It is always a great experience when you get the chance to interview an actor in person rather than over the phone or via skype. This is because of the personal touch, connection or even eye contact that super advanced technologies can never replace.
Beeba Boys marks for Balinder Johal the second collaboration with Oscar nominated filmmaker, Deepa Mehta, the first film being Heaven on Earth. This time Johal portrays a real character, Mrs. Johar, or Mummyji who does not have much control over her son’s life, who quickly becomes a gang leader.
For her decent performance, Balinder Johal was recognized with the Canadian Screen Award Nomination for the best actress in a supporting role. Today, I had the absolute pleasure to sit down with Balinder Johal at Timothy’s to talk about her role, approach, and the importance of traveling into the mind of the character in order to feel the same pain, struggle, or happiness each fictional or non-fictional character must go through.
MOVIEMOVESME: You play Jeet Johar’s mother in Beeba Boys. What is your perspective of the relationship between Mummyji and Johar?
Balinder Johal: Yes I did play Jeet Johar’s mother and it is not a problem for me to put myself into that kind of a situation because I am a mother. Also luckily, Deepa Mehta had a workshop so we had quite a good relationship developed with Randeep Hooda. So it was easy for me to see him as my son.
MOVIEMOVESME: Why do you think as his mother, Mummyji couldn’t influence him much to stop him from entering the criminal path?
Balinder Johal: You know the thing is that she tried. She was not one of the mothers who kept quiet; she did try but at the same time you know how much one generation listens to the other. Your children are in a different generation, one thing. Another thing is when you are leading a gang life, whether you are leader or whether you are not, it is not easy to get out. You cannot get out of it. In the Indian epic Mahabharata, they called it the Chakravyuh, where you can get in but you can’t get out. So he listened to his mother but there was no way he could do that.
MOVIEMOVESME: As a mother of such a difficult character, what do you think made him to get into this world?
Balinder Johal: There could be several reasons. I could analyse not just as a mother but as a person as me, Balinder Johal. But I don’t really want to do that. But I could see that, in his family, it was not a very happy family, it was new immigrants. Sometimes new immigrants don’t get the recognition; they’re seen as strangers and the kids want to be the same with other kids but they can’t be and his family life didn’t seem to be happy because at one point he says, “There are two things I don’t want you to do Papaji: I don’t want you to drink and I don’t want you to beat Mummyji.” So if he had seen abuse in the family this way, he had seen drinking in the family this way, and outside in the larger world he was not being recognised as one of the kids of the community then he just goes to where he’s considered as part of a family. That’s what happens with gangsters. They think they are one big family who support each other, who have the same ideas and moving in the same path. They feel that they love each other and that they are a family.
MOVIEMOVESME: Can you share your experience working with Deepa Mehta?
Balinder Johal: That’s really nice you asked me this. This is my second movie with Deepa Mehta. I did work with her in “Heaven On Earth”. I was a great fan of Deepa Mehta to start with anyway and I had seen her “Water” and I had seen her “Fire” and I knew that she stood for women. And I sent her my resume thinking that even if the ship was there and Canadian immigration did not allow them to come on land there must be some women who were there and they were helping cooking and doing anything and there could be a role for me. But I never heard anything for two years. Then all of a sudden I was on a small set doing something and my agent calls me and says, “Deepa Mehta is on the phone, she wants to talk to you.” I said let me finish this. Then my mind started wondering because it was a small set for actually 24, 48, 72 hour skits for earthquakes. I was cast in that and I was doing that. I told them, I don’t know whether you know Deepa Mehta or not, but to me she’s very important and let me finish what she wants to say to me. They said, “Yeah, go ahead.” Then I talked to her for half an hour, she started talking to me in English and then she says to me in Punjabi, “I want to make a movie in which I want to cast you.” I said that, “I could ask for nothing else I was so happy that you will.” Then she said, “Okay, don’t take any job by 20th of October.” It was August. I said I won’t and she says don’t color your hair. I said, fine, that’s no problem. I really didn’t even tell anybody. I thought what if I tell people, there’s no contract and she changes her mind, which she has right to change? Then I’ll feel maybe I was just making a false statement or whatever. My coach, when I told her, she said, “Balinder, celebrate the moment. If Spielberg called me I wouldn’t worry about if he’d cast me or not. Celebrate the moment that she called you for this thing. If she changes her mind, it’s okay.” So then I started telling people that I think I’m going to be in her movie and she was true to her word. I was in her movie!
MOVIEMOVESME: Do you think there’s something important in this story that all must learn to prevent all kids, as they grow, to not become who Johar became?
Balinder Johal: There’s really I feel that people might think that, “No, we should not show children this movie because there’s too much swearing and there’s killing.” But the thing is there’s no gangster movie which can be made without that. That’s their profession, you either kill or get killed. That’s the way their life is. It’s more like animal life you know. In order to survive you have to kill or be killed. But if people tell their kids, after seeing the movie, “See, no matter how nice they looked, how good they were, how much money did they have, they drove fancy cars, they could buy anything in the world but they could not buy their own life. How short-lived their life was. Do you want to live very short life or do you want to live a long life and you could do something worthwhile in that?” That’s the lesson that none of them survived, and even if couple of them survived, in the long run they’d be gone too at one point or the other.
MOVIEMOVESME: What does it mean being an actress when you take the script and get ready for the role when you study it? What would you like to share about your way of thinking of being an actor and its importance?
Balinder Johal: The thing is, when you get a script and you get a role, although people say that it’s not important to learn the lines but I feel that lines need to be learnt because that’s how the writers convey the message. They should be learned properly but learning the lines is just the first step. Then you have to think how these are not lines anymore, how these are related to my personal life. How can I relate this incident with this thing, it could be called substitution? You know if you need to cry, you need to cry, you really just can’t be pretending. Camera doesn’t lie, it tells everything. You can’t just be pretending that you’re crying. So you have to really keep digging, keep digging until you come to a point that all those lines are not lines anymore; they become part of your life. You become that character. It was easy for me really to cry when he (Jeet Johar) died. Because by that time I was so attached to him I didn’t even use any substitution. In fact, I was happy when he was doing something good, I was sad, it became part of my life, he was my son and I didn’t really see any difference from my real son. That is what made the part easy for me because I was totally his mother at that point in time and that frame of time. So you really have to remember the lines and at the same time you have to really make them part of your living, breathing and life.