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Homeland star Nimrat Kaur on working in the east and west

Nimrat Kaur
Nimrat Kaur


VERSATILE actress Nimrat Kaur has balanced acclaimed roles in Hindi cinema with winning turns in the international arena, which included a memorable appearance in the fourth season of smash hit American TV serial Homeland.

The Indian star is set to reprise her role as the villainous Pakistani intelligence officer Tasneem Qureshi in the final season of the globally successful show. This will be another impressive chapter in her journey, which has included successes in films such as The Lunchbox and Airlift, and US TV drama Wayward Pines. Nimrat is looking forward to the challenge of returning to Homeland and was in good spirits when Eastern Eye caught up
with her for a free-flowing conversation about everything from acting to the challenges
of playing a villain.

Is it fair to say you are really picky when it comes to selecting projects?
It might seem that way, but it really hasn’t been a plan or design of any sort. I just feel
like sometimes things happen for a good reason. It may look like I have not taken up
as many projects, but genuinely that is just how the process has been for me. It has
definitely not been because, you know, I have too stringent a process of taking up
parts or anything like that.

So what kind of roles are you looking for?
The only thing I try and stay away from is repetition because it can be a little tedious
when you are playing a different version of the same part. So maybe part of the reason
I have not taken up some of the roles that came my way is because they were shades
of something I had already played. That is not really exciting or attractive to me. I do
steer towards parts that bring a new challenge, are interesting for me to read about
or imagine myself in.

What is it like when you are offered projects?
It is literally like you are a child and are in a fairy tale when you listen to or start imagining yourself as one of the characters. I have that kind of enthusiasm when listening to scripts or finding the next role I want to play.

What was it like acting in Homeland the first time around?
In hindsight, I feel like it was one of the most exciting journeys I took because I had absolutely no idea about how things worked in the west. When I got there, I was like a headless chicken because I had no clue of what to expect. I didn’t know, for instance, that there was a different director for each episode, and you only get the material you are part of as the episodes unfold. You don’t know the entire journey and are unaware if
your character will wind up dead or be shown the exit from the season.

That must feel strange.
As an actor, I had never worked with a story where I don’t know what point Z is. But here you are discovering things as they happen. So it was exciting when I accepted these factors for what they were and let them dictate what was going to happen. You realise how little control you have over anything at all. It was a revelation and learning experience for me.

So I am guessing you didn’t know much about the final season when they asked you to return?
They gave me a better idea than the first time around, for sure. With the impact that the character made in season four, I think they wanted to know if it was something I was looking at. They did tell me a few things, but I don’t think even they know how things are going to wind up. They do have a broad idea, but don’t know how the journey will unfold.

So you can’t reveal anything to us?
(Laughs) You know I wish I had enough to tell you. I can tell you that she is going to be a senior official now and has worked her way up pretty quick and is up to no good yet again. It will be all guns blazing with the writing and I know they are not going to leave without making an impact, so that will be fun.

Were you surprised by how much of an impact it made first time around?
I really had no idea it would, and only realised when I sensed a kind of strange hatred from people in public spaces like airports. This was not something normal or usual. (Laughs) But I feel like there was a compliment in there somewhere.

How did you prepare for the Homeland role?
More than preparing, I really had to work with the scenes that were given to me. As a role, it did not require physical preparation or any major shift in my lifestyle or anything like that. I feel like as and when I got the scenes, I just had to make sure I didn’t judge what I was reading, and get into a moral battle about what the character was doing, or whether I agreed with it or not, because, of course, I didn’t. She is a negative character in the classic sense of the word.

So what would you say is the key to playing a negative role like that?
I had to find dignity and a reason for her to go through with what she was doing. Because any human being, no matter what they do in life, they don’t think they are villainous. For them, it is their truth and reality. It is what they stand by. So I had to be very convinced and had to remain committed to the decisions Tasneem Qureshi was making without judging them or letting my personal opinions come in the way. My father was in the army, so I come from exactly the opposite sentiment in life where, no matter what, peace is all you strive and live for. But this character definitely thinks otherwise.

What is the master plan going forward? Will you be balancing projects in India with those in the west?
Yes, 100 per cent, Asjad. It will be a combination of both because I am very greedy as an actor and don’t want to leave one for the other. I am extremely committed to working both in the west and east, and God willing, I will have the same opportunity as I have had so far. I can only hope and pray that life continues to be so and I am able to play out my fantasies in both worlds.

You once said you would never be happy with your career. What did you mean by that?
What I meant and this is something I live by even now, is that you can’t really put your feet up and feel like you are in a place of congratulating yourself about everything that is going on. You can’t think, this is it. I feel like when you start to get comfortable with where you are, that is the end of your curiosity and growth, so I like to stay challenged in that sense. I like to stay out of my comfort zone where you are done with something and go on to the next, whether you are looking for the next role or figuring out what you would like to pick up.

You are a versatile actress, but do you have a dream role?
Any role I pick up becomes a dream role. I really can’t isolate one as a dream role per se. I feel that if I take up something which challenges me in a new way, I would make that a dream I am living.If it isn’t that dream, then I am not justified in taking that something up.

What do you enjoy watching as an audience member yourself?
I don’t watch too many TV shows. I use up a lot of my time reading, travelling and doing
other fun things. (Laughs) I think I am still stuck in the 1990s. But I do like to go to the movies a lot. I enjoy the theatre experience very much. I am old school like that. I like to buy my ticket, get some popcorn and watch movies with hundreds of people in the theatre. So apart from whatever I get to catch on the big screen, I actually don’t end up watching all that much.

Today what inspires you?
I think it is the people I meet. When people make unconventional choices in their lives and career, that inspires me a lot. Their passion and commitment towards what they believe in inspires me because it is a tough world, where people are driven by quick returns and big visibility. So when people stay true to who they are and make choices in spite of what seems to be the obvious flow of things, I find that very attractive. I look for inspiration around me every day.

Finally, why do you love being an actor?
Because you never really know what is around the corner. It is a strange dichotomy to live with because it brings both challenges and rewards with it due to the unpredictable nature of this profession. But at the same time, I feel that you have to do so little to make someone’s day extraordinary – I have experienced that many a time now and find that is the greatest blessing of my life. I have to do very little to bring a smile to
someone’s face.