Miral, directed by acclaimed artist and director Julian Schnabel, starring Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto and highly praised Palestinian actress Yasmine El Masry is based on the biography of Palestinian writer and anchorwoman Rula Jibreal.
During the festivities at the Abu Dhabi Film Fest, where it celebrated its Middle East premiere, I met with the makers of Miral. It was an encounter that stirred so many different emotions in me for the Palestinian cause is something we grew up with yet never really understood from the inside, through the eyes of a young Palestinian girl, for example.
Miral is the true and sincere account of the life of Rula Jibreal back in East Jerusalem, where she grew up and experienced Israeli occupation and its horrendous impact on the Palestinians. The plot introduces us to the women who shaped Rula’s life, guided, helped and rescued her.
We are introduced to Hend El Husseiny, an altruistic woman who dedicated her life to raising Palestinian orphans, who fell victims of Israeli atrocities in a home she established and warmly called “Dar El Tifl” (Home of Children). Due to the violence and expansion of Israeli forces her children increased to two thousand in a very short time. Hend El Husseiny passed away in 1994 without seeing her country freed. Hend stands for the generation who witnessed the creation of the Israeli state and lived before that in peace and unity among Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
We learn about the beautiful Nadia, excellently portrayed by Yasmine El Masry, who fled the sexual abuse of her father and struggled on dancing jobs to make ends meet and drown her anger and hurt soul in alcohol. She becomes the fallen girl form Jaffa, home to Israeli invaders. When sentenced to six months in an Israeli prison for a minor charge she meets Fatma, a nurse, serving three life sentences as an alleged terrorist. Fatma and Nadia become friends. Before leaving prison Fatma introduces Nadia to Jamal, her brother, an Imam and the gardener of the Aqsaa Mosque. They marry and give birth to an only daughter; Miral.
Miral is a little girl who grew up in a peaceful yet disturbed home. Her relationship with her father is the protagonist. Her mother Nadia’s past seems to always catch up with her troubling her psyche until she took her life. Jamal takes Miral to Hend El Husseiny’s Dar El Tifl, where she grows up. As a teenager Miral is confronted with the Intifada and a new Palestinian uprising of the her generation, that of refugee camps and oppression. She falls in love with Hany, a Palestinian activist, who nurtures her political consciousness. After she gets arrested by Israeli authorities and experiences traumatic torture the struggle between trying to survive and wanting to free their country erupts.
With hopes for the Oslo agreement and a better future with freedom and identity Hend sends Miral away to Italy to finish her studies. Until now the Oslo Agreement has not been honored.
I watched the film twice while at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and I was lucky to meet with the makers of this great film and discuss their visions. Ironically, Julian Schnabel , the director, is an American Jew, whose mother supported the Zionist movement, yet he was able to walk in the shoes of a little Palestinian’s girl and tell her story of oppression. Yasmine El Masry, half Palestinian and half Egyptian, grew up in refugee camps in Lebanon until she settled in France. With roles in Nadine Labky’s “Caramel” and award winning “Pomegranate and Myrrh” she revealed her great talent and graceful beauty. Frieda Pinto plays Miral and the physical resemblance between Rula Jebreal and Frieda adds to the authenticity of this picture.
Then I met Rula Jebreal, a graceful woman with her head up high, smart and passionate and full of fight. For the first time in my life I was deeply touched and impressed by the courage this woman reflects and stands for. I felt humbled and some sort of Arab patriotism arose in me, directly followed by the guilt feeling of being a bystander to the cause. We ordered coffee and began to talk.
How does it feel to see your life on celluloid, isn’t it difficult to watch?
The truth of the matter is that it was harder to live that life than write about it or see it on screen. I don’t feel emotional about it because I took some distance from it. Writing gives you this kind of distance, it’s a way to heal yourself and you take some time to analyze the facts. When we were shooting the movie I accepted my own destiny, in a way. But I can make my own destiny for the future. That’s what I inherited from my family, from my society. That’s what my country is about. So in a way, what I do with my life is that I make my own destiny and make it difference every day. Try to make it difference by writing, by denouncing or by talking about it.
Was it your way of digesting what had happened?
Absolutely yes. The real achievement is what I see in the audience, their response and if they are indifferent to my story or not. That would have hurt me I, but the reactions were very warm and emotional. People see things differently, some in one way and others in another. I think all of us when we see this movie we feel ashamed about certain things and we feel great about other things. I tells our dark side and our good side and that’s what helped me in life.
You achieved a lot in Italy. How was the transition for you? Hend was telling you it was a transitional phase.
She told me this is a transition. You need to think about your education, your future. It will not be easy so don’t think that everything will be pink and roses from tomorrow. It will be difficult to built this new state. (when this was said Hend didn’t know yet that Israel would not honor the agreement)
In Italy it wasn’t difficult. Because in Italy you have at least freedom of movement, freedom of speech, you feel free as a woman to study and to accomplish. We’re forbidden from these things in our country. If I wanted to study in my country it would’ve been impossible to me to become an anchorwoman. It’s unheard of that an orphan from nowhere can become a major anchorwoman in a country, especially in a war-zone. It happens in Europe. Europe gave me that chance. Does it happen in any other country? Arab countries? I don’t think so. You have to be very close to the elite or to the regime. Let’s put it this way. To the regime. So they might put you there, might allow you to be there. Nobody allows you to do anything in Europe. What you accomplish is your own work.
The story is set in your war, in your country, in the backdrop of your life, Hend’s life and Nadia’s life. Three strong women, victims to the brutality to what’s happened to your country, yet it is a story about hope, about a moving mountains. Everyone of your protagonists moved a mountain. Tell us more about that please.
Everybody. Every woman every day, struggles against many things. I’m sure your life is not easy. To be just and fair and keep your own credibility as a journalist you need to work so hard. A woman moves mountains every day. If she’s a mother, if she’s a teacher, if she’s a wife. That’s the kind of life, of course, that we face every day. But if we put on top that a conflict. On top of that, that you come from a very poor background and you’re an orphan then that makes it almost impossible. What Hend taught me is that you can make anything, achieve anything, even if you’re a woman, and even if you are poor. It’s the amount of work and commitment and study that you put in that get back to you. And that’s what I really love about her. She’s the one that made me believe that I can do anything. So when I met the Prime Minister in Italy and interviewed him three times, I didn’t feel like he was a powerful man. I felt that the power was in my questions, that he or his own people will answer, and I treated him in a very equal way. I didn’t think he was a big deal. And that I had from him, because he treated everybody equally. So when Bill Gates approached me to be interviewed for the 20th anniversary, I told him that I had to check my schedule first and that if I agree all my questions will not be discussed in advance. The interview was so much fun because it was free and it’s that freedom that gives me self-confidence and keeps me going.
At which point did you decide you want to write Miral?
I wrote it for myself. I didn’t think it would become a successful book or film. I really didn’t think. When my publisher asked me to write about how an immigrant became famous in Italy I wasn’t fond of the idea at all. I suggested to write something interesting about the life of these women who were really strong. This is when he said that I would have to add myself, to add Miral, the connection to these women. So when I saw the book in 12 countries, I was shocked. You know everyday every month. My publisher would come up to me and say. We have Russia. We have China. We have Spain we have Brazil, we have France, we have Portugal, and I said are you sure? And he said yes. One day he came up to me and said we have India, America and England. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I looked at my daughter. Her name is Miral. I looked at her and said can you believe that? And she said. Of course I believe that it has my name on it. I feel blessed. I feel really lucky. If you want to touch people’s heart and mind, you own them and if you connect to people through a true story…
Why did you call it Miral? You wanted to give your legacy to your daughter?
Exactly. The transition. Hend handed me the ‘baton’ and I wanted to hand it to my daughter. It’s something that somebody made to carry on forever. It’s the care for the others. When I left Hend told me make your own destiny. Make the best of it. She said. Don’t forget about this place and the girls you leave behind. I thought she wanted me not to forget the memories. When she died I understood that she didn’t want me to forget to care more and more about them. Even when I had to leave my country. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book.
How do you raise your daughter?
Well, my daughter called me yesterday she said mom can you please speak at our school because we are collecting money for a school in Afghanistan. I didn’t ask her to collect money for a school in Afghanistan for orphans or whatever but I feel like talking about that subject everyday in her life planted a seed in her. I don’t know what I did. But for everything I did that’s the result.
What about her roots to your country?
We go every year. She loves it. She considers herself Italian and Palestinian. So we go there, we spend the summer. My sister, my family. We go to “Dar El Tefl” we sleep there and she plays with the girls. I mean, that’s her country, her roots. That’s her culture and she simply loves it. She connects. When she watches television and sees our image portrayed in the US as radicals and violent people, she argues. She would come angry from school and asks me how we can change this wrong image. There is so much generalization and stereotypes and I would tell her that it will take time and slowly it will happen. It will take movies, books and cultural events, but it will happen.
Do you believe in peace?
Absolutely yes! Sixty years ago Europeans used to hate each other. Wars, destruction, genocide. No economy and no democracy and what happened? Now they have a great democracy, a great economy and freedom. If ithappens in Europe then could happen anywhere.
How close are we to peace in your country?
We are very far away. Very far. It’s a tragedy. It’s really a tragedy. But in most dark moments in history people kept on working for peace, paving the way and believing in it and they are the people that make a change. I really hope for that. Ghandi managed to destroy the British empire and he was one man with his ideas, with his heart. We need people like that. We need these kinds of people in my country. We had them. Slowly they will come back. And will come up.
You said that peace died when the bullet hit Rabin’s head?
Yes, the Israelis killed him. They killed peace and with it the man who created and wanted this very peace. They never talk about the radical Israeli who killed Rabin in the Western world. This is what really needs to be established. People like Rabin need to come back and speak up for peace. We knew on the spot it was an Israeli that killed him, no Palestinian can go there with a weapon. And he was so close to him. He managed to shoot him twice. It’s a tragedy.
What is left of Palestine? 5%. You accept 22% and you go on with your life or you accept nothing and you keep on living the same way. I mean, my vision, you saw the movie. My vision was one country for everybody and Hany said let’s have 22% and they will never accept this. My vision and Miral said this in the movie I would like to have one country for everybody. They could live there the Israelis, we want I want one country. Is that reasonable is that possible? I think it’s impossible. Nobody will accept that. Nobody. But the PLO Arafat signed for 22%. 80% of the Palestinians wanted that solution. 80%. In any democracy you respect what people tell you. I’m a democratic person. I would accept what my people tell me. If my people choose the 22% I have so much respect for the public opinion and the popular will. The nation will. What is a nation about? What kind of country do you want? Do you want a dictator to run us forever or do you want to have a democratic where people’s voice is heard. Is people’s voice heard in other countries? I Jordan In Egypt and other countries. I don’t know. So what the PLO did in 1991/1992 they sent people allover the country and they find out that 80% of the people wanted peace, they signed for peace. And you know, they did the best choice in the country. I didn’t succeed, not because of us, but because one didn’t respect. They killed Rabin they didn’t respect the deal. But from our side, we showed the world that we are peaceful people.
When I grew up in Germany and saw at the news I thought that Palestinians were terrorists. Once when I got older I asked my dad why are the Palestinians terrorists and why do they keep bombing places? He said, “honey they are freedom fighters”. When I came to Egypt I started understanding the other side, untold in the West, and what occupation and war mean. You as a key figure in media what can you do?
I’m doing it already. With me being the way I am when interviewing people for example. You already create a shock, because these people look at me and ask are you sure you’re a Palestinian? You look so normal. And I tell them Palestinians are normal. With this movie I’m showing that we are civil. But the truth of the matter is by being who we are today, writers, journalists, intellectuals. You already fight. You already establish that the image is not the one in Western media. But it will take a lot of effort. My concern is that this movie is seen in America, because that will create a shift.
Have you ever thought about creating a Hend Al Husseiny foundation?
There is one. It is run by her daughter Hedaya, her adopted daughter, we are all her daughters.
You currently mentioned writing a book about Egypt. About the relationship between Copts and Muslims. Did the recent incidents that inspire you to write it?
No, I wrote this book in 2008. It is about how colonial systems break a nation in order to rule it. The British did what the Americans did in Iraq. Dividing the nation into Shiaa, Sunni, Coptic, Christian and create problems among them. You’re different you’re not like them. And this is what every colonial system does. This is what my book is about. Most Palestinians are Muslims but then 30% are Christians, and we all consider ourselves Palestinians. So I wrote a book to understand. We need to go back to that concept. We are one Arab nation. The concept of one nation worked well in Europe. You can cross Paris and go all the way to Germany without an ID. And they all call themselves Europeans.
Do you think this is possible for Arabs?
We need a lot of reforms.
Do you think that Palestine is neglected by the Arab World?
What do the Arab regimes do for us? What are they doing? I’m not talking about being neglected I’m talking about the reality of the facts. They talk, they talk, they talk. They announce, they announce, they announce. The Palestinian issue is abandoned. It’s like an orphan. It’s waiting for somebody like Hend but that’s not somebody from the Arab governments.
That’s somebody from the inside?
Not from inside, also somebody from the outside. Because now we have this big movie that speaks up to the western audience about our cause and about image of Muslims. So who’s promoting this movie? All Europeans, Americans, Westerners. It’s a shame that we don’t we have the chance to promote these kinds of projects. 120 billion dollars spent for arms. If we allocate 0.001 percent to our culture then the situation will be different. The Americans laugh when they see Jilbabs. I fell proud when I see Jilbabs because it means I stick to my traditions. They think that we are backward, that we are ridiculous. We need to switch that image. The Americans won the world with their cinema.
It’s unreal that an Jewish American director would direct this movie, tell us about that.
Unheard of, and you know he did so much for us. More than, sorry to say this, many of our people. I’m so proud of him. Julian is not religious nor his family. After the holocaust, the wanted a dream. They believed in a dream, to have a home and country. What I believe in is his consciousness, and he didn’t compromise my work. So you know, the fact that he portrayed Arabs and Palestinians this way is incredible. Because Americans will listen to that, will hear and look at that. Because they are shocked now that somebody like him managed to do such thing. Shocked, shocked, shocked. And to me it’s more shocking because I didn’t expect that a man like him, an American, will understand and will walk in the shoes of a little Palestinian girl. This tells about how great he is.
What’s your dream?
For us as Arabs, is to have a different image abroad. To really succeed in re-establishing our image the way it’s supposed to be. I dream for my country to be free. I dream that my children, that my countrymen will live in a free Palestine. It’s a shame that sixty years passed and we’re still talking about that. It’s a shame that our children will have to go through this again. It’s unbelievable, what our parents suffered.
The solution is to invest in culture and education. We don’t understand that investing in money will take us nowhere and you know what, you want to invest, you have your own money, do whatever you want, but if you put a certain amount in culture you’ll make a huge difference, because this nation, if it will succeed it will rise from culture, from education. It will not rise from military power. It will never rise.
You know what the Caliphs used to do, they translated books from all over the world. They invited poets and intellectuals. Look at Baghdad, what has it been? The cultural capital of the world. Europe was living a nightmare in hell during that period. We were the leaders in science, arts, medicine and astronomy. Look at India, China all these rising nations and see what they are investing in.
Would you think of going into politics or would you rather be a free independent voice?
I never thought about politics. They offered me a post once. I didn’t think it was for me at that moment. I was 33 year old. But the truth is, I ‘m happy where I am now. Free.
We stopped. Breathed out.Engaged in some mundane small talk. She flipped through an issue of What Women Want…Magazine that I had given her until it was time to catch her other interview. She stood up expressed her liking to come to Egypt soon, gave me a sincere hug and left.
Overwhelmed from her story and flashed from her bravery I was still a little taken when I sat down with the beautiful actress Yasmine El Masry, who played Nadia. Funny enough that whenever Egyptian genes are involved you always manage to find a very good common friend.
Yasmine El Masry
How did you life change after “Caramel”?
I think that “Caramel” placed me on the map. It is the start any actress would dream of. It wasn’t my plan at all, my passion was for arts and dancing. I was a professional dancer in a company for ten years and when I stopped I enrolled at college majoring in multimedia. So I was doing my art when I met Nadine Labky at the Residence d’artiste in Paris. She was there to write “Caramel” and we became friends. After seven months she called me and told me to tape myself and send it to her, I was in Budapest at that time. So I did. A month later she called and told me someone will come to you home and tape you again. So it happened. When I first went to the production house and saw film posters on the wall I realized that this is becoming real and that I might be taking a life changing decision. So I left myself flow.
And then Miral came along, how did that happen?
Miral came to me in a very beautiful way. I met Julian in Paris, he is a very humane and humble man. He sent me the script and took me out for dinner and it turned out that this was the casting, just getting to know me, my views and myself. We went to Palestine and shot Miral. I felt I had aged ten years and at the same time rejuvenated ten years. With Miral I didn’t let myself flow to see what will happen, I had a responsibility towards myself, the director and the audience, as it was my forth film.
Being Palestinian Nadia is not just a role, is it?
It’s my life. This is a double sided sword. Nadia forced me to go inside of me, my history, my childhood. To be again confronted with the dream of a free Palestine that we grew up with. I had to take from this notion as to give life to Nadia. At the same time I had to free my mind from all that to allow Nadia to be, give her space and freedom to be her character. So it was intense, like entering into my own existence and renouncing it again. My relationship with Rula and Julian helped me a lot. Julian was giving confidence and artistic directions and humanity. Rule helped me to say the truth since this is her story.
How was the first encounter with Rula?
I arrived in Jaffa. Of course entering Palestine is not an easy thing at all, especially when you are Palestinian. I entered with my French passport. I couldn’t say that I am entering my country and I couldn’t say that I am Palestinian but I kept telling myself I am here for a bigger cause, more important that telling that I am Palestinian. I have been in Palestine only three times in my life, it was my second time. I was very moved and emotional and I needed someone to just embrace me. Then Rula came took me in her arms and said “ahlan habibti” (welcome darling). After we did the fitting and finalized all about Nadia, Rula invited me to her house for lunch, we stayed up chatting until the next morning. Doing this film and meeting her was like ensuring my existence. I identified myself with her like a sister I can look up to, a Palestinian success story.
Every woman in this film made a difference and represented a certain generation of Palestinians and her response to the occupation. Hend devoted her life to give the orphans a future, while Miral is the fruit of this seed. Nadia is the raped and occupied soul of a lost generation stuck in the middle, neglected by the world, what do you think about that?
It is not wrong to say so. Throughout our history, in the past sixty years, so many things happened and not only the Palestinian people suffered. I grew up in the Arab world, almost all Arab countries support the Palestinian cause, but unfortunately, regimes and governments take decisions to protect themselves and their interests. As you said Nadia is the only one in the film who didn’t engage politically or in any uprising. She was jailed for hitting an Israeli woman. Nadia embodies the suffering of the raped Palestinian woman in the light of Israeli occupation. Not only the physical rape she endured but also the mental.
So we had to wait until a Jewish American director would pick up the story and film it?
The Arab world is not ready. People are surprised. They can’t imagine a Jewish American director would ever do such a film. Sadly, our societies are so stuck on the conspiracy theories and stopped being able to think straight. People closed their brains to protect themselves, so they tell themselves that they are victims of the regime and they will not read and not think. Why read if all is conspired by the regime anyway? I want to tell you that Israelis read our books, watch our films and watch our news. How do we want to win a war when we don’t know our opponent? Some judge Miral without seeing it. That’s stupid! Build your own opinion and then decide if you like it or not. There is a Tunisian producer who invested in this film and Arab distributors. We need to tell the Arab people that this is a support to the cause not a conspiracy, that’s why we are here. And by the way I grew up as a Muslim and we respect Jews and Christians, they have always been part of the Arab world. We need awareness, honesty and knowledge.
With that we exchange numbers and goodbyes for she has to catch a photo shoot. Charged with the auras of the women I take a sip of my now cold coffee and reflect, while I wait for my turn with Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto who is gorgeous as ever in a dark green dress, smiling and answering the same questions over and over again like a pro, without star allures. She played Miral, Rula Jebreal. With a perfect English accent the twenty something model turned actress eloquently manoeuvres herself through the claws and often silly questions of the press.
Pinto is a Portuguese name, where did that come from?
Well I think it must’ve come from Portugal in a way but I’m 100% Indian. I think it’s in 1500 that the Portuguese invaded India so I think you might be right. I haven’t dug that deep into my ancestors to find out if I have Portuguese ancestors, but definitely I do agree with you. Pinto is a Portuguese last name.
What changed from being a model to being an actress?
Everything. It’s a whole different ball game. You know, being a model is less challenging for me. I mean, when you’re acting in a film, you’re very much in touch with the human side. You have to be. There’s no two ways about it. I think, sometimes, I won’t call it mindless but sometimes modelling is, I don’t think you put much thought into it, but when you’re acting you really have to put your entire self into it, you can’t be distracted for a single moment. That’s what I really like about acting. I am not saying that modelling is a bad profession, but it wasn’t for me. When I started, I did it for some time, but within a year I got bored. I’ve been acting for two years and I can’t wait to start my next project so that means I’m not bored.
Did you start modelling by coincidence?
No, it was a plan. I got my BA and thought that modelling would be my ticket into film.
You’re from India. You have a many actresses there and beautiful women. To start acting and modelling, the competition is huge.
Yes, it’s very competitive. It’s a pretty competitive acting and modelling world. But I think, everybody should be aware in this field that they have something very unique to offer. What you have is not the same that I have and what I have is not the same s you have. So instead of trying to copy a person, I should take pride in what I have and try to stand out. And I think is important, you know. And I think the rest of it is destiny, really. How much can you plan.
Did you expect Slumdog Millionaire to be a global hit?
None of it was expected. And I think to expect something like that you need bea bit too pompous and full of yourself. I think Danny is such a grounded director that he actually told us at the end of the film you’ve done a great job be happy that you’ve done and cannot really predict the fate of the film and what is going to happen and even if 50 thousand people watched the film then it’s fine. But 50 thousand people did not watch the film 50 million people watched the film, I’m guessing.
Why do you think you were chosen?
That’s a question for Danny Boyle. I don’t know.
He didn’t tell you anything?
He said it in one of the interviews that when he saw me in an audition tape he thought it was going be me and when he met me as well he thought it was going be me but he wanted to be absolutely sure and to give other girls a fair chance, as well, which I think is very important. Then after giving them a chance, he realized that he was coming back to me, why he did it, I don’t know. But I guess one thing he said was he wanted the girl to be believable. That the main character of the film would go to any lengths to win him back. And he said that kind of innocence and that kind of determination needed to be there. So I think he saw it in me.
I was told that when one becomes successful one has to watch oneself, is that true?
Yes that’s right. When you gain too much success too soon you tend to also get lost. I think you need to be grounded and that’s important. And for that I have my family and my friends and mother, who still tells me that I need to not throw my stuff around. You need something that is very homey and that’s very grounding.
Were they always supportive about your acting?
Always, I think they’ll be surprised if I did anything else. Because ever since I was little they knew I was going into acting. If I became a doctor they’d probably think I’m sick.
Tell me what happened to your life after Slumdog?
I think Slumdog Millionaire was an amazing journey. It was good to know that it was not the end of the journey. The journey actually started with Miral and Slumdog Millionaire was the learning process of the journey, so Miral is really the start of my journey.
How easy for you was it for a non-Arab or non-Palestinian to slip into the role of Miral?
I don’t think ethnicity really came into the picture. The problem with me was the accent, mannerisms, you know, things like that, which are more technical. I think that was the bigger challenge, but actually understanding the human story is not that difficult. If I told you today about something that happened to me in my childhood and if you were probably connected to your human side you would feel for me you would want to reach out to me and I think that is more important. You should be able to have the ability to be human. A humanitarian approach is required for a film like this not, not a political one.
It’s a really intense role, it’s an intense story. It’s very touching, for me it’s as intense as Latika in Slumdog Millionaire. So you’ve been doing really intense roles. How do you move in and out and how do you go about that?
Miral was a different kind of intensity for me. It wasn’t the kind of intensity that Latika had. I think that it was easier to play Latika, because she was from my country, she was from my city. I just had to learn a little more about things that I had not learned, I’ve been ignorant about. But Miral was a whole different story, completely unlike mine and it wasn’t really easy getting in and out of it. From walking down the red carpet, then back to reality and going to refugee camps. That’s completely different. You can’t even compare. It was definitely like north and south.
Did you have to learn a lot about the Palestinian conflict?
I definitely learned a lot. I read a lot of books and I watched a lot short films. But I feel the real learning came from the field work. Going to people and directly talking to them about their stories at refugee camps, orphanages, and “Dar El Tefl”, where Rula grew up. Staying with a Palestinian family for that matter. I think that’s where I actually learned. And honestly, I know I’m Indian and I don’t belong to the Arab world, but I belong to the world nonetheless. I always say that I cannot offend someone for being human. I hope I have not offended the Arab world by playing a Palestinian girl. But all I had, all that everybody had is good intentions. And I honestly feel very privileged to be a representative of a woman. Rather than a woman from the Arab world or a woman from India.
How was the first encounter when you actually met Rula?
I was so enamoured by her. I just met her for the first time in her house in Jaffa. This house that they were staying at in Jaffa, while making the film. And she opened the door for me and she gave me a big hug and then she said you can do this, you know. And I just looked at her, and there was so much written on her face but at the same she conducted all of it like a beautifully well-strung orchestra. When she gets passionate about something she doesn’t let it show on her face, she’s very calm about it, yet she speaks with so much conviction that you want to listen to her and I was just saying that if the world had more women like this, who can speak their minds and go bravely without worrying about what is going to happen next, but do it in a smart way, by not picking up a gun, by not throwing bombs, and throwing stones, you know. It’s such a smart way of doing it. I mean, what she’s done right now, in the original book, she put her life story in the book, Julian making a film of it, is so brave. It’s actually braver than fighting.
What is Miral for you? Every actor has a certain relationship with the character that he embodies or plays. What did Miral trigger in you?
I think it triggers in me this understanding of another person’s story. My country was also in war with a neighbouring country for quite some time. We’ve had unrest and not so peaceful relationships with the neighbours for the longest time and I think one way we can break this kind of barrier is through culture, entertainment and cinema. And what I learned from children over there is that children really are the future, you know. It’s not just over there. Also in India, they really are the future. Instead of taking the future away from them and teach them hatred we can show them sympathy and love. I really hope this film encourages a lot of people to do something for the children. Don’t think about doing it for the country but maybe for the children. That’s more human.
What do you think women want?
They want to be heard.
And with that she elegantly excuses herself with her publicist pointing at the watch for another journalist is awaiting her.