Celebrity Interview: Bollywood Actress Kiron Kher

Intense, natural
Kiron Kher, the heroine of Khamosh Pani, finds more comfort level in alternate cinema, which gives her the opportunity to play the protagonist. Rajeev Nair met her in Dubai

Kiron Kher is doing a beautiful balancing acting between mainstream Bollywood films and alternate international films. She is seen on screen as the glycerine tear-eyed “mother” in the vintage Bollywood potboiler Veer-Zara as well as wearing the protagonist’s hat in Khamosh Pani, an alternate cinema that has fetched international acclaim.
The wife of actor Anupam Kher, who had an unceremonious exit as Censor Board chief recently, Kiron’s screen presence, so widely appreciated in Sardari Beegum, has found acceptance in mainstream Bollywood too. But at heart, she likes to pursue alternate cinema because it gives her the opportunity to “be real, and play the protagonists. I love working on alternate cinema more. There is no comparison with mainstream cinema. And doesn’t every one want to play the lead role.”
Standing ovation is just about finding its way into the Dubai International Film Festival culture but Kiron, indeed, got one, when her film, Khamosh Pani was screened at Mercato Cinema. “It happens all the time,” she says. “At Locarno, we timed the ovation; it was for a full twelve-and-a-half minutes.”
Kiron says Khamosh Pani is relevant because it “shows how fundamentalism affects women. It is also a commentary on Ayesha, the lead protagonist, who refuses to die when she was asked to, but later does so because it becomes her decision. And significantly, despite our history of violence, bloodshed and bereavement, the youngsters today are still going the same way. The film is a reminder not to take that path.”
Khamosh Pani, directed by Pakistani film maker, Sabiha Sumar is a “study on the effects of the State on people” and follows the life of Ayesha, whose impressionable son, Saleem, gets drifted into a radical way of thinking and action. The son’s change in outlook has a profound impact on Ayesha’s life, when it is learnt that she is Veero, who had been left behind even as the rest of her family was uprooted during the Partition.
Kiron says the film’s director wanted to show the progression of women in Pakistan in a very positive and realistic light. “It must be applauded that a filmmaker in Pakistan has the courage to do a film like this. Self-criticism would only make us stronger.”
The film’s theme of fundamentalism, says Kiron, “is an issue of great concern today. Such issues naturally become a choice for filmmakers. It is not because the theme sells; if what sells is what matters, alternate sexuality should be the choice, isn’t it?”Playing Ayesha did not change her personally, says Kiron. “But it moved me deeply. I gave myself completely to the character. And I guess, my roots are most apparent in this film. Every time I, as Ayesha, looked into that little suitcase which carried her father’s glasses, it brought subtle reminders of my own parents, who had come to India from Pakistan. It is difficult to watch your parent as they age, and this film is indeed tribute to my mother.”
Khamosh Pani, now released in India, has not found a distributor in Pakistan, as yet, says Kiron. “After its premiere in Locarno, we had more than 40 screenings, including a road show attended by thousands in Wah, where it was shot. But distributors are not coming from Pakistan, probably because they fear governmental backlash or because they feel the film is not commercially viable. India is a healthier market for alternate films with its multiplexes.”
Had the film been released in Pakistan this year, it could have competed in the Oscars for the Best Foreign Film, she adds. She shot for just a little less than two months for the film in Wah. “It went into production in 2001 and following the Sept. 11 incidents, the foreign crew had to leave. Work resumed in 2002; I had to fly to Pakistan through Dubai because the Indian and Pakistani armies were at the borders.”
She says shooting the film had its taxing moments. “We were working 12-hour shifts, the shooting will start at 4am, in biting cold, with two members of the camera team doing much of the ground work. Every thing was quick and concentrated.” Kiron had torn her ligament, and was wheeled in for the shoot.
Khamosh Pani was screened at Karachi Film Festival, where it won a special jury prize and Kiron was awarded the best actress. “It is therefore such an important film for me, it makes me feel wonderful.”
The film was originally to be called Ayesha or Veero. “The film was first screened in France and Switzerland with sub-titles and Ayesha sounded too exotic in French, and Veero meant a wart,” smiles Kiron. Kiron has received more offers from Pakistan. But they clashed with her schedule. In India, she would also like to do more television, especially chat shows. The Kher couple feels “funny” about the whole incident that led to Anupam being asked to step down as Indian Censor Board chief. “What hurt Anupam most was to be called an RSS man but the issue gave him a wonderful opportunity to stand up for himself and speak his mind.”
Kiron is now doing The Rising with Amir Khan and an alternate cinema with Naseerudhin Shah, It Could Be, an Indian production in English directed by Taranjit Singh.

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