“For me, Hiding Divya is about hope” – Pooja Kumar

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Rehana Mizra’s Hiding Divya tells the story of Divya, her estranged daughter Linny and what happens when Linny comes back and has to learn to live with her mother, with her mother’s mental illness and most importantly how they become a family. To play the pivotal and difficult role of Linny, Mizra knew she would have to find the perfect fit and she found that in actress Pooja Kumar, “I knew also, given the depth of the script, that I would need more than just one great actor in the film. I knew Pooja Kumar from her film work, and she brought such a kind energy that I knew she’d be perfect for Linny.” Pooja Kumar talked with BollySpice about the film that she says moved her so much at the narration that she got goosebumps! Read on to see what more she has to say about this important film!

What prompted you to be a part of Hiding Divya?

Originally, I was attracted to the film because Madhur Jaffrey, my role model, had already signed on. It’s a rare opportunity to learn the craft firsthand from such an accomplished actress that it even without everything else, I would have had a hard time saying no. Then reading Rehana’s tremendous script, I knew I needed to be a part of this project. The characters, the dialogues, the descriptions – everything was visually inspiring. As an actress and a woman, I felt this was an important story and was honored to be involved in it’s telling.

What did you know about Rehana, the director before the film?

Rehana’s sister, Rohi, is a friend of mine. She mentioned that she was producing her sister’s script and suggested that I take a look. I’d heard wonderful things about Rehana’s writing and was instantly intrigued by the subject matter. We have so few female writers, which is why I was so taken with Rehana as emerging writer. Supporting each other is the only way to ensure women’s stories make it into theaters and the broader world

What is your role in the film?

I play Linny Shah – a woman at a crossroads both as a mother and a daughter. She’s dealing with conflict on so many levels. Linny is trying to care for her sick mother while also raising a teenager on her own. Alone those two things would be a lot to handle, but Linny has also isolated herself emotionally and psychologically, all but rejecting her culture and heritage. Not without reason. As a girl, her father had abandoned them, and she had felt compelled to deny and cover-up her mother’s mental illness, all the while trying to fit into society as an Indian American and be accepted by that community. Her reaction to these overwhelming experiences was shame, which turned into anger and rebellion. Now as an adult she has to finally handle some of those original issues. She’s an extremely complex person, who through the course of the film must come to terms with the cards she has been dealt.

What was her brief to you for your role?

When Rehana narrated the story to me I was very moved – to the point that had goose bumps going up my back and arms. She explained that my character was in denial of her circumstances and has blamed everyone else for her troublesome life. What got me, though, was that through the course of the film, Linny realizes she must solve her problems and seek help from others. For Linny, it’s a story of redemption and a belated coming of age.

How much did you know about bipolar disease prior to the film?

I did not know a great deal about bi-polar disease or any mental illnesses for that matter, but I became fascinated by psychology throughout filming. To walk in the shoes of someone who has such a confusing and traumatic home-life, well, you can’t help but develop a greater empathy for all people.

Did you have to do any research about mental diseases and the taboos associated with it in the South Asian community?

During filming, I didn’t want to be overly informed because I felt Linny’s denial of her mother’s illness was rooted in her ignorance, and I needed to be able to tap into that insecurity. As a member of the South Asian community, I know mental illness is simply not talked about, and to this day, looked down upon as a personal weakness. My hope is that this film will show people it’s okay to seek help. Just as we go to the doctor for our physical well-being, we must and should go for our mental well-being.

How is Hiding Divya different from any other film you have done in the past?

Every film I do is different. My first was a Tamil film, Kaadhal Rojave, my second was a romantic comedy called Flavors, my third was the first Pakistani American film, my fourth film was Bollywood Hero with Chris Kattan who comes to India to become a Bollywood hero and falls in love with me. My fifth film was Drawing with Chalk and it’s about a couple who has to decide between family and career. – you get the idea! I’m very lucky to be able to portray a wide range of characters, and I hope to do so for the rest of my life.

How would you rate Rehana as a writer/director?

Rehana is an exceptional filmmaker – especially for her first time. She should absolutely continue to write, direct, and follow her dreams. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Are you surprised at the interest the film has generated?

Honestly, I’m not surprised that this film has attracted so much attention. It deals with such a wide range of topical issues from mental illness, to single motherhood, to negotiating Indian and American social norms. Add to that, a director with remarkable artistic vision and an amazingly talented cast to help bring it to life…besides, it’s an independent film made by our very own Indian American community. Who doesn’t want to see more of that!?

What kind of message does Hiding Divya give out to its audiences?

For me, the message of Hiding Divya is that we all have challenges in our lives, but there is always a solution if we are willing to open ourselves up to change. Once you let down your defences, you will be surprised as to how many people come to help. Just ask and you shall receive. For me, it’s about hope.

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