Actress Dia Mirza says humans constantly try to protect themselves rather than acknowledge the challenges and painful experiences that others face. She tells Chahak Mittal how her new web series Kafir helped her change her perspective on life
What if you are in a situation where you are punished and brutally tortured for something that you are not responsible for? Or how do you react if you are imprisoned for seven years for a crime you did not commit? You have no way to get out and nobody to go to for help. You are in the most helpless situations of all times. Isn’t the very thought of it terrifying? However, what one needs to understand is that such situations are beyond our common imagination until they are felt within their veins.
When actress Dia Mirza heard the script of her latest web series Kafir, which will be streaming on ZEE5, she got goosebumps and also, tears. “Did you experience goosebumps when you watched the trailer?” she asks me with curiosity in her eyes, while I nod a yes.
“That is exactly what happened to me when I heard the narration from Bhawani Iyer (screenwriter). And when I got to know that the story was inspired by a real person’s life, it was all the more reason for me to do it. I was very motivated and challenged as an artist to take it up. It is the first time I have hungered for a part like this,” she says and goes on to add, “My core was shaken. I felt like it was the best thing that happened in a long time. The story is so timely and necessary because only a few people are speaking the language of love right now and the world needs it.”
Set in the backdrop of the border conflict between India and Pakistan, more than the geographical boundaries, the story covers the journey and life of a 21-year-old Pakistani woman Kainaaz, who, because of her circumstances, jumps into a river and is washed ashore on the Indian side. She is labelled a militant and imprisoned for seven years during which she births a child on Indian soil. When journalist and lawyer Vedant, (played by actor Mohit Raina), discovers her plight, he decides to help her get justice. “So the story is about how she gets there, why is she there and how was that child born. It talks about what is the idea of freedom, identity, and most importantly, love,” says Dia.
When I get curious to know more about the story, she laughs and says, “Let me hand over the script to you so that you know it even before the show airs.” However, it’s the way she tells a story that makes you want to keep listening to her. It’s her eyes, with their deep empathy, that tell the tale and at the same time revive memories of Reena from Rehna Hai Tere Dill Mein (2001).
Talking about the show’s theme, she says, “It explores prejudice and how the world is full of it, whether we speak about prejudice between two nations or against religions, class and culture. But also prejudice that we have for ourselves. And in a way, we are fortunate that it was not made earlier. Since right now is actually the perfect time.”
Kafir was intended as a feature film, the script of which was written 13 years ago and “it took Siddharth (Malhotra, producer) eight years to finally decide to tell it as a web series. With that, we got the luxury of showing the story through eight episodes where we can show the narrative with all its intricacies and nuances. There is more time to invest in the humanity of each of the characters and their humaneness. I don’t think the film would have done justice to it. I am thankful to the universe that it chose us,” says Dia as she talks about how online platforms have an advantage when it comes to telling stories with greater depth.
It really struck a chord within Bhawani when she met Shahnaaz, the woman who is the inspiration, and heard her story. She explains, “She said there were three things which struck her — her sense of peace, calm and grace, despite her experience. Also, patience plays a very important role. And one thing that I would like to lend to this narrative was the ability to love.”
She feels that the story had had its own journey and took its own time to reach where it is today. “However, it has been an amazing one. It has come out so beautifully. When Bhawani saw the first bit of the presentation, she said ‘how did you guys know what I wanted to show and say!’ That was just divine. There could be no other word to describe it, for it is so powerful when a writer’s story comes out in the same way as s/he had imagined.” And after a moment’s notice, Dia exclaims with a smile, “You write, you would know.”
There is one thing that the actress wants people to feel and understand here, while watching her character — the role and importance of empathy. She says, “It is important for you as a human being to allow yourself to feel what that person had actually felt. We did some exercises to open our hearts, minds and bodies to experience the most in-depth empathy. We attended workshops to allow ourselves to feel and express those emotions because as human beings, we try to protect ourselves. We don’t go to certain places or allow certain emotions to ever emerge because we feel they weaken us. The whole effort of the workshop was to really bare our souls to the absoluteness and allow ourselves to experience everything that this person felt. So it makes you feel the part as opposed to acting the part.”
It’s also the other team members, cast and crew, who play a constant role in bringing out those emotions, she feels. “When you are a team that is so encouraging, whatever the emotion is, whether its your co-actors, Mohit or that six-year-old child (Dishita), who is the most aware kid I have ever come across. She never acted. She was there in that very moment, feeling whatever she was experiencing and bringing that out and expressing herself then and there. And then there is director, Sonam Nair, who is constantly facilitating it. It gives you the freedom and room to just be. She never let us feel the presence of the camera. It almost felt like she was bearing witness to what is happening to us,” says the actress.
About having a kid around such an intense atmosphere, she says, “It made all the difference.” She goes on to add, “As adults, we struggle to present something in an honest way, we might not be present here and now. But that child is so present. It’s like she was born of meditation,” (laughs).
She says that Dishita made her a mother. “You don’t need a biological child to feel what a mother could be. She really evoked the most intense maternal instinct in me. I have always been a nurturer and care-giver for my friends and family, and fans, but what that kid made me feel was something else. I really went into withdrawal and couldn’t stop crying on the last day of our shoot. I didn’t feel like I could live without her. And she still calls me Dia Ammi while we are talking on Facetime (laughs).”
While one would think about the story and how it has been presented after watching any film or show, one often ignores what goes into making it. She says, “It all begins with writing. Only after that other things fall in place. There are costumes, which are a very important factor. It matters a lot that what clothes you are wearing, how much mud you are pushing into your fingernails because there is no manicure in jail. You are engaged in hard labour everyday. All these small things don’t come into sharp notice but go a long way in building up the character and the show.”
She talks about how Kainaaz has changed her life. “I am deeply impacted by this role. There are two things that I have discovered — Kainaaz has empowered me and made me realise everyone’s life has challenges to a high extent. It’s only your response to those challenges that makes the difference. After this role, a lot of people ask me how will I get out of that experience or leave Kainaaz, but I don’t want her to leave me ever. It has transformed me as a human being.”
Lately, there has been a lot of Kashmir-related content that vividly portrays the conflict, the most recent example being, No Fathers in Kashmir and Raazi. She explains that it is because “it needs to be there. Cinema is one of the biggest media of change and if these can impact the relations between India and Pakistan even a little, why not?”
The actress, who is known for her social work like working for cancer aid, PETA, Cry and Greenathon, and has also served as an ambassador for the WTI and the goodwill ambassador to the UN, hopes that people through these stories realise that “hate exists because of fear. We just need more acceptance and love towards each other to make it a better world.”
Photo: Pankaj Kumar
Saturday, 15 June 2019 | Chahak Mittal | in Vivacity
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