Radhika Apte plays Noor Inayat Khan in Lydia Dean Pilcher’s World War II drama, A Call To Spy. Noor was a British spy of Indian-Muslim origin, who was appointed in Winston Churchill’s secret army of sleuths. Her sisters-in-arms were Virginia Hall and Vega Atkins, played by Sarah Megan Thomas and Stana Katic.
Noor was a wireless operator, sent into the mouth of the war in German-occupied France. After a few months, she was caught by the Nazis and executed. As she died, her last word was ‘liberte’.
For Radhika, playing Noor meant a lot of research and discussions with her director. Despite the crucial role that Noor played in history, not much is known of her, as is with most female heroes of the world. And to add to it that Noor was a mixing pot of a half a dozen cultures, only complicated matters further.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Radhika said instead of working on getting the right accent or mannerisms, she chose to focus on bringing Noor’s emotional vulnerability, her heroism on to the screen. “First of all, I would start with research. I did not know much about her so there was a lot of material given to me to read. There were quite a lot of discussions with Sara, Lydia and even Stana. There were different things that we had read about each others’ characters. We brought everything together. She was born in Russia, she was British, she was raised in France, her mother was American, father was Indian Muslim, she was a pacifist. It was just too overwhelming to understand and know what kind of accent she would have, for example. But then what we decided was important is to connect with the audience rather than try to mimic something when we don’t know how she spoke or what her body language used to be,” she said.
Radhika says the team decided to let her own ‘khichdi’ accent stay. “So we decided to stay with my accent. My accent is now literally a khichdi. It has nothing. When I am in India, I sound Indian. When I am in… British people say why is she sounding like this. I’m like I’m not! It’s just that constantly you are hearing different things, it’s just a weird thing. I understand it. Luckily I don’t hear myself,” she said.
A Call To Spy, though sits right in the middle of the Second World War, choses to tells the stories of its three heroines who are bound by duty and the need to prove themselves in the eyes of naysayers. While back home. Bollywood is making steady progress in bringing out more human stories from war zones, such as Raazi or the more recent Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, these example are exceptions than the norm.
Radhika agrees that Indian film on war are still loaded with excessively nationalistic attitude that can sometimes mask the real acts of heroism. “Even America does that, everybody does that. There are very few films, like this film, even in Europe (there probably more films) that are not so patriotic when it comes to war films. In India, it is a delicate subject, let’s say. But yes, all of them are quite nationalistic and we have a long way to go in that regard. How do we look at war on that front is very essential. It worries me sometimes because literally we have cricket and cinema, two most influential forms. And if this is how we start looking at our neighbouring countries and war, it’s a bit concerning. I mean I understand the situation at the moment but it’s humans being sent there to shoot each other. What is war is something very important to think about,” she said.
A Call To Spy airs on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, December 11.
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