Manjinder Virk: Transcendent Talent

Sunetra Senior Monday 19th December 2016 04:31 EST

Captured in photographs and various movie stills, actress-writer Manjinder exudes a quiet accomplishment. Have the pleasure of watching, or better yet, actually talking with her and this crescendos into a near impossible brilliance. For a start, she is currently playing Dr Kam Karimore on ITV’s much loved, iconic crime-drama Midsomer Murders, as a central, recurring character, often pictured as such between the two lead constables Chief Inspector John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and Detective Sergeant Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix), breaking down a professional barrier that's arguably more significant than that of glitz-deep Hollywood. The first Asian female to appear on the national emblem of a programme, she is the face of cultural diversity organically woven into the idyllic – historically symbolic - English countryside.


Of course, Manjinder is no new-comer to penetrating ethnic perspectives, playing the main role of a British suicide bomber in the BAFTA-winning drama BRITZ, for which she received tremendous critical acclaim and appeared alongside fellow break-out star, gritty comedy-drama Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed. And it doesn’t stop here. Manjinder seems to proliferate and turn to gold everything she subtly touches. As well as her commercial and television work, she also holds accolades for independent short films and features, for which she has both acted in and written: her biographical performance of playwright Andrea Dunbar in Clio Barnard’s TheArbor earned her nominations for Best Actress and Newcomer at the BIFA Film awards, and Best New Comer at the LFF awards, while the actress’ own cinematic creation, Out of Darkness, featuring herself and long-time friend Ahmed, received Best film and Best Drama at Aesthetica Film Festival as well as Best Film and Best Experimental Film at the Still/Moving Film Festival at Brixton. “I’ve just finished shooting a documentary/drama too – With Love from Calais – which was filmed at the Calais refugee camp,” Manjinder added. “I’ve always been as politically conscious as I am artistic, and the two are becoming very much interlocked for me. Artists - actors, writers and storytellers- all want to understand humanity, and are always in search of the motivations behind people’s actions. This quality is important, now more than ever: we need to be able to listen to each other to live peacefully together at the same time. I feel the refugee plight is very much underrepresented and simply acknowledging what we don’t discuss – what’s essentially a stigma - can be enough in itself. When I’m fiction writing, I also ask those bigger questions together with delving into the immediate human condition." Finally, conquering every kind of limitation, from cultural and social identity to vocational vision, Manjinder shows that having a profound, exploratory energy is the surest way to succeed. Sensitive and smart, contemporary yet classy, warm and humorously humble, the actress makes clear that this is the gift that keeps on giving, keeping its mark through space and time.

Tell us more about your role on Midsomer Murders? What’s it been like; what makes the experience particularly special for you?

Kam is a forensic pathologist who came into the series very confident and eager. She is fascinated by her world and so incredibly committed. She’s also a strong female character who claims her place, but has playfulness about her. She liked to wind up the former detective a little bit.The writers do an amazing job. The episodes are about 2 hours long, and can stand alone. The show stays very rich plot-wise, with about 5 or 6 different people who could be the culprits. We’ve also got an exciting cast, including guest appearances from greats such as Sally Phillips.  

You’ve had a range of deep and challenging roles. How do you research beforehand?

I read up a lot on the character and what they do, and create a back story.  For example with Kam, I researched niche medical terminology, and went to see an amazing pathology exhibition at the Wellcome Centre. After getting to know the jargon, it actually becomes addictive. I watch crime dramas intently now because I can relate so much better!

And would you say that acting is a consummate meeting of emotional and intellectual memory?

Oh yes!

You are very progressive in your views. In terms of getting the message across, do you think the arts can sometimes be more impactful in their visceral power than say the flatter, bureaucratic approach of news?

With my short film, With Love From Calais, I’ve thought about humanising news stories. People do become immune to people’s suffering – just look at the responses to Aleppo - it can be overwhelming. Art – following the actors and immersing yourself in the mood –  is one way of stepping into shoes you wouldn't normally have got the chance to - giving empathy. It’s stimulating and can be very positive for discussion.

Do you have any new films hot off the wire?

I’m developing my first feature film – Home – which is a personal story. It’s also about second and first generation immigrants in England.

You are a big advocate for women and women’s rights. Tell us more about that?

As a mother, I’ve been more sensitive to the issue of parents working in film, and indeed across all sectors, and want to increase the numbers for female representation. I think there needs to be normalisation of family life. We need to understand that being a parent doesn’t compromise your ability.

What grabs you most about the art of acting?

You can lose yourself in the moment in a way that’s very profound. I’ve also enjoyed working with great people. I’ve met some wonderful minds who share a mutual positive vision. 

Was your becoming an actress, and the outspoken person you are today, informed by cultural background?

 Absolutely - my mother, Jasvir Kang is a very strong first generation Punjabi woman and never allowed herself to be a victim. I remember when I was younger, she’d stand right up to racists in the city of Coventry where I’m from. She has such fight. She had a radio show too – Amber radio - where a lot of younger listeners would call in because she’d always hear them out. She’d never pass judgment. My father was very liberal too. He was always proud of his burgeoning family of Sikh artists!

Finally, what’s a good arthouse or independent film you’ve seen recently?

American Honey and Moonlight. Also Incendies.Paterson is another great one out right now – it’s very poetic and takes you on a real journey.

The exclusive link to trailer of Manjinder’s new documentary/drama:

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