She had heard many stories of stars “being spotted while having coffee at a coffee shop” but this Delhi girl knew that most, if not all of of these stories, were false. “So I definitely did not have any hopes of being spotted like that,” laughs Nimrat Kaur, the much-acclaimed actress of The Lunch Box, whose controlled but heartfelt performance nearly gave stalwarts Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui a run for their money. “But I never lost hope at any point. I knew my destiny would find me, if it had to.”
And whatever she did – theatre, TV commercials (remember the sexy car driver whose chocolatey finger-licking distracts a fellow driver at a traffic crossing in the Cadbury Silk ad?), learning to handle a camera – it was just another step to her goal: stardom. But what she definitely didn’t anticipate was the phenomenal response, both national and international, to her little debut film.
“It’s like a beautiful dream and the best part is that I am living my dream. It just couldn’t get any better.”
Excerpts from an interview:
So where did destiny, in this case, Ritesh Batra, the director of The Lunch Box, find you?
[Laughs]. Well, he was travelling to Berlin when he saw some rushes of a film called Peddlers that I had done. It has still not released. He was scouting for a face for The Lunch Box and I guess I stayed in his mind. He came back to India and we met. I knew I wanted to do this film the minute I read the script. I was completely sold. I guess he’d also decided in his head to cast me. Only in his head. He didn’t ever officially inform me. We just discussed the role and the character. It was only when one day, I asked him very slyly, “So am I in the film?” did he look blankly at me and say, “Yeah, obviously!”
You worked hard on your character...
Perhaps. I like to be prepared enough to be completely unprepared. I don’t know if I make sense but I have a fantasy of living someone else’s life. And to do that perfectly, I need to prepare myself just as properly. I had to get into the skin of this very middle-class, loveless, ignored and bored woman. She didn’t look after herself – her husband couldn’t care less. So for a couple of months I stopped looking after myself. No facials, no threading, no bleach… not even the basics that make women look and feel nice. I didn’t get manicures. I had nails that had mehendi stains. Even with the house, I made sure I lived there for a month just to get comfortable with the surroundings. It was all different from the real me but on screen, it had to be effortless.
So what or who is the real Nimrat?
Nothing in my background has anything to do with films. In that sense I am a complete outsider. My dad was in the Indian Army. He died in a terrorist attack in Kashmir in 1994. After that, my mum and I settled in Noida. I went to Delhi Public School in Noida and then to Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi University. It was in college that I realised I wanted to be on the stage and in front of the camera. Slowly it became more than just a hobby and that’s how the journey began. I did advertising, a lot of theatre, learnt how the camera works and did just about everything that could translate into mastering the medium of acting and filmmaking.
Despite everyone’s expectations, the film hasn’t made it as India’s entry to the Oscras. Are you disappointed?
I am not taking away any credit from The Good Road [the film that got selected.] But I absolutely fail to understand why a film that has been applauded extensively, not only by the international press and the public, but also critics (who have a huge voice at the Oscars), is overlooked. It doesn’t make sense that our own country doesn’t give a platform to a film that is being hailed all over the world. The dots don’t join. Maybe that’s destiny.
Is there a plan in your head now? Or you are leaving it to destiny again?
I have no plan. I will leave it to the good things and good times to find me. Only now, I will be much easier to find. I finally have an address, and am here to stay.
From HT Brunch, September 29
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