For an actor it is very liberating to play a character who is not at all like you. Najma is a complete opposite of who I am. It was a challenge for me playing this role and having the audience hate me.
By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | May 07, 2018
Beginning next Friday (May 18) Ekavali Khanna is set to make an impact on the big screen, like she always does whenever she is up there. In the last four years, the talented, versatile actress from Kolkata has taken small but steady steps towards her passion (cinema) reveling in every role she has essayed so far—big or small. And it is this ‘reveling in every role’ of hers that has had a ripple effect, with one film bringing about the next.
Ekavali is not your regular Bollywood beauty: she stands out from the crowd, simply by not being sexy, a tag which most actresses vie for, but by being exquisite with her rare charm which radiates from her eyes. Yes, it is her eyes that have that sparkle and the genuine warmth in her smile which immediately lets you know that she is not around for air-kissing.
And having the best of ‘three worlds’ is what gives her this classy edge! Her dad who passed away last year was a Punjabi, her mother who she hardly remembers as she passed away when she was very young was from Goa, while she grew up in Calcutta. Speaking Hindi, Bangla, Punjabi and Urdu comes naturally to her. The varied culture gives her the mixed flavor which enables her to envelop any character she chooses to.
“I think what people are valuing is my ability to transform… fitting into a character happens organically for me,” says Ekavali who is proud of all the roles she has essayed so far. “I haven’t done much theatre, but I have done a lot of theatre workshop. I never stop learning; it has been a constant in my life. I learn from my co-actors, I do various theatre workshops and master class… Cinema is my passion. One may have talent, but you also need to learn the craft,” says the actress whose portrayal of Najma (a regressive Pakistani mother living in Norway) in the Norwegian film What Will People Say, which did the festival rounds last year has won her rave reviews and compliments. “If the content is good, the people making the film are passionate and my role is well written I will give it all that I have.”
From ‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’ in 2014, the year she stepped out onto the silver screen till now, Ekavali has done nothing but quality work. Her diverse roles (‘Zed Plus’, ‘Dear Dad’, ‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’) are testimony to this fact. Here she is Opening Doorz to three releases in the next two months—’Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain’ releases on May 18, ‘Bioscopewala’ on May 25 and ‘Veere di Wedding’ on June 1, and her journey since 2014.
The icing on the cake has to be ‘The Field’, a Hollywood production directed by Rohit Karan Batra which releases this year. The film is a gangster film set in India. “My character is of a woman leading a dual life. The film stars Brendon Fraser, Ronit Roy, Neeraj Kabi, French actress Charlotte Poutrel and Ekavali Khanna.
How has been the journey so far: satisfying or frustrating?
It has been very enriching. Who doesn’t have challenges in their life? There are chapters in everybody’s life which are going to be distressing and disturbing. I want to do quality work. I want to live well. I want to have to good, meaningful relationships… I speak of a wholesome existence. For me, the role of a mother, being a daughter, to living my own life well to being there for friends… everything counts. All the roles I have essayed so far have been extremely satisfying.
A lead after a long wait in Angrezi… How did the role come about?
I was shooting for Bioscopewala in Mumbai when I got a call from the production house because my co-actor had referred my name. I met the director, Harish Vyas, and he made me go through a series of readings, discussing the character. I auditioned and was selected. All the roles I bagged so far have been through auditions.
What is the film all about?
In this film, Sanjay Mishra and I play a mismatched, yet compatible couple who are so bogged down by the challenges and duties of their daily existence that expressing love and affection has taken a back seat. The film focuses on how beautiful it can be to rekindle and revive a relationship that one had taken for granted. The love between Yashwant and Kiran is mature, silent and dormant… The rekindling of romance brings out a beautiful part of their lives that was lost!
What Will People Say has had everyone talking! What do you have to say about the film?
The film has been released in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and is soon to be released in France, Finland, Germany, Austria. It has won 9 awards so far. Popular among the awards it has won is the Audience Award at AFI, at Gothenburg and Lübeck. The response across the globe has been overwhelming. The film was in competition in the platform section of the prestigious Toronto Film Festival. It was also the opening film of MAMI in the Discovering India section.
Your character Najma is completely different from what you have attempted so far. How difficult was it?
For an actor it is very liberating to play a character who is not at all like you. Najma is a complete opposite of who I am. It was a challenge for me playing this role and having the audience hate me. I think what people are valuing is my ability to transform… fitting into a character happens organically for me.
How did you go about preparing for the role?
In this film I’m a monster trying to constantly control people’s life. Najma is just the opposite of a good mother: she is a bitter person. Najma is a conservative Pakistani woman who remains trapped in her regressive belief system despite living most of her life in Norway. She constantly seeks validation from society and will even sacrifice her children’s life and happiness because of ‘what people will say’. I had to empathize with her character… I had to think about her past and what got her to be the way she did. She must have had her own share of dreams but it all might have come crashing down. That’s how I began to internalize her feelings and emotions and managed to get it out on screen.
The move has done the rounds of so many festivals, have you received any compliments for your performance?
At the Dharamshala International Film Festival last November, I was there with my sons and was meeting a lot of people and interacting with them. After they saw the film, a lot of people came up to me and hugged me. There was this gentleman from Israel, Yaniv Berman a filmmaker, he came up to me and said: “I can’t tell me how much I hated you throughout the film, but I have to say you are so convincing and real. With a face like yours I would never have thought you would play a character like that.” Another director told me, “I was terrorized by the type of person you are; I could see the devil.”
How difficult is it for you balancing your life at home and as an actor?
Being a loving mum who’s always there for her kids has been as important for me as my career. I value my work and my relationship with my sons. Being a mother hasn’t in any way got in the way of my work or career. In fact it has empowered me, provided me with emotional strength and stability. The kids have been a huge source of love and encouragement which is all one needs to prosper and grow.
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