Indian actress Ekavali Khanna, who has impressed audiences as a conservative Pakistani housewife in the Norwegian film “What People Will Say” — premiered at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — says working with acclaimed actor Adil Hussain in the movie was an enriching masterclass.
Directed by Pakistani-Norwegian Iram Haq, the film deals with the culture of female oppression in the south Asian diaspora in the West.
Ekavali, who has delivered some powerful lines in the film, landed the role after the casting team of the film got in touch with her in December 2016.
“They sent me three scenes and said I should record and send the audition immediately. I got my 12-year-old son to give the cues, recorded the audition and sent it to them. I received a call from them within 24 hours, saying the director loved the audition and I will be doing the film,” she recounted.
How was it to play Adil’s wife in the film?
“Adil and I have acted in Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s ‘Zed Plus’ earlier. So when I was going to Norway for the shoot, I knew this is going to be another enriching masterclass. Adil is extremely dedicated to his craft and very humble.
“Though he’s far more experienced and seasoned, he treats his co-actors with a lot of respect and often exchanges ideas and likes to work on the scenes together. It’s a privilege to work with him,” Ekavali said.
Playing an ultra conservative Pakistani wife Najma didn’t come without her share of preparations for the actress.
“My character Najma constantly seeks validation from society. She can easily sacrifice her child’s life and happiness because of ‘what people will say’. Slipping into her character was not smooth because understanding and empathizing with Najma seemed impossible in the beginning.
“Being an independent single mother myself, I could barely identify with the character I was to play.”
So, she had extensive discussions with the director.
“Iram told me about her own equation with her mother and true life instances that happened with her which helped me understand my character deeply. In my own head, I created a graph of Najma’s life and tried to understand what it could mean for a young girl from Pakistan to get married and move to a country like Norway and start living there.
“It enabled me to understand why Najma was so unreasonable and why she behaved the way she did,” said Ekavali, who also met some Pakistani families in Oslo for reference.
She describes Iram Haq as “a beautiful, pure and honest” soul.
“That reflects in her passion for her work. She prepares her actors well and then gives them the freedom to perform organically,” she said, reflecting on the warmth she experienced when her birthday was celebrated by the production.
“We were all sitting around during lunch when suddenly the entire crew broke into the Norwegian birthday song, and a surprise cake popped up. I was really touched by the warmth,” she said.
“I have also acted this year in Hollywood film ‘The Field’, directed by Rohit Karn Batra. It is set in India. Another Hindi film, ‘Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain’, is set for release later this year.
“It is a romantic story of a mismatched couple played by Sanjay Mishra and me. I’m very excited about a very special film called ‘Bioscopewallah’ by Deb Medhekar in which I have a cameo. I will start shooting for two fabulous feature films from next month.
“I’m aspiring for roles that challenge me and help me step out of my comfort zone.”