Recently we had the chance to sit down with the lovely Sarita Choudhury (You may recognize her from the hit show Homeland) during her press day in New York City to hear more about her upcoming film Learning to Drive! The film stars Patricia Clarkson as Wendy a popular book critic getting divorced, and Sir Ben Kingsley as Darwan Singh Toor, Wendy’s new driving instructor. Sarita plays Jasleen who has an arranged marriage to Darwan and flies to New York City from India for the first time! The shy, scared Jasleen is far from the real life Sarita but she definitely does the role justice. Check out what she had to say about the film!
Nila: You’re here in New York for the Learning to Drive premiere so why don’t you start by tell us a little about the film?
Sarita: Well, it’s a film, that I think, deals with every aspect of love from friendship, betrayal, loneliness and freedom.
Nila: What made you take on this role?
Sarita: When I read the script, first of all I’ve never played a role that was so subtle, and discrete and quiet. But there is so much humor in the script, I laughed out loud reading one scene when I was reading the script and I thought OMG I see this character. I don’t know if I can play her but I can see who she is. And also I am obsessed with Isabel Coixet as a director, obsessed!
Nila: Did you enjoy working with her?
Sarita: oh yes (laughs) I miss her right now! I adore her!
Nila: What was something you learned from working with Isabel Coixet?
Sarita: I mean, it’s more I like being directed by her, she has a certain way where she allows it to be this fluid relaxed moment and she’ll say cut and be very specific about what she says. Then she’ll let it go back to being relaxed, so it’s like you’re being told something and you understand and then she lets you be.
Nila: So, she lets you be yourself, right?
Sarita: yes, exactly!
Nila: What do you like best about your character?
Sarita: I mean, I just found her kind of heartbreaking, she’s so umm.. I think just anyone who comes to this country with dreams and expectations and then ends up you know. With a man who’s lovely, but who’s working all the time and ends up in this basement that’s so dark and you have no friends. I think loneliness is one of the hardest things to deal with and it’s one of the most least visible so no one will know how you’re feeling. I was just so touched by the part.
Nila: You are such a lively, sexy person and Jasleen is not, she’s very quiet and very scared. After meeting you I don’t think you are scared of anything in life. Did you find anything you actually had in common with her?
Sarita: (laughs) I mean, I literally didn’t look for anything in common. Umm.. you know I just had to know what to do. It was part of the joy in playing this because the minute I put on the clothes it was so not me and they did my hair up and I was just like “oh no!” It was fun because I didn’t have to rely on anything of mine. But on the other hand it was fun to do all these things and I knew that if anything of mine came in that I was wrong.
Nila: How was it working with Sir Ben Kingsley?
Sarita: So amazing. He had to be in his character so strongly and I had to be in my character so strongly it was like we were two islands but we get to watch each other so much. It was something beautiful. In some films when you use your own accents and play characters close to home you tend to merge into other people and relax but we weren’t like that. I mean, I had to hold onto what I was doing and he had to hold on to what he was doing so in a weird way there was this odd chemistry where we had to watch each other isntead of fall into each other.
Nila: So Sir Ben Kingsley is not of Punjabi descent, he is actually part Gujrati but what did you think of his portrayal of Darwan, do you think someone of Punjabi descent could have been a better pick for the role? He was great with picking up all the little nuances but do you think a Punjabi actor would have been better?
Sarita: I’m of the belief just go for the actor you want because no matter who you get that is closer to the character and then you have to teach them to be as good as Ben Kingsley, which is harder to do! So I always think just go for the actor you want and they will do the best they can with the dialect and whatever. It really is the actor, (laughs) I mean in the old days men were playing women in Shakespeare so why not! Right?
Nila: What scene was the hardest for you to shoot?
Sarita: I think the scene where he asks me to read from the book because I just wanted Jasleen to look like someone who was deep even though she couldnt’ read. It was tricky for me, That scene was so long and silent, it was just hard because the camera was on me for a while.
Nila: Yes, there was a moment, it was an awkward silence type of moment
Sarita: exactly, I didn’t want to break the scene by getting upset, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you start to think ‘OMG am I boring people? is this tense enough?’
Nila: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Sarita: I think the eating scene, was funny to me just because they were based on nothing but the sauce that he puts on and I love scenes like that where nothing is going on. He goes up, doesn’t like my cooking, and gets this big bottle of sauce to put on, (laughs) it’s so offensive to me! I love scenes like that because in a way you have to really create the scene because it’s nothing big happening.
Nila: If you could describe the film in one sentence what would it be?
Sarita: Well, I think the title has it all said, learning. Because no matter where we start the movie or end it we’re all still learning and that’s all we can do. Jasleen is stuck and then finally gets out of the basement she’s learning to walk up the stairs, Patricia’s character is learning to drive, Ben Kingsley’s character learns to share a love for words with someone. You know, there’s all these things so I think the one sentence is essentially the title, learning to drive.
Nila: This is a film about an older couple, and it is a love story but not really at the same time, like you said it’s about learning and growing. But how would you convince the younger fans to come see this film?
Sarita: I remember when I was 18, 19 I would go to any movie. But I would say treat it like a foreign film, you know? Just go and be interested in what it is because again, you’re going to laugh and learn about love, and in a way it’s a very human movie. If I was young I’d still love to see this movie because it would give me insight in a way into my parents, and into just life. It never stops, this learning to love, learning to drive.
Keep it locked for more updates and check out Learning to Drive releasing this weekend!