Some days Iwake up and won­der if I’m good enough

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I f she wanted to make a dra­matic en­trance then she suc­ceeded. Almost all of the other Gr8! Women award win­ners – in­clud­ing Bol­ly­wood star Pari­neeti Chopra, the crowd’s favourite, Alia Bhatt, and chore­og­ra­pher Pony Verma – had al­ready walked the red car­pet at Sof­i­tel Dubai The Palm Re­sort and Spa, for the fifth edi­tion of the Gr8! Women Awards, which recog­nise achieve­ments by In­dian and Arab women.

The flash­bulbs had popped, and mi­cro­phones, smart­phones and recorders had all been thrust to­wards the stars to cap­ture their sound bites on what they thought of Dubai, women, fe­male em­pow­er­ment and the Gr8! Women awards – the brain­child of Anu Ran­jan and her hus­band Shashi Ran­jan, founder of GR8 En­ter­tain­ment.

And then there was a lull of about half an hour while the throng of me­dia rubbed their hands in the un­usual fog that had de­scended on the city, no doubt try­ing to fend off the bore­dom of hang­ing around as much as the cold.

It was close to 10pm when a white limo pulled up and ac­tress Nim­rat Kaur stepped out. Dressed in a pale pink gown, the star looked shy as well as stylish but was quick to flash the smile she used to such dra­matic ef­fect in the Cad­bury’s choco­late ad­vert that made her a house­hold name in In­dia. And then, with all the oth­ers inside, and her ar­rival timed to per­fec­tion, The

Lunch­box and Home­land star had the red car­pet and the me­dia all to her­self.

“Ac­tu­ally, I was asked to tone down my [se­duc­tive] looks a bit for the ad,” says the 32-year-old, giv­ing a throaty laugh much later dur­ing an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view for Fri­day.

While the 2013 TV com­mer­cial’s suc­cess first brought her to the small screen and gained the coun­try’s at­ten­tion, it was her role in The Lunch­box that same year that launched her into the spot­light for her act­ing and not just her looks. “I guess you can say

The Lunch­box chose me,” she says. “The mo­ment I read the script, I loved it and knew that I wanted to do it.”

In the film – di­rected by Ritesh Ba­tra and star­ring Ir­rfan Khan and Nawazuddin Sid­diqui – she played a lonely housewife who, to bring the ro­mance back to her mar­riage, pre­pares a spe­cial lunch and ar­ranges for it be de­liv­ered to her ne­glect­ful hus­band.

How­ever, the de­liv­ery goes wrong and the lunch­box ends up in the hands of an ir­ri­ta­ble wi­d­ower. It soon leads to an ex­change of mes­sages be­tween the two – passed back and forth through the lunch­box – and an un­likely re­la­tion­ship de­vel­ops.

A crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess, the film was screened at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where it won the Crit­ics’ Week View­ers’ Choice Award and was shown at the 2013 Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. It went on to win 20 awards around the world and helped Nim­rat get nom­i­nated for the Screen and IIFA awards for best ac­tress.

Although she didn’t win – Deepika Padukone won both awards – Nim­rat feels at home in front of the cam­eras off screen too, hav­ing first graced the red car­pet at Cannes for her pre­vi­ous film, Vasan Bala’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed


“I can never for­get the feel­ing I had while walk­ing the red car­pet the sec­ond time – at Cannes last year for the premiere of The Lunch­box,” says Nim­rat. “It was so spe­cial and with­out doubt one of the high points of my life.”

There seem to be plenty of those mo­ments nowa­days, though.

“Ah, yes, I must tell you this,” she chuck­les. “One day late last year I hap­pened to meet [Bol­ly­wood

‘I can never for­get the feel­ing I had while walk­ing the red car­pet for the sec­ond time’

su­per­star] Mr Amitabh Bachchan at an event in Mumbai. He was walk­ing past me when he stopped and turned around and said, ‘Hi Nim­rat, how are you?’ I was ab­so­lutely floored.

“He then said, ‘It’s an hon­our to meet you, Nim­rat. You were ab­so­lutely won­der­ful in The Lunch­box. And I love your Cad­bury’s ad. It’s one of my favourites.’ The fact that Mr Bachchan knew my name and recog­nised my face was truly amaz­ing. That was the best com­ment I ever re­ceived. A true high point in my life.”

And has she ex­pe­ri­enced any low points? “There have been many,” says the star. “You know, I live alone in a one-bed­room apart­ment with my two cats – Kit Kat and Karam­c­hand – in San­tacruz, Mumbai. I was in a re­la­tion­ship but no longer am.

“My cats are the per­fect com­pan­ions although some­times I wish they could talk. That would be great. You know, some­times your mind can play games with you, you feel a bit lonely, you may be­gin to feel that some prob­lems are more dif­fi­cult than they ac­tu­ally are. There are days when you wake up and won­der if you are good enough.

“But those mo­ments quickly pass and I find hap­pi­ness do­ing the kind of work I’m do­ing, and in the kind of roles I’m get­ting.”

Nim­rat, who has acted in six films to date, is happy with the way her ca­reer is pan­ning out. “Even as a kid, I al­ways knew that I wanted to be an ac­tor,” she says.

“But then you know how it is – when you are grow­ing up you want to be an astro­naut, a pi­lot… At one point I also wanted to join the army.”

The last ca­reer choice was prob­a­bly the in­flu­ence of her fa­ther, Ma­jor Bhu­pen­der Singh, an army of­fi­cer, who was killed in an at­tack in Kashmir, In­dia, when she was 11. “His loss is a mas­sive vac­uum in my life,” she says.

It was up to her mother Av­inash to bring up Nim­rat and her sis­ter Ru­bina, 30, now a psy­chol­o­gist based in Ben­galuru, and she “didn’t al­low us to wal­low in self-pity”, says the star. “The one thing that was a con­stant while I was grow­ing up was that I was al­ways on stage – act­ing in plays, de­bat­ing… I was hap­pi­est when I was per­form­ing be­fore an au­di­ence.”

So when it came to choos­ing a ca­reer after col­lege – Shri Ram Col­lege of Com­merce, Delhi – Nim­rat de­cided to pur­sue her in­ter­est in act­ing “be­cause I found that this had be­come very pro­nounced and it was some­thing that in­ter­ested me deeply”. As a first step, the then 20-some­thing de­cided to move to Mumbai to see if she could make a pro­fes­sion out of her pas­sion.

A few plays and mod­el­ling as­sign­ments – for Bri­tan­nia, Air­cel 3G, Suzuki Swish, among oth­ers – came her way. “I was happy be­cause I think mod­el­ling is the most log­i­cal way to go if you want to make it to act­ing in movies, es­pe­cially for some­one like me – who grew up in Pun­jab and Delhi – and who has no con­nec­tion with Bol­ly­wood,” she says.

Nim­rat did sev­eral plays in­clud­ing Bagh­dad Wed­ding, All About Women, Red Spar­row and Da­m­ages, which “taught me a lot about the craft of act­ing”. Her

‘I find hap­pi­ness in do­ing the kind of work I am do­ing, and in the kind of roles I am get­ting’

‘I think in a coun­try such as In­dia, a majority of the prob­lems are be­cause of a lack of ed­u­ca­tion’

looks and tal­ent were soon spot­ted by cast­ing man­agers and in 2010 she landed a role in Anurag Kashyap’s short film, En­counter and, two years later in

Ped­dlers. The same year, 2012, she also played a key role in the hit rom­com

Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khu­rana with Ku­nal Kapoor and Huma Qureshi. From there it was that choco­late com­mer­cial that seared her in the na­tion’s pub­lic psy­che and led to The Lunch­box.

“The role in The Lunch­box hap­pened by chance,” she says. “I guess it was des­tiny and hard work that got me the role. And maybe I was in the right place at the right time.”

So does she think that she ar­rived in Bol­ly­wood due to des­tiny or hard work?

“Des­tiny plays a big part in you be­ing in the right place in the right time,” she says. “I be­lieve in it. I’d be a fool to say ‘no I don’t be­lieve in des­tiny’.

“But I also be­lieve you have to make the de­ci­sions that will give you the op­por­tu­ni­ties that you are seek­ing.

“I think at one point in life you have to take charge and de­cide what it is you want to do and then the harder you work the luck­ier you get.”

So what does she look for when choos­ing a movie – the stars, script, cast, pro­duc­tion house…? “I con­sider all of it,” says Nim­rat. “When you sign a movie, you are com­mit­ting to spend two to three months of your life with a team of peo­ple. So you should be happy and com­fort­able to be with them or it could re­flect in your work. More than any­thing, the three months of your life has to be worth it.”

She also places great em­pha­sis on the script. “I look at a script and my role in it from the point of view of a viewer,’’ she ex­plains. “I ask my­self would I, as a viewer in an au­di­ence, pay good money to watch somebody do this role?

“If the an­swer is yes, then I look ahead and find out who the di­rec­tor is, who my co-au­thor is, the pro­duc­tion house… At the end of the day you have to re­alise that movie mak­ing is a business. It’s not purely an art. It’s a pro­fes­sion and a business and a lot of things – in­clud­ing a lot of money – are at stake.

“So it has to be a film that will work. So yes, be­fore I sign I make sure that it would be a movie that I would like to watch on screen as well.”

And are there any sub­jects that are close to her heart?

“Ed­u­ca­tion,” says Nim­rat. “I would like to en­cour­age chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly girls, to get a good ed­u­ca­tion. I think in a coun­try such as In­dia, a majority of the prob­lems peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence are be­cause of a lack of ed­u­ca­tion. If we can solve that, we would be in a much bet­ter po­si­tion.”

But that doesn’t mean she is will­ing to take on only ac­tivist-re­lated roles in films. “I think at the end of the day cin­ema is an en­ter­tain­ment medium. But in the process of mak­ing the film if there is a mes­sage for our so­ci­ety, then well and good. But the movie has to be worth the money and your time.”

De­spite tast­ing phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess in re­cent times, why don’t we see her in more films? “I be­lieve in do­ing one thing at a time,” says the ac­tress, who has been busy play­ing the role of Pak­istani agent Tas­neem Qureshi in the HBO se­ries

Home­land. “It’s not that I’m choosy. I guess des­tiny, too, has a role to play.

“I’ve been busy for the past four to five months do­ing Home­land. That took a lot of my time. I was trav­el­ling from Mumbai to South Africa for the shoots.”

Was it easy to slip into the role of spy/vil­lain after por­tray­ing a bored

housewife? “It was a lot of fun,” she laughs. “It was just in­cred­i­ble – to be able to play a role that was so evil and was re­spon­si­ble for so many twists and turns in the plot – it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to slip into the role of a vil­lain. Ac­tu­ally, it was amaz­ing even for me to see my character be­ing able to cre­ate such havoc. I think I’ve been very for­tu­nate to get th­ese hugely dif­fer­ent roles.”

N im­rat’s eyes light up when she talks about her craft. “Act­ing is like driv­ing,” she says. “You have to learn the rules be­fore you sit be­hind the wheel. You need to have a rough plan of how to get from point A to point B, but there could be a lot of sur­prises on the road where you will have to use your in­stinct and ne­go­ti­ate.

“Once you’re on the road, you can’t keep re­fer­ring to the rule book. And some­times you may even have to un­learn and let go of a few things and adapt to the sit­u­a­tions to en­sure you have a nice drive. You have to be in­stinc­tual but you need to be pre­pared.”

The ac­tress ad­mits she has dif­fer­ent ways of ap­proach­ing a role. While she spent time liv­ing in a small room in a busy part of town in Mumbai to get a feel of what it is to be a lonely housewife for her role in The Lunch­box, she says she would not re­peat that tech­nique for ev­ery role she plays.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to do it ev­ery sin­gle time and I don’t know whether it would even be nec­es­sary,” she says.

And is she en­joy­ing the dream life of a Bol­ly­wood star? “The ag­o­nies and ec­stasies of this pro­fes­sion can truly send you to dizzy­ing highs and ter­ri­ble lows,” Nim­rat says.

“But if you are able to come to terms and ac­cept your short­com­ings and work to­wards im­prov­ing them, and stay true to who you are, then you can stand tall in this world. That is re­ally the key to suc­cess in Bol­ly­wood.”

Nim­rat comes alive when she talks about her craft, act­ing

This Cad­bury’s choco­late ad made her fa­mous

Nim­rat with Nawazuddin Sid­diqui, left, and Ritesh Ba­tra

Nim­rat with Ir­rfan Khan, her co-star in The Lunch­box

Nim­rat, a woman of achieve­ment: with her Gr8! Women Award

The Lunch­box is the movie that made Nim­rat’s name as an ac­tress

Her role in Home­land was a lot of fun

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