Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai
Irrfan claimed The Lunchbox is the reason he became an actor.
His co-star in the film, Nimrat Kaur, loved being a part of it as well.
Even film critics cannot get enough of it, and the film has been earning raves in all the film festivals wherever it's been screened. This Friday, it will release in India.
In a long chat with Sonil Dedhia, Nimrat tells us what was the toughest thing to cook, and the weirdest thing that she has eaten.
What made you sign up for The Lunchbox?
Ritesh Batra (the director of the film) had seen my first film Peddlers (which is yet to release in India) at the Berlin Film Festival. He contacted me and we had a few meetings.
I really loved the script and was ready to be a part of it, but I wasn’t sure I was doing it.
One day Ritesh, his wife Claudia and I were just chatting when I asked him whether I was selected for the film. He casually said yes.
Later, his wife made him realise that he had said it so casually when getting a film is no mean achievement. He came to apologise for his casual attitude (laughs).
'What I was actually worried about was the lunchbox that I had to cook on the sets for the film!'
Do you think that India is still not open to such films? Why is a small movie noticed only when a person like Karan Johar attaches his name to it?
Personally, I am very happy with the film since the time I first read the script. The Lunchbox is such a wonderful film that I was never worried about how the film will do.
With Karan Johar and UTV presenting the film it’s like a sone pe suhaga. It gives a film leverage. The biggest resonating factor for me was when I told my Nani (grandmother) that Karan is now a part of this film and she said, “Acha Karan kar raha hai toh ab tension nahi hai. (If Karan is part of the film then there is nothing to worry). ”
Did you carry your lunchbox to the sets of the film?
What I was actually worried about was the lunchbox that I had to cook on the sets for the film!
We had done so much research on food. A lot of thought had gone into the food, like the colour coordination of the dishes. If there was a red curry then the next day there would be a yellow curry.
We took a lot of help from food stylists. So I was more preoccupied with what I am going to be making on the sets.
I remember one day I had to make bhare hua karele (stuffed bitter gourd) which I found to be a very romantic process. You are slowly binding the karela with the thread and eventually break the thread with your teeth. It was a very personal interaction.
'I like to claim that I cook very well'
Are you a huge fan of romantic stories?
I am a huge fan of romantic stories. I am more a fan of unrequited love stories. I often daydream about romance. I was also a big fan of Madhuri Dixit. I would imitate her so often.
Do you like to cook?
I like to claim that I cook very well (laughs). I love cooking for my friends. I feel it is a great bonding point.
Rajma is my favourite dish. I love the mutton biryani made by my mother and my Nani’s rajma.
What is the weirdest thing that you have eaten?
I was in Kenya for a film shoot. At one meal I ate what I thought was fish and it tasted really nice. It turned out to be crocodile meat!
'The first time I went to Cannes I was completely star struck'
Photographs: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
How did you interact with Irrfan Khan?
Irrfan has been very generous. After the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival he told me, “Just wait and watch the lovely job you have done.”
There was a standing ovation from the people who attended the screening at Cannes. They termed me the modern day Charulata, which is like the biggest compliment that I have ever received.
This is your second film shown in Cannes (Peddlers was the first, in 2012). Do you think this time it was more consequential?
I think I had an advantage because the people associated with the festival knew me with Peddlers still fresh in their minds.
People recognised me on the streets and complimented me for my performance. The first time I went to Cannes I was completely star struck. I just love the place. It is so beautiful. The vibe of the city is so pulsating during the festival.
'I did a lot of television commercials as I had to survive and pay my bills'
You started your career by doing two music videos and then you vanished for a long time.
After the two music videos, I decided to learn the craft of acting and performing. I come from an army background so I wasn’t aware about acting. I knew there was something very exciting about acting.
After the two music videos I did a lot of television commercials as I had to survive and pay my bills. It also got me a foothold in the city. I have done more than 80-odd Indian and international commercials.
I got film offers but I couldn’t connect to the kind of roles that were coming my way during that time.
And then you decided to shift gears and did a lot of theatre.
Yes. I started watching a lot of plays and figured out the kind of people I wanted to work with and what I wanted to learn. I did about seven to eight plays over a period of six years.
'Theatre seems like a stepping stone where you sharpen your skills and then move to films'
Some of your plays did wonderfully well. Was theatre a stop gap arrangement for the final step into films?
Theatre seems like a stepping stone where you sharpen your skills and then move to films. But I don’t think it works like that.
Theatre and film are different mediums, so that was never the idea. I just wanted to learn the craft of acting. I can proudly say that I am still learning it.
Where did you do your schooling?
I went to five or six schools as my father was in the Army and we kept shifting. We finally settled in Delhi where I did my last five years of formal education. I was in Delhi Public School and finally did my Bachelor's degree in commerce from Shri Ram College.
'It was a tough decision for my mother to send me to Mumbai'
Growing up did you have a crush on any actors?
I had phases while growing up. I would love a film and would be in love with the actor in that film. I enjoyed watching Anil Kapoor in Beta, Aamir Khan in Dil.
Eventually, it was Shah Rukh Khan. I used to cut out Shah Rukh’s interviews. I found him very charming. He was an encouraging guide for me as he too didn’t come from a filmi background. I could associate with him.
Were your parents worried when you came to Mumbai to join films?
I lost my father in 1994. I was very young then and so all the decisions had to be taken by my mother.
I came to Mumbai nine years ago. It was a tough decision for my mother to send me here. She had never even been to Mumbai.
This profession also has a stigma for people who are from a non-artistic background. She wanted me to get a real job. It was a tough decision for me too, to pursue acting as a career.
What did your mother aspire you to be?
'There were days that were really tough'
Photographs: Courtsey Anusha Naarad
Did you have any pre-conceived notions about the industry?
No, I was very optimistic. It wasn’t easy for me to start. Back home in Delhi I didn’t have to bother to wash my clothes or make my tea but when I landed in Mumbai, these things came in as an added responsibility.
There were constant rejections and there was the mental pressure about whether I had taken the right decision.
If I had thought about this industry in a negative light, I would not have been able to give my best.
Did you ever think of going back to Delhi and doing something else?
There were days that were really tough. There was a point when I didn’t know what I’ll be doing the next day. I did not break because of all the confidence and support that I got from home.
There were days when I would collapse and couldn’t think of what was happening with my career and my life. My sister has been like a mountain for me.
Although she is younger than me, she has the kind of wisdom and the strength to just shut me up and infuse a lot of confidence in me.
'The world knows how shrewd and wonderful a director Karan Johar is'
Photographs: Courtesy Edelman PR
Karan Johar is considered to be every actress’s dream director. Is it the same for you?
Karan and I met fleetingly at Cannes for the first time. I wasn’t aware that he was coming.
The best part was that I had coffee with Karan (laughs).
I wouldn’t say no to that in my wildest of dreams. I have just started knowing him and I have grown up watching his films. The world knows how shrewd and wonderful a director he is. He is a force to reckon with.
Personally for me, the most amazing thing to discover about him is that he is a thorough gentleman.
What kind of offers are you receiving now?
There are very interesting scripts that are coming my way. These scripts don’t confine me to a type and they have a lot of scope for the female characters.
I haven’t signed anything as yet. I now want to do a film that is different from what I have done in the past. For that I am ready to wait.