Interview with Karma Calling's Barnali Das
The only feature film screened twice at the AAIFF 2009, Sarba Das' Karma Calling follows the story of a Hindu family in Hoboken, New Jersey, in denial about their credit card debt. We caught up with Barnali Das, who plays the oldest daughter, Sonal Raj.
On how she got involved with Karma Calling
Barnali Das: When Sarba first mentioned she was writing a feature based on her short film Mausi, I was intrigued. The short was a great film, and I knew the feature would be brilliant. She had a fresh approach of portraying Indians in a different light. Usually Indians are only seen as the doctors or computer nerds in American films.
While Sarba and Sarthak were still in the writing process, I was the Artistic Director of Rasaka Theatre Company, a South Asian theatre company in Chicago. We invited Sarba to direct a staged reading of the script. During that process I fell in love with her characters. I remember telling Sarba that I wanted to be part of the film in any capacity, on-screen or helping out behind-the-scenes.
On playing Sonal
BD: Sarba and I are cousins, and I knew she had loosely based Sonal on a few people in our family. I remember auditioning for the role, and I tried approaching each scene as I thought these people would. Sonal is so far from who I am and different from any part I've ever been cast in. She is a reserved wallflower, who is angry with where she is in life. I usually am cast as louder, more confident characters. Putting my body into Sonal's was difficult. I tried to embrace her lack of self-confidence, thinking about her posture and her ability to disappear when she is around the rest of her family.
On never meeting her onscreen love interest
BD: Most of Sonal’s scenes are with Rohit Rao (Samrat Chakrabarti) [which take place over the phone]. Sarba made the choice to not have Samrat and I meet. I actually didn't even see Samrat's headshot! So, I did all my scenes with a PA reading Rohit/Rob's lines. While at the time it was quite difficult, it was a brilliant choice for a director make. Samrat and I only worked together for two days, and we actually met on the same day that Sonal and Rohit met.
Another (more personal) challenge during production...
BD: I was 9 weeks pregnant when we started shooting. I have to give major props to everyone who had to put up with my "not just in the morning sickness!" Although most of Sonal's wardrobe made it easy to hide my ever growing belly, the big reveal dress was a what I call a BIG CHALLENGE!!
Favorite part about Sonal's character
BD: She is real. Every woman has had Sonal moments in her life. Whether it's because she isn't where she expected to be in her life or because she is embarrassed by her family, we've all been there. The same things that I found challenging, I loved. I couldn’t hide behind glitz or rely on my fellow actors. I had to bring myself to the role, and I loved that. It was exhausting but wonderful. Her story is a modern-day Cinderella story, and what girl doesn’t love that?
On relating to the film
BD: I loved the family aspect of the story. When I watch other movies I always wonder, “Isn't that character going to call her mom before she does that?” That's how Indian families are. Dysfunctional, maybe, but it's so true. I am so lucky to have been part of such a great film.
Click here to go to Karma Calling's official website.
Click here for APA's interview with director Sarba Das.
Click here for a Q&A with actor Parvesh Cheena.
Published: Friday, August 14, 2009