It’s about the character, not the colour of the person playing him or her…
By Suman Bhuchar
RUPINDER NAGRA is the actor from the acclaimed film, ‘Amal’ (directed by Richie Mehta) where he is the honest rickshaw-wallah, who is told he is about to inherit a fortune. So imagine the delight of www.asianculturevulture.com when we discover he’s about to be on stage in UK.
Nagra has been part of the company of ‘The Other Place’, a play by American playwright, Sharr White, which enjoyed its UK premiere at The Park Theatre and is now on at Theatre By the Lake, Keswick, till Saturday (November 10).
We caught up with Nagra to talk more about the play and his life as an actor. Getting the part was quite serendipitous. He met the actress, Karen Archer, who is playing the lead character, Julianna and is also a producer along with Park Theatre and Theatre By the Lake – by chance.
Nagra happened to be at his agent’s office, and she was meeting someone there and mentioned she needed a male actor for a play she was casting. This person suggested she meet Nagra, who was also meeting his agent at the same time. They did – and the two of them hit it off and the rest, as they say is history!
‘The Other Place’ is the first time American playwright White’s “beautiful and profound play” has been performed outside of North America, explains the director, Claire Van Kampen, in the programme notes.
“We experience what we call ‘memory’ following her journey through illusion and delusion, through distant past, recent past, and present, until we are no longer sure about our own understanding of Time and Recall,” she writes.
It is the story of Juliana (played by Karen Archer) an eminent neurologist, who when she is giving a lecture discovers her mind is playing tricks on her. She’s getting divorced from her husband, Ian; she has brain cancer, and she keeps talking about her grandchildren. However, we discover none of this is real she is losing her memory and is suffering from dementia.
In this play, the writer is exploring what goes on in the inner mind and imagination of Juliana and Nagra plays two of the characters who enter her life. One is that of Richard, who is supposedly her son-in-law, and the other is that of a care-giver, Bobby who looks after her.
“When they were offering it,” Nagra explanined, “they said it’s not the biggest role in the play but to me as an actor it’s all about working on projects that have soe sort of honesty and truth to it. I just want to work on something where the end product is beautiful and this is something I would go see. It is quite an honour to be part of it.”
He also wanted to work with director, Van Kampen who enjoys a fine reputation as a sensitive and instinctive director. (She is also a composer and married to Oscar-winning actor, Mark Rylance).
The play itself also enjoyed a very successful run in America, Off Broadway, winning awards and the part of Juliana was played by American actress, Laurie Metcalf. All of these things were enough to tempt Nagra to cross the pond to the UK and tread the boards in Finsbury Park.
It is obvious he’s an Asian actor from the moment he steps foot on the stage and acv asks if that makes a difference at all?
“As actors we are just being true to the characters in the play. The part is not based as an Indian but they don’t have to be played by stereotypical white people. The fact that I am Indian adds another layer but not necessarily the culture card,” he said.
Nagra, was born in the Punjab, and grew up in Hamilton, Canada, where his parents moved to when he was about five years old. He studied drama in school and then went to Second City, Toronto to study Improv comedy.
It is one of the most influential theatres that also runs comedy classes and includes amongst its alumni people like actors, Alan Alda, John and Jim Belushi and comedians Tina Fey and Joan Rivers.
Later he began doing theatre in Canada, met his girlfriend, now wife, Ruchi Kaushal, and also filmmaker, Richie Mehta at a film festival in Toronto. The two hit it off and they raised the money to make a short film called, ‘Amal’ and then it got turned into a feature, ‘Amal’, 2007, which featured stalwarts like Roshan Seth, Seema Biswas and Naseeruddin Shah among others.
“The film had a great impact on my life. It was my first as a lead, and a great opportunity for me to show my acting chops”. Nagra ended up winning the Best Actor accolade at Whistler Film Festival, 2008, which takes place in British Columbia.
He added: “I worked with amazing actors and I picked up a lot of work in India opened me up to a whole different market I wasn’t focussed on. Even today, get messages from people of how film affected them.”
The film is now available on Amazon Prime, he explained.
‘The Other Place’ – until Saturday, November 10 – Theatre by the Lake, Lakeside, Lake Raod, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5DJ
Box Office: 017687 74411 (9.30am – 7.30pm / 6pm on non-performance nights)
Further Info/tickets: https://www.theatrebythelake.com/production/17974/The-Other-Place