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'I wanted them to play the National Anthem'

Last updated on: August 18, 2003 20:57 IST

Kiron KherKiron Kher, whose performance as Paro's mother Sumitra in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas was much acclaimed, won the Best Actress Award for Khamosh Pani at the recent Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland.

The film is directed by Pakistani director Sabeeha Sumar.

Kiron, who is on her way to London through Zurich, could barely contain her excitement. "What really thrilled me was that I shared the award with Holly Hunter, who is one of Hollywood's best actors. When my name was announced, I wanted them to play the Indian national anthem as they do at the Olympics. It's a wonderful feeling. I wasn't even supposed to be at Locarno. I was to be with Anupam in London where he's shooting for Gurinder [Chadha]'s film [Bride And Prejudice]. The producers of Khamosh Pani wanted me at Locarno, but I had begged off because of a schedule in Mumbai. But that was cancelled, so I flew to Locarno. The entire unit of Khamosh Pani was there."

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Khamosh Pani also won Locarno's main award, the

Golden Leopard. "The director has made some wonderful issue-based documentaries about women's rights," says Kiron.

The actress shot for this German-French-Pakistani co-production in Pakistan last year. "Since there were no direct flights to Pakistan, I flew from Mumbai to Dubai, from there into Islamabad and then went by car to Vah. We shot at Vah village, 130 kilometres from Peshawar.

"I play the main protagonist Veero or Ayesha, who lives in Pakistan and has an 18-year-old son. It is 1971, when [then president] Zia ul-Haq hung Zulfikar Ali Bhutto [Bhutto, father of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister of Paksitan before he was overthrown by General Zia ul-Haq] and came into power. The Islamisation of Pakistan started vigorously. I play a Sikh woman who, at 16, was left behind in Pakistan during the riots and who refused to jump into a well and kill herself. Instead, she marries one of her abductors. Later, when the borders between the two countries are unsealed, Veero, now called Ayesha, runs into her brother who has come to Pakistan look for his lost sister.

"What I found extremely interesting about this character was that she addresses women's empowerment. In third world countries, all the choices for women are made by the men in their lives. Veero's father wants her to jump into a well, her brother wants her to return to India, her son wants her to renounce the Sikh religion because he's turning into an Islamic fundamentalist. My character is a Sufi. I love the way she explains the Quran. To her, reading the Quran five times a day isn't a mandatory means of going to Heaven. Her rationale is: Allah is merciful and only the good will go to Heaven. It's a very real film. I wore simple ethnic clothes and kept my hair open."

Kiron KherKiron sees her presence in this film as a step forward in improving Indo-Pak relations. "I don't think artistes should be confined to political borders. We should be free to work wherever we want to. Khamosh Pani is such an important film. It's an anti-fundamentalist film shot in a fundamentalist state. Like charity, peace should also begin at home."

Kher missed out on all the popular and National Awards in India for her performance in Devdas. "I think that's kismet [fate]. Devdas is a film I will treasure always. As for Khamosh Pani, I hope people in India get to see it. The director Sabeeha Sumar is married to a Sri Lankan and lives in Delhi with her husband. Her husband is the film's co-producer. She commutes between India and Pakistan."

Kiron will return to India on August 27. "I hope I've made my country proud," she laughs.

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Subhash K Jha