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Iram Haq and Amrita Acharia on I Am Yours

Director Iram Haq and actor Amrita Acharia discuss the difficulties of finding actors willing to appear in their controversial film, I Am Yours. Haq reveals why she made it and how the film relates to her own experiences.

Transcript

Interviewer

Iram, kicking off with you. Okay, you make your first short film, you get into Sundance. You make your first feature film, you get into Toronto. Norway chooses you to be the official entry into the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film, you get picked up by ICM. I've heard you described as one of the best new, young, European directors. And you look like this? We hate you. We absolutely hate you. I mean, honestly, what does all of that do to your head, and what do you feel about it?

Iram Haq

Well I drink champagne to breakfast. No, I don't, no, it's... It's a big, yeah. I'm very happy and I'm very thankful. I've been working for a long while and it's...  I mean, for me, first of all, I wanted to tell this story. So for me it's like, everything else is like great news. I never thought about something else I'm wanting to tell the stories, which is important to me, and it sounds stupid, and trying to play something, but I'm not. It's really... This story is so important for me. That's why, and it's amazing, too. I mean, I'm very happy and thankful.

Interviewer

Lovely. Amrita, tell us a little bit about your involvement in the film. I mean, we'll talk about the sort of, the genesis of the... Maybe we'll do that together, actually. Let's talk about the genesis of the film. So this is a really important story for you to tell. Why? What is it about it? There's been a lot written about this being autobiographical, or semi-autobiographical. What's the truth behind all of that?

Iram Haq

The truth is, it's a mix. It's very inspired by my own experience and my life. I'm a Norwegian-Pakistani gi...  woman, not a girl anymore. I hate to admit that. I grew up with a Pakistani family and I had a lot of struggle, and I'm a single mother, and I've been acting for years. Yeah, so many things are similar to the main character, but I also have fictionalised the film. I really wanted to tell a story about the life after leaving your family. What kind of life do you live when you have lost roots? And what kind of feeling... When you feel judged, what kind of...  actually do for yourself, and for your own son? How will it feel when you don't...  I mean, if you don't feel loved, how can you understand what love is when you're searching for love, and how can you give love to the next generation to the one who, like your son, who needs that?

So I mean, I have to admit, like I told you when we were eating dinner now. I mean, I haven't been a brilliant mother always. I was young when I got my son and I tried my very best but I did many wrong decisions in my life. I never left him, he lives with me, he's almost 18 today, so-.  But, on the other hand, it's like, it was an important story for me to tell because I wanted to tell a story about things that we are ashamed about, things we... which is painful, and people judge. I wanted to go deep into...  and I also wanted to challenge myself to not hide behind beauty or na...  I wanted to tell a naked story, which is not packed in comedy or humour or a beautiful post production or nice music. I wanted to tell something which you could feel, that you can maybe feel the pain, what the main character goes through, so it was a challenge as well.

Interviewer

And you're an actress yourself, or you were an actress before you became a director. Was there any point when you thought, "I'll do this myself?"

Iram Haq

Well, very early stage, when I wrote, I thought, but then I...  Well this is too big of a job, writing, directing, and acting, and then I met Amrita. I had a long journey for finding the main character, I really looked up and down Norway, and outside of the country as well. I think I had like 25 girls in and then Amrita came and she's brilliant and I immediately fell in love, and she's amazing, and I couldn't... No one could take... Do the same thing that she did. So I'm very happy about that.

Interviewer

We are too. But for you, when...  How did you get involved? Did you go for auditions, or had you seen the script? What was it about the script that attracted you?

Amrita Acharia

I was sent the script almost three years ago now, and it was very different from anything I had been sent before, it was quite early on into my career. I had been doing it for about four years, and I think it was kind of a year and a half into acting. And it was really, really, really lovely to get a script that was... a leading lady that wasn't kind of all typical leading lady, and was a bit messed up and a bit psycho.

Interviewer

So it wasn't just because it was the lead role?

Amrita Acharia

No, it was because it was... I emailed Iram straight away because I kind of thought, oh, it's really...  there's something to the story that's obviously...  I had an inkling that it was something quite personal. That's obviously a big attraction when it's written in that way, without any sort of... There was no boundaries to the script at all, and actually the script had changed a hell of a lot since we started, and we filmed over two years. I mean, it started off as a short film and we sort of ended up working together on it, and Iram...  We wrote a lot. So it was really great to be involved in that aspect of it. But, sort of, the more she brought her own trueness to the story, and the more she told me about her own life. I kind of got really geared up to be a part of this thing that was...

It wasn't just about just making a script and about making a film but it became about telling her story, and it wasn't just her story. It was about the stories of a lot of girls that lived that way and have experienced some of the things, which is completely different to what I have experienced because I'm also from a multi-cultural background, but I certainly don't have the experience that this woman's been inspired by. So that, for me, was really interesting to explore.

Interviewer

So... And what about the others? The other actors in the film. Obviously the very, very important role is the male lead, Jesper, and the son as well, Felix. How... Did you have any of those people in mind when you were writing?

Iram Haq

No, no one, actually.

Interviewer

Nobody?

Iram Haq

Nobody. And it was... I have to add to... When finding Mina, it was a very, very hard job, and also the mother and the son and all the Pakistanis, nobody wanted to play in the film. No Pakistanis. So, like, the boy is Indian, and the mother is, she's an actress from Pakistan, we brought her over. There was nobody who lives in Norway who wanted to play in this movie. It was too controversial for them. So I had to look outside of the country.

Interviewer

Were there many Pakistani actors in Norway that you could have called on anyway? Was it very small force that you were...

Iram Haq

No, there's not many. But there are... It's coming up, a community there, who work with films.

Interviewer

And they were quite open about...  It's the subject matter of the film, they...

Iram Haq

Yeah, there were like...  Many girls wanted to play, and then I told them about the scenes and I was, like, "Okay, I want to have the freedom to play with this and if you can't manage that then you shouldn't go for this film." So they left before starting.

Interviewer

They were out of there.

Iram Haq

Yeah.

Interviewer

Did you have, at any point, any sort of influence on you to try and adapt the story, to make it a little bit more, sort of, palatable for people. To make... To adapt the story, to make her, perhaps, a little bit more sympathetic. I mean, I think she is very sympathetic and I think that's the strength of the role that you've written, is that we can really connect with her. But, you know, there are times when she deserves a bit of a shake.

Iram Haq

No, never. I wanted to tell this story and I didn't want it to let me be like, "No, not this way, you should..." I didn't want to polish the story, I wanted to crack up the facade, and I wanted to show what's underneath there. I don't want to make a beauty, I want to tell about the... I wanted to throw out all the dirty laundry, so that's what I tried.

Interviewer

I think that's what you achieved. And you talked about how the story changed as you were developing it from your first idea. I hadn't realised that you
intended it as a short film before you developed it into a feature film.

Iram Haq

Well it's a long journey. I started to write it in the end of 2009, and then I got some money in 2010, so I could shoot like 40 minutes in 2011, and then I got some more money and then I could shoot in the summer of 2012, and then I got...  It was a lot of things that had to happen, so we shot a small part in the winter 2011, and in-between I edit, re-wrote, edit, so it's like an organic way of making a movie.

Interviewer

I think if there's any filmmakers in the audience they'll absolutely get what you're saying there.

Iram Haq

And it was very tiring as well to write that way, I have to say.

Interviewer

I mean, would you say that that was one of the main challenges? I mean, you know, this is your first feature film, which is going to be challenging enough, but...

Iram Haq

I think it was challenging to sit and wait to know if it's going to come, more money, to make this movie or not. That was a big challenge but, of course, that was not the biggest. It's a big journey, I mean, it's a long journey, and it was my first feature, and I mean, like to see how... I mean, we had this little boy who was 6 in the beginning, and then he was 7 and he didn't want to play anymore. What to do? I mean, like, yeah, he was forced to play in the last couple of weeks, so it was a big... Many challenges.

Interviewer

Thank goodness his voice didn't drop. That would have been another challenge. Amrita, how about you? When you were playing the role, what were the challenges for you in taking on that role?

Amrita Acharia

I mean it's challenging to play a woman that is completely on the edge the whole time, and is...  I think, when we first started out, I kind of thought, "Yeah, yeah, I'm completely like this character," and by the end of it I was like, "I'm nothing like this character." So that was difficult because I think we had a lot of conversations and, obviously, because it was over a length... I was 23 when we started and I'm 26 now, and I think we had a lot of conversations where I was like, "Well, I don't understand. Why is she doing this?" And now that, when you see the full product you understand a bit more about this character.

So although it was a long time, in a way it was almost a luxury because we got to develop Mina so much that she got a lot of layers to her, and you wouldn't believe the amount that's on the cutting floor. When I looked at the movie the first time I was like, "But what about those scenes?" But I think the end product is kind of...We told the story that Iram wanted to tell, and that was the most important thing for me was that we managed to do that. But it was a really... It was a slog. I learned a hell of a lot from it and it obviously, you know, it's gone to so many festivals and it's already touched a lot of people. So it obviously has a very universal message that I think we're both really proud of.

Interviewer

I think that's one of the things you were talking about earlier outside, was that, it's very placed within a certain community and a certain place. However, it transcends that and I think it is that universal element to it. I was saying to Iram, actually, it's... I react to her on one level on her cultural background, etc, but, actually she's a young, single mom, and she could be from any culture.

Iram Haq

Yeah. Definitely. Well I'm telling kind of three different stories in one. One is like this single mother, and the other one is having an immigrant background, and the third one is searching for love, and all of them are mixed. There are several stories and many of them can... People can relate themselves. And also there's bad relationship to your parents, you can have it even if you're Swedish or British.

Interviewer

Or anywhere else. So for you, is this the film, the final film? You know, filmmakers are always tweaking their work and "I should have done this, I should have done that." Are you pretty satisfied that you've got everything? That stuff that's on the cutting floor that you're still crying about, do you want to put it back in?

Iram Haq

No, no. I'm very happy. And the editing room was great because, I mean, I took away... It was a big challenge to take away all those. I'm very good with metaphors and all this blah, blah, blah, the beauty. And I took away everything. I'm glad we did it because, if not, we would have made a big distance from you, from the audience, and I wanted to... You don't see all the beautiful forests, and why? A guy with a gun to his head, beautifully shot, why? It's to make a... gap. I don't want to make the gap in this movie, I want you to feel Mina's pain and that was what I wanted and I think tried, I get the best out of the material we had, yeah.

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