Tricky. That’sthe adjective Nimrat Kaur picks to define New Delhi. Within seconds she adds a few more words and phrases like “difficult”, “tough” and “not-so-easy” to this list. It is not hard to see that the 32-year-old didn’t have a ball during her growing up years in the capital. A Sikh born in Rajasthan, the Army kid found it hard to digest that her classmates at Delhi Public School, Noida, had the same set of friends since childhood. “Having grown up in Army towns and having moved houses every three years, I didn’t understand the concept of childhood friends,” she says as we catch up over coffee at her favourite Bandra hangout Indigo Deli. “We moved to Delhi after my father’s assassination in Jammu and Kashmir and it was for the first time that we were living a civilian life. I took my time to gel in.” But if not for the drag that her Delhi life was, Nimrat feels she wouldn’t even have moved to Mumbai.
A B.Com Honors graduate from SRCC, she almost shocked her mother Avinash Kaur with her decision to move to Mumbai. Nimrat admits that she took a good few weeks before she could actually confront her mother with this news. “When you come from a background like mine, where all this is not really looked at as a profession pursued by academically decent people, it was hard to even talk to my mother about it,” she says. But she did eventually convince Avinash that the performing arts was her calling and that Bombay was the place to be in. It took another eight years for Nimrat to star in Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox as the lonely housewife Ila and a few months more to witness that life-altering 10 minute long standing ovation the film received at the Cannes Film Festival. What followed was a blur, she says. Awards, acclaim, appreciation, interviews, photo shoots et al. But what happened before it all remains clear. To every little detail. Nimrat doesn’t call it a struggle, but a learning process.
Fresh from yet another photoshoot, Nimrat adjusts her black dress a bit before she sits. She deposits her denim jacket on the empty chair and sets her feet free from the matching blue stilettos they are trapped in. She never lets the conversation go down the boring interview lane. It is always a give and take with her asking me the same amount of questions that I direct to her. By the end of our chat, we both know a lot more about each other and there is more than one and a half hour of our conversation on my recorder. Does she talk a lot always or was this some amazing connection we had? I wonder. “I am like this. I am non-stop,” she says with a laugh. “I am not shy and I love talking to others and getting their take on whatever it may be. My Army background has made me very outgoing.” Nimrat says that it is either her mom or her sister Rubina who is usually at the receiving end of her long monologues. Nowadays, she confides in Kit Cat and Karamchand, her pet cats who keep her company at her one BHK house at Santacruz.
She now calls Mumbai home, but there was a time when Nimrat was both fascinated and intimidated by it. Having visited the city only once fleetingly before deciding to move in, Nimrat remembers how romantic she felt about the sea. With these years, the city and its ways have toughened her up. She has faced it all here–rejection, denial, self discovery and success. “It is a little different world. A different vocabulary altogether,” says Nimrat, of her first audition. “It is kind of alien. You are asked to hold a slate with your name, number, height and all that. I felt like a criminal.” She got her first break with the Kumar Sanu-Shreya Goshal music video Tera Mera Pyar and went on to do a lot of ads, the most famous one being the Cadbury Silk ad that gained her instant visibility.
But the inquisitive and curious soul that she is, Nimrat soon got bored with “this looking good business”. “I felt it wasn’t challenging me enough and I was getting too comfortable doing this,” says Nimrat. “I longed for some tension, some chaos, some excitement.” And she found all of this and more on stage. She started collaborating with the likes of directors Sunil Shanbag and Manav Kaul and played important roles in productions like Baghdad Wedding, All About Women and Red Sparrow. Nimrat credits “the bit I know about acting” to her stage exposure. “Theatre is more like a way of life. It teaches you things in its own strange ways,” she says. “When you spend time with actors in theatre, you realise that it is never money that they are in this for. People think, ‘Oh what do they do other than sipping chai and having Parle G biscuits?’. But let me tell you, I have learnt so much from my theatre days than what I can express in words. I have made a deeper connect with life.”
That connect is what drives her, says Nimrat. Even while reading scripts, it is that spark that she looks for. “Choosing to play a part is like meeting a guy,” says Nimrat. “The very first time you meet someone or the first time you talk to someone, you know how far it will go. It is the same when you read a script.” Interestingly, her first reaction to Ila’s character in Ritesh’s script was of amusement. Nimrat laughed when she read about Ila, the lonely soul trying to seduce her husband with delicious home cooked food. “I found her so interesting that I felt she was in a funny situation,” she says. “And, thank god, I have nothing in common with her, which made it even more exciting.”
The only interest she shares with her onscreen avatar is Ila’s love for food and cooking. “I am a good cook and enjoy my time in the kitchen a lot,” she says. An outdoorsy person, Nimrat also loves to go trekking and backpacking when she finds the time. Travel and shoes are her weaknesses and she spends most of her hard-earned money on them. Impulsive is her middle name, says Nimrat, be it while shopping or in life. “I am a very emotional person,” she says, showing me the tattoo on her wrist. “It says Zainab, which means father’s precious jewel. I got this on one such emotional moment.” But Nimrat is not one to regret and believes in standing by the choices she makes. As all the praise sinks in, one part of her is still on the look out for the next magical connection, the next script which she will fall in love with. However, she wants to take her time and not be impulsive. “I have waited for so long,” she says, “and my patience has paid off.” And, so she doesn’t mind waiting a bit longer, if that is what it takes for the perfect part to be served to her in a Lunchbox.