was not good enough,” Maskey shares. “But the thought of being able to dance on such a big stage kept me going.”
Bigger doors opened for her and she got the chance to work on many films as a side character. Being able to experience the industry up close, she got to learn from many people, to familiarize herself with the technical side of filmmaking and to keep dreaming. Her life was transformed again when she got a small role in the Marvel movie Dr Strange (2016), and the once-timid Shilpa suddenly became more confident and outgoing.
She then joined an acting school. Maskey was learning Kathak and Odyssey dances on the side—all while working at a clothing store.
It was a hectic life and London never felt like home. She soon came back to Nepal and landed her first lead roles in ‘The Break up’ and ‘Kagaz Patra’, both of which came out in 2019. “Stepping into the world of acting helped me escape my comfort zone and discover an entirely new part that found beauty in vulnerability,” Maskey says. “It brought me closer to myself.”
Her latest projects are ‘Kathputali’ and ‘Devi’, two soon-to-be-released movies. ‘Love Sutra’, a romantic-comedy web series, is also in the offing.
Questioned about the roots of her versatility, Maskey answers: “My body is an instrument, I just need to feel it to play the strings.”