September 5 2014
Playing a supporting role in the film ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’, Farzana Dua Elahe talks about the challenges and the themes that resonated with her…
TRYING to find your place in the world is never easy.
More so, when you are an outsider or simply different from most of those around you – as Farzana Dua Elahe, who plays Mahira Kaddam in “The Hundred-Foot Journey” can testify.
Raised in London and a product of the Brit School, an academy (school/college) for aspiring artists, she’s often confronted the sort of real-life challenges Hassan (Manish Dayal), her younger brother in the film, faces as he attempts to break into the rather haughty world of French haute cuisine.
He wants to make the transition from Indian family cookery whiz to Michelin-starred icon and has to convince Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren) that he can do it, while an uncertain father (Om Puri), a foe of Madam’s, looks on.
“It is tough,” Elahe told www.asianculturevulture.com. “I found myself growing up in situations and completely alien environments where I was the only brown girl in the room,” she continued, laughingly. “But I am used to it.”
The point of the film and her own story is that you shouldn’t be cowered, and that whatever path you choose, your identity and culture are part of who you are and who you want to be or become – lose it and inevitably, you lose yourself.
“It’s a bit like the Om Puri character in the film, he comes into another world and he knows his culture is not going to be accepted and it is going to be frowned upon – it’s not a nice feeling,” explained Elahe. “But it happens every day in some sort of way – whether you’re starting a new job or walking into an office where you feel you’re being looked down upon.”
People often have expectations and plant labels, but what the film says is that these are challenges that are entirely negotiable and manageable, provided you are strong and focused on your ultimate dream.
Elahe’s own family were not sure about her career choice.
It’s what led her to the Brit School but truly convincing her family still came a bit later.
“My mum did think that it was just a phase I was going through – but when she came to see me as a professional – when I was at The National Theatre in one of my earliest stage career jobs – she realised how it serious it was.”
Elahe has an impressive roll of television credits to her name, as well as the almost obligatory parts in “Doctors”, “The Bill” and “Eastenders”, she’s been in “Silent Witness”, “Broadchurch” and is in the yet to be broadcast, “Transporter.”
Her film CV has an upward momentum about it too.
While this is ostensibly her ‘Hollywood’ breakthrough, she’s been in “Prince of Persia” in a small role and was in the very watchable, but perhaps slightly underappreciated Menhaj Huda directed London Asian coming of age identity film, “Everywhere and Nowhere” (2011).
Now she’s in a film with arguably two acting legends, in Mirren and Puri.
“Working with such amazing people – it’s been something I’ve been working towards,” she said underplaying its true significance. “I try not get overwhelmed and think about it.”
When she auditioned for the role last year, she had no idea of the illustrious names behind it – as well as Mirren and Puri, the film is produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who made “Chocolat” (2000) and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (2009), among others. There’s also a stirring score by Academy Award winner AR Rahman.
“I didn’t know anything, it was all quite under wraps, I got booked from my audition tape and it was thrilling when I knew and I was also very happy when I found out that Lasse Hallstrom was directing,” revealed Elahe.
As part of the bonding process, the film family hung out together and got to know each other.
“We spent a lot of time before filming and during filming together and Om was cooking for us and we all got along very well.
“We became a bit of a family, and we were constantly told that we were like a real family because there was chemistry and that was priceless.”
Elahe, as Mahira, is in the middle of the two brothers in the film – Mansur (Amit Shah) and Hassan (Dayal), both literally and figuratively.
They pull in different directions and don’t agree about many things and in many ways, Mahira takes on a maternal role – Mummy Kadam (played in a cameo by Bollywood star Juhi Chawla) dies early on in the film, during the riots that force the family to uproot from Mumbai, in the first place.
“She’s not very outspoken,” declared Elahe of her character, “unlike myself. She listens, she’s the listener. Everyone’s position in the family shifts by the end.
“She (Mahira) wants to find her feet again and her younger brothers and sister are growing up really quickly – they have lost their Mum.
“She’s very much the mediator between the two brothers, they would often offload on her, they’re not great at communicating, they’re sometimes angry and frustrated, she’s more tactful.”
And not to say, very easy on the eye, especially in her princess outfit, which turns heads in the film and pulls the punters into the family eaterie, Maison Mumbai.
It’s very tempting to say big things are in the offing, but Elahe remains grounded, rooted, and very professionally down to earth.
She told www.asianculturevulture.com: “I hope it will bring more opportunity my way. ‘Transporter’ comes out later this year on TV and I am just trying to hold out – it isn’t necessarily about film or TV – I love the theatre and did that for many a year, it’s more about finding things – especially after this wonderful job and getting roles I will feel challenged by.”
Main picture: Hassan (Manish Dayal) and Mahira (Farzana Dua Elahe)
‘The Hundred-Foot Journey‘ went out on general release in the UK on September 5
Review: Sweet with a touch of spice