'I am greedy to have my eggs in different baskets.'
As Nimrat Kaur returns to the Indian screen in the role of a submissive wife who suddenly finds herself in the chief minister's chair, we wonder why we haven't seen more of this spirited actress.
Opening up to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, Nimrat says, "I hope Dasvi will open doors that I have always wanted and yearned for."
We have been watching you in shows like Wayward Pines, Homeland and The Test Case, but we are seeing you in a Hindi film, Dasvi, after five years.
(Laughs) The irony is that when I work abroad, I'm asked the same question: Why are you away and why don't we see more of you here?
I do take that as a compliment, but as an actor, I am greedy to have my eggs in different baskets.
But why the long wait for Bollywood?
Well, the offers that were coming to me were in the same vein as The Lunchbox or Airlift, and I was not drawn to taking them up.
Also, I was pulled away for long spells of time working abroad and these commitments typically take six-10 months.
Even when you are not shooting for very long, they block your time; that's how it works there.
So another five year wait after Dasvi?
(Laughs) No, no, absolutely not.
I do wish to work here much more and I hope Dasvi will open doors that I have always wanted and yearned for.
The film came to me as an opportunity where I couldn't wait to get on set.
Dasvi would be a dream role for any actor because, for once, you didn't have to diet, but got to indulge yourself.
I'll be honest, when anything becomes a job, it can get very boring and laborious. So while eating away was fun, it also gave me sleepless nights.
It took a beating on my body because by the end of it, I had put on about 15 kilos and that's a lot of weight to pile on and walk around with, especially when your body type is of a certain kind and you're not used to handling that kind of weight.
Yes, I really tried to enjoy the process to the hilt, and there were days I did.
I had all kinds of things from gajar ka halwa and rasmalai to parathas that my mother used to make, freeze and courier to me in Mumbai.
Couriered to you?
Yes, I started putting on weight around October 2020 and it was winter in Delhi then. So all kinds of amazing parathas from my mother have come to my home.
My director Tushar sponsored parathas from his home as well.
In fact, I have been fed wherever I went for six-seven months as putting on weight was my single-point agenda then.
I went for it, telling myself that since I had taken this on in the garb of work, I should enjoy it because I don&'t know when I would get another opportunity again.
But while it may sound as a first world problem, it wasn't easy because my body type does not put on weight easily.
You also play a character who is your polar opposite.
Yes, so alongside putting on weight, I was training to get my Haryanvi accent right and reduce the gap between Nimrat and Bimmo.
I had to be convincing as a submissive, subservient village belle who has never spoken up in front of her husband.
For the first time, I was unable to relate to any end of the spectrum as far as this role goes.
So, there were two kinds of journeys that I had to take: One, the journey from Nimrat to Bimmo, and the other, from Bimmo to Bimla Devi.
I have had to imagine everything from scratch, but Dasvi has been one of the greatest gifts I could get as an actor.
Getting back to the weighty issue, how did you manage to lose 15 kilos so fast?
It was actually very hard because we were shooting for Dasvi in Lucknow when the lockdown happened, so I was stuck with retaining the weight for months for just three days work because I couldn't look too drastically different in these scenes.
It began to take a toll on my body, my sleep cycles went for a toss and my joints took a beating.
When I started working out, I ended up with a 'tennis leg', which is an incomplete rapture of the inside of the calf muscle.
Did Bimla Devi have her genesis in Rabri Devi? Was she in any way inspired by Huma Qureshi's Maharani?
For me, she came not from anyone dead, alive or fictitious, but from the script, the universe it inhabited and the juxtaposition between Bimla Devi and her husband, Ganga Ram Chaudhury, his reformation when in jail and what she goes through as an officiating CM.
I imagined a person who had been oppressed all her life, denied education and never asked for her opinion, suddenly being told that she is CM and now has the power to do whatever the hell she wishes to do.
It's like a child who's given an SUV to drive, he will crash it everywhere.
She's not menacing and nor does she have grand political ambitions, but she doesn't want to leave the seat because that is the most empowering place she has ever known.
As an actor, it was wonderful playing a part that generates comedy because in our entertainment world, a woman can be the butt of jokes or the object of humour within a scene, but rarely are roles written for her to bring on the laughs.
To be the driving engine for comedy was a first for me and it was wonderful to be challenged as an actor in that space.
Come to think of it, you would make a good politician.
Oh my God, please wish for better things for me because I'm as far from politics as the sun is from us.
When I think of politicians, I really wish their standard of work was genuine and in the service of society, but I can never think of myself attempting that.
Okay, what if you were CM for a day. What would you like to change?
I'd very swiftly want to create public toilets and get them going.
As a woman, it is a nightmare to be stuck somewhere and not even be able to drink water because you are afraid you might want to use the loo.
This is something I would pull out all the stops for.
The American drama series, Homeland, which had you playing Tasneem Qureishi, head of the ISI, dealt with Afghanistan and the Taliban. What was it like seeing some of what you portrayed being recreated for real?
This was not the first time I experienced it with Homeland, it was a classic case of life imitating art, and while you don't want to see the unpleasantness for real, it goes to show the dedication and research of the people creating the show.
I feel blessed to be a part of this universe for two seasons.
I'm doing Season 2 of Foundation, a sci-fi show for Apple TV, based on Isaac Asimov's book.
I shot for it in January and will return to finish the filming in Prague after Dasvi releases.
Then I return to India to shoot for a Web series with a director I've been wanting to work with for a very long time, but whom I can't name at the moment as I am bound by formalities.
One director whose name has become synonymous with yours after The Lunchbox is Ritesh Batra. Is another collaboration on the cards?
God willing yes, but again I can't talk about it because it is in a very nascent stage.
Ritesh is a marvelous director and I can't wait to collaborate with him again and create magic.
What do you remember The Lunchbox by today?
It's the greatest gift life gave me, but today, because of Irrfan (Khan) not being around, it has left me with a bittersweet feeling and somewhere will always be symbolic of one of the most beautiful actors the world has seen.
To be a part of that journey and to have shared such a special film with Irrfan makes me feel blessed.
At the end of my days, I will be grateful to have worked in my first film with Irrfan and to be remembered for it.
You recently celebrated a milestone 40th birthday. What are you looking to do in this decade?
For me, every birthday is a milestone, and rather than a decade, I like to live day by day because everyday is a new start.
I wish for every day to come with the knowledge of how I can be a better version of myself, that's always been the quest.
When I look back 10 years down the line, I would like to take pride in the fact that I did not stop taking risks, and continued to live life with the same curiosity and enthusiasm.