Born as Nathalia Pinheiro Felipe Martins in Brazil, Nathalia Kaur visited India for the first time in 2012 to shoot for the Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar. She appeared in a couple of special dance numbers in films and also had acting roles in a couple of them. Since her last release ‘Rocky Handsome’ (2016), she had been away from India but now, she is back in the country to promote her new film ‘Guns Of Banaras’. In this interview, she talks about the film, her journey from being a law student to a model and actress, Indian roots, working stars like Sanjay Dutt, Nagarjuna and John Abraham, experience in India and more.
Hema, the character you play, is a traditional girl from Banaras. Was it difficult to portray her?
As an actor, I love challenges. Language had never been a barrier for me. I love learning languages. English is not my first language, so it is not like it is a language which comes naturally to me. I had to work hard to be good at it. Speaking in English is one step forward and conversing in Hindi is two steps forward. While I do not speak Hindi fluently, I understand most of it. Before I started shooting for the film, I was rehearsing the dialogues over and over again for six months. I was doing diction classes, Hindi and Urdu classes. I wanted to get the Hindi right while shooting the scenes so that whenever my voice gets dubbed, whether by me or by somebody else, it should not come across as a difficult task. My mom’s language is Portuguese. I have been in India on and off for 8-9 years.
In most of your films you did special songs, but in ‘Rocky Handsome’ you had a proper acting part. It must have been more creatively satisfying to be a part of a project like that.
Actually, I had an acting role in ‘Dev Son Of Mudde Gowda’, the Kannada film I did. That was the first ever film I did. So, I started out with a proper acting part. I played the lead role along with Charmee Kaur. After that, I was offered to do songs in films like ‘Department’ and ‘Commando’.
You were studying law. How did acting happen?
Yes, I was a law student. I stated modelling as I wanted to earn money on my own. My mother raised me as a single woman. She started earning for the family. I saw her working hard all the time. I was very embarrassed to ask her for more money. I was never the kind of child who knows what I wanted to do. I was interest in photography, history and a lot of other things but I was not sure if I could make a living out of it. My mother came from a very poor family. My grandparents had ten children and they used to work in the farms. She is the only one from the nine children who managed to complete college. Things just happened naturally. During my law course, I was going through a tough time. I was going through a lot of issues at that time. I came to India to shoot for the Kingfisher calendar. Everything started from there.
How were your initial days in India like? Was it difficult to get accustomed to a country you had never been to before?
I was supposed to stay in India for three months but I ended up staying for two years. I had never seen such kind people in life. Everyone treated me very well. I was just amazed by everything. Actually, it was hard in long terms and easier in short terms. In the long term, you start missing your family and friends who are in a different country altogether. I was away from India for almost four years. But now that I am back, I feel the same sense of comfort again.
Your father was from India, right?
Yes, my father was from Punjab. I have never been in touch with him or his family since I was three or four years old. When I came to India, people started telling me ‘you look so Indian’. Around 2011, I remember my mom telling me that I have a fairly long surname and perhaps, I should use my father’s surname as that would help me connect with the people here better. There was one who was the sister of my grandmother. My grandmother had been suffering from Alzhemeir’s for a while. We went to her and spoke to her. Once we figured out that her surname was, I decided to use it. I look a lot like my father. That is where the Indian looks come from.
How would you describe Hema?
She is a small town girl but very outspoken. She is very intelligent and has a very strong personality. I got to know a lot about the kind of restrictions women face in such places. She has the innocence of a Banaras girl. I have travelled to small towns and villages for shoots and thus, was familiar with the milieu.
Apart from being the lead actor, John was one of the producers on the film. How was the experience of working with him on the film?
I actually had just about 2-3 scenes with him, so I did not get to interact much with him. I had a lot of scenes with the little girl. She was a very talkative girl (laughs). John is a very warm and humble person. The first big star I worked with was Sanjay Dutt during ‘Department’. We often have an image of how film stars would be like but they are nothing like what you would imagine them to be like. They are extremely normal people. I worked with Nagarjuna on a film. In South, people treat actors like Gods. He is one of the most down-to-earth and the coolest person I have come across in the film industry. He does not go to his vanity van between shots. He remains on the set and interacts with everybody.
‘Rocky Handsome’ was your last release in Bollywood. ‘Guns Of Banaras’ got a bit delayed. Why did you not do any take up any other project in India during this period?
I was modelling in Brazil this while. I did not want to do anything in India before this film released. I wanted to wait till the film released. I wanted people to realise that I could do complete justice to an acting part. People still had doubts whether I could fit in the mould of a Hindi film heroine. I think their perception will change with this film. Art does not have boundaries. It does not matter where you are from. I might not be the best actor or the best dancer around but I am willing to work hard and prove myself. I hope ‘Guns Of Banaras’ makes people take me seriously as an actress.
What is the next step? Do you plan to settle down in India?
I am ready to do that. Actually, I am open to working in anywhere across the globe as long as the work is interesting. Right now, I am waiting for the feedback I get for this film.