“The Illegal” brings to fore the downside of the Great American Dream, that many chases. Through its gripping narrative, the film mirrors the harsh realities of the young migrants who journey to America in search of a better life but end up struggling to make the ends meet. In an exclusive conversation with Outlook, actress Neelima Azeem talks about relating to the role of being a mother to a child who goes to America to fulfil his dream, to pursue film studies. She says that in her real life she has also lived her children's dream with them. Excerpts:
Doing ‘The Illegal’
Danish Renzu, the director of ‘The Illegal’, came to meet me. Though we met for the first time, it didn’t feel like that. He told me that he is going to shoot the film in Kashmir which was an added benefit. I loved the story and the subject and I felt that it is an area that is pretty untapped. It was a creative boy’s journey and it wasn’t easy because he belonged to a very modest background. I thought it was a wonderful story to tell about an Indian boy who goes out into the unknown so bravely with such passion and intensity. I thought the story of the parents was very positive and I was glad to essay a role like this because for a woman coming from a simple background, I thought it was a unique role to portray. Her emotions were so well merged with her son’s dream and she lived it through him.
How much inspiration did you take from your real life?
I loved my character a lot. I felt I could relate to her despite the fact we have different lives. Her love for her children was something that I could relate to totally. I have also in my real life lived my children’s dreams with them. I have supported them in a positive way and believed in them just as this woman in the film does. And I could relate to the immense love this woman had for her children. It wasn’t difficult for me to feel those emotions.
The title ‘Illegal’
It is a very appropriate title and defines the crux of the subject. So, I don’t think that there is anything that one can point fingers at. All creative people have the right to tell their stories in their own way and it doesn’t always need to be illuminating. The story stems and deals with illegal immigrants.
Your favourite platform…
I think dancing has given me the maximum amount of happiness. I, unfortunately, feel that my dancing was not exploited the way it should have. I was one of the only actresses in the film industry who was a Kathak exponent with a huge fan following. The ‘abinay’ of dance is extremely detailed and brilliant. Dance has made me a compassionate person. I owe all my popularity as an actress to television. It was ‘Phir Wohi Talaash’ and slipping into the role of ‘Shenaz’ was so natural. There was a whole volume of work that I had done with television with very fine makers.
Films, too, have a magic of their own. The camera comes right to your eyes and then enters your soul. My experience as a stage actress too gave me an amazing amount of freedom. To experience the breadth and sigh and happiness of the audience is an extremely wonderful feeling. Web series tells a story in a long feature format so there is a lot of detailing of everyday life. There are many kinds of subjects that you can pick up. So, every platform has its own uniqueness. All this amalgamation of art is like kneading the dough nicely and then only you can make a good chapati (Indian bread) and here a good chapati is making of a fine actor.
Journey in the entertainment industry
I think I didn’t get my due in the industry for the kind of theatre and dance experience I had. I had a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders with my personal life, being a single mother. Today when I look back at it and look at the results of bringing up my children, I feel so happy. I feel it was worth every bit of the time that I had given to my children, Shahid Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter. Now, I am in a place of extreme pride and joy that I have produced such brilliant craftsmen.
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