Parmar is a tribute to the sometimes misunderstood art of acting. Appearing last week in first of a kind Oxford play ‘Silent on the Matter’, a production confronting the sensitive issue of gender foeticide, and currently gracing the screens in L.A and Buenos Aires film festivals with witty comedy ‘Darren has a Breakdown’, she makes it all the more clear how distinguished her profession. Young yet very sharp, Parmar shines out in a business that is one of the most demanding.
The business of truth
Acting brings to life the exploration of the human condition in the scripts and screenplays: “That’s really what attracted me” gushed the actress - her literary awareness couched by formal training at Stratford College and the RSC vibe surrounding - “understanding people. I enjoy studying the different points of view: what makes people angry? What makes them upset? Their breaking points. Having and sharing that message with the audience is key.” This is certainly true of the two serious dramas she is working on now: “Silent on the Matter’ was written by a woman whose Asian friend was driven to an abortion because her child was not a boy” Parmar explained. “It’s heavy subject matter about a topical event that hasn't yet been put on stage and it’s going to raise some much needed awareness. BBC Asian Network actually had us on to talk about it. I’ve also worked on an alternative short film called ‘She Fell Away’ which features two Indian sisters, one of whom has fallen into psychosis, and tests their relationship; it’s another harsh ordeal in a very real context.”
Seeing her on the set of the latter showed this gritty journalistic quality. The scene of the emotional climax where Parmar’s character finally ‘breaks’, or in a metaphorical mirroring of her sister’s clinical mental deterioration, ‘falls’ in a difficult situation, left the whole film crew tense. A social truth had been successfully communicated. In terms of conceptual delivery, an actress is fighting in the front line, the connotation of physical effort included; “in order to relay the tension of anguish you’ve got to hold it all in, even as you explode” the young talent shared. “People don’t understand how much of yourself you have to give. Especially coming from a background where family is so important, I have to sacrifice a lot of time with loved ones…But,” she continued “I see these challenging scenarios that ask so much of my body and emotions, as the mark of a professional. This sort of gravity is what actors always look for, and I’m proud to have got here.”
However, it’s not all sobriety and ceremonial award-show tears. Having a playful touch is a huge part of acting too, especially if like Parmar, you are a natural comedienne. I was reminded of this when asking about her inspirational movie moment: “that bit from Shrek when the donkey tells him to have a tic-tac” she grinned “general hygiene when you’re rehearsing 24/7 is generally a good thing! See, this is why I’m now ready for this dramatic stuff; I was all comedy before that. I’ve always written poetry and been interested in dance shows and choreography, and in college that energetic imagination just clicked into that direction. I was in an all-girls improv group, and I’ve been on a funny web series”. Her show-reel, endorsed by trendy management company Red 24, exhibits her trademark satire which uses situational humour as opposed to pure dialogue. Rather than the usual dry spirit of the genre, she sparkles like champagne. The skit where she is on a park bench and is asked out by the guy sitting next to her, for example, works well because of the physical setting. ‘And what exactly are your credentials?’ she asks the stunned stranger, ‘What would you bring to the relationship?’ What is supposed to be a casual encounter turns (too) blatantly into an interview: “I’ve been writing up some similar skits for a new British Muslim channel” she continued. “There’s one about a girl who goes to wrong audition and just ends up committing it so I play on the desperation of an actor. We’ve all been there. Another follows a naïve over-ambitious girl from Liverpool who wants to become a film director.”
Parmar is also part of Asian generation X, children – going on ancestors - of immigrants whose backgrounds are increasingly incidental: “the sketches are about everyday scenarios where identities just happen to be Indian. It’s a fresh look at multicultural youth and interactions. I’m one of a few collaborators and it is incredibly rewarding to work with other writers who are so open-minded and open-armed. It’s all very relaxed and that helps it all flow.”
A little stumble
This brought us to the not so amicable, but no less important discussion point of glass ceilings, or should I say, falling stage lights. As if the trade were not intellectually, emotionally - and of course - physically demanding enough, Parmar conferred with me about the problem of cultural stereotyping in the business: “yes, that is probably the most limiting aspect. I mean I always get compared to Parminder Nagra from ‘Bend it like Beckham’. People at the top of the industry still tend to be from a certain upbringing and leaning, and do not fully understand where we're coming from. They do tend to categorise and make assumptions about the roles we are suited for. I see that my white British friends are offered more diverse experiences, and consequently the chance to grow as actors.”
“However”, Parmar made sure to add in her upbeat way, “if we look at the flipside that encourages me to be more myself than ever and I end up wanting to meet people who are like-minded and who I can work together with to be more creative.”
Originally from Birmingham, her Northern accent being a delicious addition of character, Parmar’s is a success story in the big city. Even as we talked, she was in-between one of many auditions and post 48-hour rehearsal: “Life and industry are the same” she finished “and my motto applies to both. I always say it’s about the three‘t’s: truth, trust and tone. When you tell the truth, people will appreciate you. Trust others and you will be more comfortable and perform your best. Finally, be aware of how you come across. We need to be sensitive. Especially if you’re feeling happy, make sure that you’re showing it.”
Bhav’s drama tips
For comedy acting: when you think you need to shut up- DON’T. Just keep going. Carry on and it will be funny. Say that naughty thought and it will translate as funny.
For dramatic acting: I always think of that quote from A Few Good Men; 'you want the truth, you can't handle the truth!’ The play I’m doing at the moment is about feeling the truth of the scene and that's something you've got to learn to handle without feeling overwhelmed.