The film is based on the memoirs of Sathnam Sanghera. Did you read it and base your understanding of his mother's character on the memoir?
I hadn’t read the book when I was approached for the role. I knew about the book but had not yet got my hands on it. I simply auditioned for the part while I was in Bombay. Tess, the casting director of LION had approached me for this one too. She got me to read for the mother’s part. It wasn’t till I reached Birmingham for the shoot that I finally got to read the book.
You play a Punjabi woman based in the U.K. What kind of nuances did you adopt into your character?
They were skeptical whether I’ll be able to speak in Punjabi. They all did not know that Punjabi is my mother tongue. I read the script and loved the part. The mother’s role is really very nice in this film. No, I did not go out there to start preparing for the part. I normally do not work in that way - but from all things stored in your heart, you draw from those . . . even nuances . . . . little things that you’ve been observing all your life about people - those now come in play - it is not ever an apparent self conscious effort but one draws from one’s emotional memory and forms an idea as to how this character would be like.
The struggles and identity crisis many first and second generation South Asians living outside of India is not something we see portrayed on the big screen. Given your own base outside of India, did you draw on any personal experiences?
Yes, this subject of first generation immigrants really interests me. My father, who was a professor of English and also a writer has written a major book on the subject - it’s called ‘Striped Zebra: The Immigrant Psyche’ - it is an academic work and he used to discuss with me many aspects of his research while writing this book. At age 48, he started his life all over again in the US by migrating there with his family and struggled to set up life there. That has always inspired me. It was not hard for me to completely identify with the struggles of this couple, i.e. Satnam Sanghera’s parents - for the film I could draw a whole lot from my own parents. It’s wonderful that the subject is being tackled on the celluloid.
What was your experience like being on set with such diverse actors?
I have worked in LA before this for ‘LEELA’ and have experienced working in the west. So this was not new. In fact the youngsters on the set, knowing mine and Anupam’s work in Hindi cinema, were quite excited to work with us. Sasha, the actor who plays the protagonist was such a delight to work with. I learn from every co actor that I work with. We worked well together, Sasha and I.
What was your most memorable moment whilst shooting?
I loved the fact both my producer and my director were women. Nisha Parti was a wonderful, caring producer. But the director Lynsey Miller was the surprise package for me on the set. I loved her sensibilities, the detailing, the indulgence, the confidence . . . every little thing that we worked on together - we had instant faith in each other and I loved every moment of filming for ‘The Boy with the Topknot’.