Amara Karan: Cosmopolitan Candour (Part One)

“I always push the boundaries, trying to be characters who are witty, interesting and true to me”

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 24th August 2022 08:32 EDT

Incandescent, funny and incredibly canny, prominent multidimensional actress, Amara Karan, doesn’t simply excel as exceptional talent but further leads by socially conscious cosmopolitan example. She has played a myriad of memorable yet playfully profound roles, building a strikingly diverse professional portfolio. Her debut, breakout role was the plucky, Rita, in Wes Anderson’s much-loved indie sensation: The Darjeeling Express (2007). In it, Amara plays the magnetic love-interest and stewardess on the titular train. The plot centres on three American brothers who attempt to reconnect through a sentimental journey across the beautiful rural planes of India, inspiring purifying internal reflection. Of course, this proves not so straight-forward where Karan’s character has been praised for subverting the meek South-Asian female stereotype in addition to the film’s generally enjoyable subversive plot. Her rendition of Rita is bold, emotionally dark and autonomous. 

From this point, the sparky actress simply continued to defy socio-cultural expectations as she also challenged herself personally with every edgy indie performance. This is seen in the niche iconic British comedies which predominantly formed the early arc of her career: from her performance as posh-girl, Peaches, in St. Trinians (2oo7), alongside Russell Brand, every bit as rebellious as her fellow classmates, to playing the earnest, Sangeet, in the psychological comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012) opposite Simon Pegg, Amara brings refreshing depth and charisma to the smart fun-having pieces that defined their time: “I always push the boundaries,” she told us. “I try to be characters who are witty, interesting and true to me.”    

Indeed, inclusivity is candid; as well as pushing against racial stereotypes, and bright representation, it also actively surges towards higher progressive vision. As if to underpin her own momentum, such social philosophy is reflected in the actress’ more recent roles which aptly highlight the evolving state of contemporary multiculturalism. Amara recently played high-profile political campaigner, Gina Miller, who is of Guyanese descent, in Tim walker’s play, Bloody Difficult Women, symbolically flying the flag for an ethnically open society alongside that of the European Union.  The production, which ran at the trendy Riverside Studios, was penned by broadcaster and journalist, Walker, and depicted the passionate though polarised politics of Theresa May and Gina Miller and the common misogyny that finally besieged them both. Amara commented: “As a South-Asian actress, it was amazing to play such an influential real-life role model. What Miller did for British politics is remarkable and exciting. She’s a rare gem who is courageous, strong, works extremely hard and propels the principles of big thinking. Society needs these ideas to guide it. I learned a lot about Miller while researching for the part. Like everybody else, I’d seen her in the media take the Secretary of State for Exiting the European (aka Brexit) to court many times. She seriously put her life at risk to further the cause of the country and British democracy: I was moved to tears by her drive. As the playwright is a friend of hers, I actually got to meet her in person as well! It was a privilege to play someone of such magnitude. We’ve celebrated so many of our white counterparts; what a significant development to explore alternative minority triumphs!” Indeed, here, also arises the big question: is the ultimate barometer of cosmopolitanism complete colour-blindness? A place in collective consciousness where talented individuals of any cultural background could conventionally play any legendary white role? ‘Partly’ Amara suggests:   

“I have dreamt of the day when I’d be able to play a non-race specific role,” she shared with us, “but it was not exactly what I’d imagined. I am my own person but also enjoy representing the South-Asian diaspora. Yes, we are individual human beings but our bodies are inevitably fused with space and time; cultural and social histories are signalled visually via appearance. Perhaps it is better to embrace this rather than culturally homogenise or pretend that those differences do not exist. As result, it’s as much about being able to choose as contend for any big acting role. The beauty is in the specifics and this being consummately acknowledged.” Indeed, to be entirely evacuated of rich resonant identity can feel exactly so; empty and unfinished. This can itself become an obfuscation of race, imitating reductive dated binaries over redemptive opposition to them. It seems then that society needs to redo the concept of individuality as deeply complex; honouring people not simply as democratic equals but at once vibrant custodians of their own intimate interconnected truth. This surely reflects an advanced future where the notion of race is fundamentally reinvented; free of superficial empiricism but full of the varied experiential colour that encapsulates the vast spectrum of our modern world.  

In short, we want to aim to be at a higher mindset where everyone is viewed as expansively unique.  As a result, in lieu of just towing the line with just colour-blind casting, perhaps the transformative representative practice lies in what can be called: Holistic Casting. A process of casting moving forward that is fair but socially sensitive, championing inclusive change by showing the presence of race as both meaningful and malleable: essentially loyal to the persistent flux that is the nature of peripatetic life. This can already be seen in David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021) starring Dev Patel. Patel’s Indian descent is used cleverly in the film to newly portray the English figurehead of Sir Gawain: one of the traditionally white knights of Arthur’s roundtable. Far from being a vapid symbol of multicultural virtue, the daring choice of a South-Asian protagonist thoroughly challenges the myopic imagining of British history as limited only to a dominant UK. As one article on Screen Rant specifically states: “in the 12th century, Europe was nowhere near being an isolated continent, as trade was a very important part to sustaining the life of its kingdoms and people. It's not unreasonable to assume that, if King Arthur was a real, historical figure, he would have been surrounded by and interacted with people from different walks of life.” 

In effect, there must be terraforming of our very consciousness: an inner conceptual revolution that manifests the workable infrastructural equality...To be continued next week.

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