CUTTING THROUGH CLICHÉS: NIMRAT KAUR

CUTTING THROUGH CLICHÉS: NIMRAT KAUR

Nimrat Kaur's, stride for life has traversed through several spirals, yet she remains a talent to reckon with due to her offbeat choices that have won critical acclaim globally starting from her role in The Lunchbox, to American-television series Homeland. The quintessential outsider is now set for her new release Airlift with Akshay Kumar.

By DRISHTI VIJ

Photographs by ROHAN SHRESTHA

Styling by AAKANKSHA JAIN

 

Nimrat Kaur’s infectious laughter is palpable even across a phone call. Her promptitude paints the same picture that Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery did back in my childhood. “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will”...it’s like Nimrat has lived by these words by Anne. Whether it was changing the course of her career back when she was in Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), New Delhi, or while playing the devious ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi in the American television series Homeland, Nimrat has taken the road less travelled.

 

AN INTERLUDE

The unostentatious approach to life that a lonely housewife had in The Lunchbox, the contagious charm of a naughty lover in the Cadbury advertisement or the sheer fortitude in dealing with an ex that she portrayed in the Titan commercial,Nimrat selects roles which are not the

Nimrat is not the misanthropic probe we love to hate or the dweeb who knows the answers to everything. She’s like that kid in the class, who manages a fitting score and an easy camaraderie with almost everyone as she speaks highly of those who went by their inner calling, such as Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil, Deepika Padukone in Piku or Finding Fanny, and Kangana Ranaut in Queen.

In a male-dominated industry,Nimrat says that back in the ’70s or even in Satyajit Ray’s films, where there was progressiveness in their (female protagonists') lives and thinking, they were not necessarily educated urban women, “but they were unconventionally written

characters displaying strength.” “And then there was a different kind of wave, where women were more of a fantasy; such as Silk Smitha or Vidya Balan in Dedh Ishqiya or Dirty Picture, which was a trendsetter in not conforming to a certain body type, but celebrating who you innately are,” she adds.

She quotes an example of the character she played in the epistolary The Lunchbox by saying, “Even in this film, there was a quiet sense of non-conformism that ‘Ila’ was written with, which gives a different perspective to the life of someone, who is financially not independent, yet eventually ends up doing what she wants to. Every once in a while, there is a film that defies the set notions of right and wrong.” Who is this kind of a woman? “She is married but moves away from everything to build a career for herself,” she muses as she remembers Waheeda Rahman’s role in Guide that broke stereotypes back in the ’60s. She looks up to women like Marion Cotillard, who created a stir with La Vie en Rose and believes that these are examples to live by. “We saw her as an old woman, but she was unafraid to look unattractive and totally transformed herself for the role,” she adds.

Nimrat is not the misanthropic probe we love to hate or the dweeb who knows the answers to everything. She’s like that kid in the class, who manages a fitting score and an easy camaraderie with almost everyone as she speaks highly of those who went by their inner calling, such as Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil, Deepika Padukone in Piku or Finding Fanny, and Kangana Ranaut in Queen.

 

BREAKING OUT

Nimrat Kaur is an exception to the rule when it comes to the Hindi film industry. Her humble background never stopped her from dreaming in her early 20s. “I come from a services background. My father was in the Army. All my uncles are engineers and most of my family is academically inclined. I’m the only working artist and it was one of those things where there was a desire from within. I had to take that leap of faith,” says the 33-year-old.

Kaur isn’t one to ever feel discouraged by a system that has its own way of functioning. “Whether it’s politics, bureaucracy or even the Army, it’s a lot easier if your father is part of it. You learn the ropes faster. You’ve grown up with a distinct language and you know what you’re dealing with. It’s always easier to follow in their footsteps,” she adds. Like a soliloquy, Nimrat’s prolonged endeavours have brought her ashore. But for those of us who become snarky at the end of a toiled Metro journey or a bad day at work, Nimrat declares that it’s not easy for anybody. “It’s not like it’s a cake walk for star kids as we call them, for the lack of a better word. It’s tough for everyone to prove their mettle. 

At the end of the day you must strike a chord with the audience. The audience will not watch a film repeatedly because you’re someone’s son or daughter,” she admits. She further spells out the simple rules of life that we may find hard to accept, but will confess that it’s a lot easier to break into the scene if you’re born in a film family. “Of course, it is! You’ve grown up with them. It’s easier to get a job. It’s as simple as that. Though I don’t really like it when people are harassed for being able to get a toehold. Everyone has his or her own cross to bear.”

 

QUANTUM LEAP

It’s not every day that a coloured actor gets a lucrative opportunity in the West or vice-versa. Nimrat is one of the few, who is defining cultural diaspora while spelling out the rules of diversity in performing arts. “It was excruciating but creatively it was one of the most satisfying experiences for me, working with Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend and Claire Danes. They were all incredibly wonderful people. They are not just talented but also generous, loving and supportive. All the directors on the set were democratic and I enjoyed working in that space. You could freely talk about things not working and those which must be changed. It was incredible and one of my most cherished experiences,” she adds, referring to her shooting for Homeland.

Nimrat has joined the brigade of Hollywood veterans, like Om Puri, Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra, and she can only display awe for such exemplary motivators. “More and more of us join the path he (Irrfan Khan) has carved. He has been doing this since he starred in The Warrior, in 2001. And if there is an actor to reckon with in that sense, I feel so empowered by the choices that Irrfan has made. I applaud Priyanka for her courage and the risk that she has taken, coming out of her comfort zone and giving something else a try. It takes a lot of courage as the stakes are so high when you’re at such an important juncture of your life. For someone like me, I’m just starting out. I can take a risk and get away with it. I don’t have so much money riding on me,” she confesses.

While on the home front, we’ve always seen Nimrat as Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, Tasneem Qureshi (her character) in Homeland, who is an ISI agent working closely with the Taliban is hardly any of that. “It was exciting to play someone evil and it is kind of addictive to be able to take such ruthless, immoral calls because you would never find yourself doing it in real life. It is fun to be the bad guy,” she adds.

Nimrat has taken each experience just as it is, as she thinks her reference points aren’t many. Her soon to be released film Airlift (a dramatic human story based during the Gulf War, in 1990, which results in the biggest human evacuation that took place) opposite Akshay Kumar has left her a bit starry-eyed. “I have a lot of moments when I’m just like ‘Oh my god! I’m actually working with Akshay’. I’ve grown up watching him,” she says. “We’re left with some 30 percent of the film. We’re yet to shoot a very important part of the film, the climax,” she reveals.

 

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