In Her Words: Mahira Kakkar talks Nirmala, her character in WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER.
The intricate nature of When January Feels Like Summer creates a complex reality with multifaceted characters to match. Mahira Kakkar plays one of these parts, Nirmala, a struggling wife and business owner trying to keep tradition of her native India alive while satisfying her own needs.
What has been the most rewarding part about this production?
I don’t know if I can focus on any one single thing. I have worked with Daniella Topol (the director) before, and getting to work with her again was a gift. I got to work with a dear friend of mine – Debargo Sanyal – and got exposed to three other super smart actors. I love that audiences responded to the character Debargo played with empathy. I am thrilled that so many people come to see the show. What really moved me was when some people who weren’t regular theatre goers came, young people whose story was basically being represented on stage, and they loved it.
What has been the most challenging part of playing Nirmala?
I think finding her steel and vulnerability was challenging. She’s a stronger, smarter woman than I am, and so I had to think of her in those terms and find her. Playing opposite Debargo, who is basically a comic genius, is also hard, because I often want to laugh at the things he does, and Nirmala might not find them as amusing.
Nirmala gathers a lot of strength in order to manage a business by herself, support her brother, and care for her husband. Where do you think this strength comes from?
Nirmala’s pretty businesslike and strong, yes. I think she feels she has to be – she has a lot of things to take care of. Duty and loyalty I think are important to her – more so than personal happiness perhaps. Put another way, it’s a kind of love that she might have grown up with – love as action, as doing, as being there when the chips are down – though I’m pretty sure this is my way of thinking. I know women like Nirmala who would roll their eyes if I were to use language like this in front of them.
How has your own personal background influenced your work in When January Feels Like Summer, since you and Nirmala both grew up in India?
I have had the good fortune to meet and interact with women like Nirmala, for whom family, duty and tradition are paramount. Smart, very capable women who choose every day to fulfill what they think are their responsibilities. I think mostly the accent work comes easily to me, because of my background. I think women like Nirmala exist everywhere in the world, in different cultures.
You’ve worked on some incredible projects in the past, both on stage and film. Do you have any advice for young artists looking to break into the theatrical scene?
Don’t give up, have faith in yourself, take the long line, try and be kind to everyone including yourself, write your hate lists in pencil (the late Ms. Joan Rivers said that last one), work harder than you think you can, give over to this thing you love. Also, know that everything will work out and that you will be just fine. That’s my truth.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from theatre, either from When January Feels Like Summer or even beyond?
I’m part of a great tradition – what I do contributes a little bit to the tapestry – so I have to do my work well, but also know that without other people around me, supporting the story, it wouldn’t happen. I think I’m talking about respect for the artist/craftsperson in myself and in other people. It’s also really fun and joyous, and it should be. I think that that’s right, it is ok, warranted and necessary to feel joy in this often brutal world. Oh, and also to drink lots of water.
For more information about the production, visit When January Feels Like Summer’s page.