Namaskaram, engane und? Sugham aano? Typical words of greeting when two Malayalis meet, but wait. Here, it is not a Keralite mouthing these words but a woman of Iraqi descent now working as an actor in America — Reem Kadem. There is a reason why Reem speaks in almost chaste Malayalam. She is debuting in a Malayalam-English bi-lingual Naval Enna Jewel, where she plays the title role of Naval — born to a Malayali mother and an Iranian father. It has been a year-and-a-half-long wait for the actress to see her character come alive on screen.
A period during which she flew down to Kerala, studied Malayalam for four months, and shot in some picturesque locations in the state. The film will be releasing this month. A gamut of emotions is running through California-based Reem as D-day approaches. She confesses to feeling excited, thrilled and happy. She says, “I savored every moment of the time I spent on the sets. It was rough and tough and blood and sweat but it was also the biggest high in my entire life. Playing Naval and speaking Malayalam were the biggest challenges I have encountered. Now that I see the billboards with my photos, which I have never been on, I feel the challenge was well worth it!”
Shedding light on the challenges, Reem touches upon the alien climate, culture, and the language barrier. Reem says, “I was doing what I loved and when you are doing that everything comes beautifully in place. You enjoy your work regardless of the long hours or the climate or the food. I worked for close to 20 hours on some days and the heat was oppressive, leaving me sweaty. If it was anything else other than acting, I would probably have ripped my hair off. I used to don the burqa to be in character and had to walk barefoot – but all that fed into my character and added authenticity to Naval.”
In Reem’s words, her character is intelligent, sophisticated, emotionally vulnerable, a child at heart, but a mature woman. She is a broken woman but is also a very powerful one. “Naval is emotionally layered, with a lot of emotions vested in her. She is a woman everyone falls for but is also someone everyone can cry for. This is the reason I wanted to give 101 per cent to the role,” she says. The character was a huge responsibility for Reem — one where she wanted to challenge herself professionally and personally. While revealing that her character is inspired by a real incident, Reem does not want to let the cat out of the bag. But she mentions it has a controversial tinge akin to a situation unfolding worldwide.
Reem also had the language barrier to contend with. Though she did pick up Malayalam and rattle off some lengthy dialogues, she explains the difficulty. “Since it is a bi-lingual, director Ranjith Lal would yell ‘Malayalam’ and then ‘English’! That switch in sync sound from one language to the next after every shot was a tough task,” she explains. Malayalam, she says, was very difficult to learn and to this day Reem cannot understand how she pulled it off. “It was not the easy Malayalam that you converse in but some very tough words. I used to spend 10-11 hours learning Malayalam and literally did not have a life while I was shooting in Kerala. My weekdays and weekends would be spent poring over audio tapes and books teaching Malayalam. But all that hardship was worth it because I knew it was the role of a lifetime,” she says.
Asked if any offers have come her way, Reem reveals, “I was contacted by the makers of a TV show. If you ask me my criteria, the script is the key aspect and next is the cast and the director.” Back in India after less than a year-and-a-half, Reem has been busy shuttling from studio to studio promoting her film. Though Reem finished the shoot ing of her film in April, 2016, it took a long time to finally decide on a release date. Reem admits feeling disheartened but the passion of the entire team kept her spirits up. She pragmatically says, “Every film has its own journey!”...