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Exclusive Interview with PURAB KOHLI ('I Am Afia')

© Hindi Cinema Blog

The I-View Film Festival in Manhattan has selected critically acclaimed director Onir's newest cinematic opus, 'I Am' for its opening night. The film boasts a vast cast featuring some of  Indian cinema's greatest names and consists of four short films based on real life stories, one of which is the touching tale of Afia, a young woman who wishes to experience motherhood using a sperm donor to give birth to the perfect child.
Purab Kohli, a dedicated actor who has been widely appreciated by audiences in India and abroad for his work in a sound variety of thoughtful and mainstream roles ('My Brother Nikhil', 'Rock On') that reflect his rich sensitivity, tells us more about 'I AM AFIA', in which he stars alongside Nandita Das. Click here to see the film's trailer. 

HCB - Hello Purab. We are curious about 'I Am Afia' and happy to see you starring opposite Nandita Das. Would you please tell us a bit more about your character?

 PK - I play a medical student from a smaller town in India, he now lives in Kolkata and donates his sperm for some extra money to make ends meet in the city. He is taken aback by the strange request of Afia who insists on meeting the donor whose sperm she is using.

HCB - 'I Am' is not your first venture with director Onir. How did your collaboration develop from the start and what do you enjoy most about working with him?

PK - I have longed to work with Onir since I last worked with him in 'My Brother Nikhil'. In fact we have tried to work on both his films after that but somehow things did not work out. 'I Am' is a film he planned last year and i was very excited about his innovative way to make the film, given the bad reccession the Bollywood film industry was going through. We were first trying to work on a 5th film for 'I Am' - because as you may know it is a collection of 4 short films - but the subject that Onir and I both wanted to tackle is too vast to put into a 20 min film. So we hope to do it as a feature film in the future. Onir has an interesting mind and I like the emotions he tries to bring out in films...hence in his actors. I also think we trust each other at many levels so the outcome is enjoyable.

HCB - The film sounds highly promising with Urmi Juvekar as its story writer ('Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!' and 'LSD'). What was your first reaction when you heard the script and would you say that 'I Am' follows in this same trend to offer audiences "thinking cinema"?

PK - Honestly, when I read 'I Am Afia' I said yes because I had faith in Onir and Urmi but I did not think the script held much weight as I am used to more complex stuff from Onir. I guess being a man grown up in urban India one does not feel certain social pressures a woman may go through. Only after I saw the film did I realise its complexity and now I feel so deeply for Afia.

HCB - How did you prepare for this particular role?

PK - (Laughs) I find this question amusing since the role is of a sperm donor. But more importantly I needed to understand where he comes from. His upbringing is very different from mine. I have grown up in Mumbai, the trend setting city of India where 'everything is cool'. Suraj, the character, is from a much smaller town and he is governed so much by social standing and is embarrassed about what he does, as sex and all its relations are still such a hushed and controversial subject to be associated with.

HCB - The film was not only produced by Anticlock Films but we have read that many Facebook users also chipped in to participate in the production of the film and we find that fabulous. Is this true? And if so, do tell us how that idea came by and how it worked out.

PK - It is Onir's inovative idea as I mentioned before. As brilliant an idea he has worked overtime communicating with people and pulling this through. I think he has done a fantastic job.

HCB - You have been accumulating several juicy roles over the years. Is there a dream character you would love to portray?

PK - I am hoping someone gives me some action to do. I think I would pull that off well.

HCB - What are your feelings on having 'I Am' screen outside of India and what is your take on the distribution and appeal of Indian cinema overseas?

PK - Well, it is not the first time Onir's films have travelled overseas. his sensibility is very international. I feel Onir and Sanjay (Suri) are at the forefront of a new kind of cinema coming out of India and a new image to film that comes out of Bollywood.

HCB - Is there any particular actor / actress you would like to share the screen with at this point? Any particular director(s) you would like to work with?

PK - Oh, there are many. India is full of interesting minds to tap. Working with these people is the only way I can get to do that. There is so much to learn and understand, so many emotions to feel. I am open to experience...

HCB - How do you see yourself professionally 10 years down the line?

PK - Too far ahead to think. I just make sure I am happy at the end of each day. Ten years will show itself...

HCB - What other profession would you have done if you had not been an actor/model/VJ?

PK - I wanted to be pilot at one time but I cannot think beyond entertainment now.
HCB - What type of cinema do you personally enjoy, from India and if applicable from abroad?

PK - It is a mix and as an actor I feel I would like to do it all and not limit myself. Of course there is a certain sensibility that has to be there. So even in my choice of films I think it really depends on the mood of what I feel like watching. I mean... I can watch a completely senseless Indian movie and enjoy it fully.
HCB - Do tell us more about your future projects ('Turning 30', 'Mocktail' and any others).

PK - Both these films will be seen only next year so there is no point getting into them now. I will just tell you that 'Turning 30' is about an urban Indian woman (Gul panag) going through the trials of turning 30 and 'Mocktail' is a Hindi adaptation of 'Mid Summer Night's Dream'.

Thank you Purab for your time, the Hindi Cinema Blog appreciates it and we wish you and the entire team the very best with 'I Am Afia' and your upcoming ventures.

Audiences may see 'I Am' screening at the I-View Festival in Manhattan starting September 18. Purab Kohli and the 'I Am' cast will be attending the opening night and will be available for a Q&A session after the screening. Special event tickets on sale here.

Director: Onir
Screenplay: Urmi Juvekar
Producers: Sanjay Suri and Onir
Cast: Purab Kohli, Nandita Das
Music: Mithoon

'I Am Afia' official webpage
'I Am' official website
Become a fan of 'I Am Afia' on Facebook
Follow 'I Am', Purab Kohli and Onir on Twitter

Synopsis of 'I Am'
"Omar" - When a homosexual man (Rahul Bose) propositions a male prostitute (Arjun Mathur) he is left vulnerable to blackmail when the prostitute threatens to turn him in with the help of a policeman (Abhimanyu Singh) under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

"Afia" - A girl (Nandita Das) decides to become a mother using a sperm donor.[4]

"Abhimanyu" - A director (Sanjay Suri) is haunted by memories of sexual abuse as a child.

"Megha" - After leaving Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandit Megha (Juhi Chawla) returns home to find her childhood Muslim friend Rubina (Manisha Koirala) has suffered.

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