Here’s nothing about Nimrat Kaur that immediately screams “Bollywood beauty”. She doesn’t belong to an illustrious film family, nor did she come with a dream debut. She’s over 30. In that sense, Nimrat is a real woman, a far cry from Bollywood’s waif thin stereotypes. However, what Nimrat’s got is conviction - a strange, contagious kind that makes you believe she is Ila, the lovelorn and bored housewife in The Lunchbox. Or the nefarious Tasneem Qureshi, a Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence officer plotting against the CIA chief in the American Television series ‘Homeland’.
NO TIME TO GRIEVE Back in 1994, Nimrat Kaur was a nobody. A daughter of a Sikh army officer, Nimrat was 12 when her father became the victim of a terrorist attack in Kashmir. With a seven-year-old younger sister to look after, there literally was no time to sit and sulk. And though it was incredibly tough, she had to remain strong and start afresh with her mother, Avinash Kaur. Moving to a new house in Delhi, away from the watchful eyes, and helpful aides of the army was the first step towards independence. Nimrat always felt a strong pull towards dance and dramatics and needed no push to enthusiastically participate in all school events. So, after a Bachelors degree in commerce, it was time to bid adieu to Delhi and set out to seek her dream – that of becoming an actor. Garrulous, good-humoured, and talented, Nimrat has come a long way since she shifted to Mumbai. And contrary to her romantic notion of being spotted in a mall or a cafeteria, Nimrat was faced with the harsh reality of studio rounds and countless auditions. A steady stream of advertising assignments kept the kitchen fire burning while she went all out to seek that elusive ‘break’ in Bollywood. “I faced a lot of heartbreak when I started out. And though my advertising pay cheques were slowing trickling in, there were days when I wondered if I was meant to be an actor at all. I didn’t understand the way the industry functioned. It was like reading Braille. But I knew I had to wait for my time and just keep doing what I did best.”
Theatre helped filled the gap and also keep her craft alive. Nimrat started working with known Mumbai theatre names like Sunil Shanbag, Manav Kaul and Vikram Kapadia. And though the money wasn’t good enough, it did give her an avenue for self expression. Between plays and ads, Nimrat sailed along and waited for her time to shine. And shine she did with Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox. Nimrat completely immersed herself in being Ila the housewife who knew nothing beyond her husband and cooking. “Like most housewives, Ila too didn’t care for herself. I didn’t visit the parlour for a few months. No waxing, manicures or pedicures. My biggest struggle was not ‘trying to be simple.’ I had to be Ila completely. I even went and stayed in the house we shot at,” shares Nimrat, who based her character on Meryl Streep’s portrayal of a lonely wife in The Bridges of Madison County.
ADJUSTING TO THE ARCLIGHTS The release of The Lunchbox changed everything – almost, if not quite, in a heartbeat. The applause that followed was deafening. The movie wowed audiences at United States, France, Amsterdam, Toronto and won the audience choice award at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. “By the third day, people on the streets of Cannes would recognise me and shout out, aunty aunty!” remembers Nimrat. Nothing prepares you for fame and adulation though you may have dreamt about it every night. Nimrat was inundated with numerous telephone calls, congratulatory messages and scripts. But instead of jumping into the next big offer, Nimrat made her Hollywood debut in the multiple Emmy and Golden Globe-winning television show Homeland. “I was in London when my agent fixed up the screen test for the role. I went for it and got the part. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Nimrat. In Homeland, Nimrat played a Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence officer. “It was such an honour to be a part of a cast featuring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, and I was given such amazing scenes to do. We were shooting the most intense scenes. But we’d be laughing between shots, so much so that it was difficult at times, to control our laughter when we faced the camera.” Though an ardent believer in destiny, Nimrat doesn’t undermine the importance of pushing yourself each morning. “You have to align yourself to your destiny. It just doesn’t come to you. It’s always part chance, part choice.”
TICKET TO HOLLYWOOD
After a two-year lull, Nimrat was once again in the throes of action. This time, with a major commercial release, Airlift, alongside action hero Akshay Kumar. “Things have changed a lot in the last two-three years in my career, but to be paired opposite a star like Akshay has changed the game completely,” says Nim rat who is currently shooting for the second season of M Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines, a spooky TV show starring Matt Dilon and Melissa Leo in Canada. In the series, Nimrat plays Rebecca Yedlin, an architect. “My character is unusual and my entry complicates things. It is a nuanced role. The relationship she shares with her husband (played by Jason Patric) is an especially sensitive one. For me, setting up the character in my mind was a fresh process because it comes with no prelude and bears no connection with the events of the first season,” she says of her role. Nimrat belives it’s a fabulous time for actors working in Bollywood. “There is a deep pit of talent here. We have so much to offer, and now people are realising it at a global level. It’s incredible that actors are taking the risk and getting out of the Bollywood circle now.” Being the sensitive person that she is, Nimrat sometimes finds it hard to deal with the hypocrisy and double standards of the Hindi film industry. “This industry is a Chinese whisper factory. People don’t say things to your face but you get to know anyway. They need to be a little bit more grown up and stop being so childish and petty.”
After a few scathing encounters, the actor has learnt to measure her words and be watchful to avoid unpleasant circumstances. A general lack of humour and maturity is what bothers the actor. When things get too hot to handle, Nimrat confides into a close set of friends from outside the industry. Talking to her sister, mother and grandmother also soothes her nerves. When not facing the camera, Nimrat can be spotted at home stores buying knickknacks for her home. Driving is another passion and the actor often takes off to Alibaug and Murud for a quiet getaway. Spending time with her two cats and travelling are her other pastime. Her favourite holiday destination is New York. But for now the actor is living out of a suitcase.
My name Nimrat... Comes from a Persian word Nemrat meaning light of god.
I believe... Life doesn’t throw anything at you which you can’t handle.
My idea of romance... Is a simple surprise, a love note, flowers. The beauty of the unknown is very romantic for me.
My ideal man... Someone who is genuine, funny and teaches me a thing or two about life which I don’t know.Guilty pleasures... I just can’t resist buying shoes. I already have about 60 pairs. I actually had to get a cupboard made to store my pairs. My favourite are a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Fashion to me... Is being comfortable. I am not a brand loyalist but I have a soft corner for H&M, Forever 21 and Aldo.
In my vanity kit... I simply can’t do without Kiehl’s Lip Balm and M.A.C Lady Danger, Ruby Woo and Amplified Vegas Volt in lip colours. For the face, I wear Chanel Perfection Lumière foundation, Lancôme Blush and eyelash curler.
My fragrance... Romance by Ralph Lauren and Jean Paul Gaultier Classique.