The beauty queen turned actor turned producer Dia Mirza has stunned us with her web series Kaafir on ZEE5 where she plays a Pakistani woman stranded in an Indian jail, who seeks to go back home and is helped by an Indian lawyer. Dia speaks to Manju Ramanan on producing relevant content on the OTT platform and addressing roles for women of all age groups.
The gentle character you play in Kaafir in the times of the fragile relationship between the two countries? How do you see it?
I think that the relationship between Kainaaz and Vedant is a metaphor between India and Pakistan. The poem at the end encapsulates the beautiful bond between the two characters. The film is a poignant political statement without politicizing the narrative. I hope people find resonance in the emotion we have put out there.
Do you see art bridge the gap and create a scope of dialogue?
Yes, and for sure. While trade between the two countries continues, it is the arts that have had the clamp down and cultural exchange is suffering. It is the arts which address the fact that there are no boundaries to our lives. If as artists, we are unable or incapable of addressing and acknowledging this common cause of humanity, then what is the point. The writer Bhavani Iyer who also wrote Raazi has dealt with the story so well. It is voice of patriotism not nationalism and therein lies its discerning thought. We all know the ideology of the few who seek control.
How has the response been from your Pakistani fans?
Incredible, we got nothing but love. After the show was streamed, we haven’t heard no one, no negative commentary – only love. People and mothers have written blogs. It is a story that spoke to them and for a different people the story said the same thing – it spoke of love, affection, sympathy, empathy and the higher emotions that we are ignoring so much these days. It is heart-warming to see that kind of love pour in. There has been no negative criticism at all. There were surprises and they all understood the need for the story to be told. It has been very encouraging.
The web series space and talks of dialogues between hostile nations?
The OTT is the most democratic platform and since it is not governed by regional and political diktats, it has incredible power – writing, story-telling, acting and film-making doesn’t have to suffer the idiosyncrasies of politicization and instability.
Do you see that the series has been timed very well?
Timing is an important aspect of this series. Bhavani Iyer wrote this story 13 years and producer Siddharth Malhotra wanted to make it into a feature 8 years ago. While the story didn’t get an opportunity to be told, it worked out better for the script. A movie would have been 2 and a half hours, the 8 episodes gave it the space of two and a half movies. The film directed by Sonam Nair, has its own pace, it takes its time to settle and flower. I am drawn to scripts those are engaging and have social empathy.
As a woman how did you relate to this character who is resilient and fragile at the same time?
This is based on a true story. Yes, fictionalization has happened but there used to be a woman called Shehnaz who fell into the Pandori river and was washed over to the Indian side of the border, arrested by the army and given a sentence of 15 months and forgotten. She was raped in prison and had a child and her case was fought by an Indian lawyer. The back story has been fictionalized and so we had an opportunity to say more. She had an external struggle going on with the authorities to return to her country and an internal struggle as a rape victim, a mother and a woman in a foreign land. But when Bhavani met her, she was struck by the calm and resilience she had around her.
What is the role of love in our lives?
Love as depicted in Kaafir is a nurturing, caring kind of emotion. The love shared between Vedant and Kainaaz is on a higher level that is above lust. There is a scene in the corridor where she wants to give herself to him, but her memory of her brutal rape is so strong that she hesitates and he understands. There is nobility in that relationship – higher emotions that we are fast losing. It is the richest part of the narrative. There is a line from the poem which encapsulates their journey and reasons out saying “apni samaj ke salakhon mai kaid the”.