Aysha Kala interview for Indian Summers
Aafrin’s highly intelligent sister, Sooni is fiercely political and resents Aafrin’s role in the ICS. Sooni wants to become a lawyer and is determined not to let her gender get in the way of her ambitions.
This is your first big role in a big TV drama. Was it a daunting prospect?
I was more excited than daunted. It was great to have such a gutsy, ballsy female character to play, especially because I don’t think this story in history is told very often. It’s nice to have it seen through the eyes of a young female. A lot of characters are fiery, but Sooni has this need to fight for home rule without knowing what to do with it. She wants to do something, but isn’t sure what, which I think a lot of people can relate to.
Where does Sooni’s revolutionary spirit come from?
I don’t think she knows for sure. Some of it is from her brother, Aafrin [Nikesh Patel], being the golden boy, and she’s a bit jealous of that. So it begins with her rebelling against him and his work for the British [as a civil service clerk], then she realises there’s more to it than Aafrin. Regardless of what she knows about the consequences, she becomes more and more involved in the independence movement.
What other aspects of Sooni were attractive for you?
It’s easy to have a drama with a young woman who falls in love with a guy and so on, but Sooni is completely different: she’s Asian, young, female and fighting for what she believes in. She’s a great role model.
Does she fall in love with a guy?
No, she’s too wrapped up in home rule for any of that.
Are the Dalals a close family, in spite of their political differences?
Her relationship with Aafrin is very interesting. She knows that deep down he agrees with her, but she knows he’s working for the British for the benefit of the family and is getting a lot of opportunities. They know they’re on the same page, really. And her dad, Darius [Roshan Seth], is very proud of her. They’ve got a lovely relationship. Roshana [Lillete Dubey], her mother, is wrapped up in Aafrin’s life and dismisses Sooni’s activism as a silly game.
The Dalals are Parsis. What does that signify?
The Parsis now are a very small community. They don’t believe in intermarriage and don’t convert, so they’re dying out in India. Back in the 1930s, they were really involved in the British Empire in India. They were the first culture to accept the British and to work with them. They’re a very educated community. But also a lot female Parsis were involved in home rule so they were pioneers as well.
Could you describe the bazaar, where the Dalals live?
It was amazing: like stepping behind the curtain into India. The work that had gone into creating it was unbelievable. It wasn’t pretty, and you finished a day’s shooting feeling completely grubby, but it was as it should be. Filming in Malaysia was hot, dusty and sticky, but none of that mattered. We just got on with it.
How much did you know about the era before you read the script?
Nothing, so I had to do some homework, which was really interesting. To hear about how Pakistan was born and the tensions there – there are so many reasons for why the situation is the way it is. People talk about what goes on in India now, but not so much about why or how it started.