In Lydia Dean Pilcher's World War II drama, A Call To Spy, Radhika Apte plays Noor Inayat Khan. Noor was an Indian-Muslim British agent assigned to the secret army of Winston Churchill's sleuths. Virginia Hall and Vega Atkins were her sisters-in-arms, played by Sarah Megan Thomas and Stana Katic. Noor was a wireless operator, sent to the battlefields of German-occupied France. She was captured by the Nazis after a few months and executed. Her last word was 'liberte' when she died. Playing Noor meant a lot of research for Radhika and discussions with her manager. Despite the vital role that Noor played in history, as with most of the world's female protagonists, not much is known about her. And adding that Noor was a melting pot of half a dozen races, further complicated matters.
Instead of working to get the right accent or mannerisms, Radhika said she wanted to concentrate on getting Noor's emotional vulnerability, her heroism, to the screen. “I will, first of all, start with analysis. I didn't know much about her, but I was given plenty of material to read. With Sara, Lydia, and even Stana, there were quite a lot of discussions. There were various things we'd read about each other's characters. We have taken it all together. She was born in Russia, she was British, she grew up in France, she had an American mother, she had a Muslim Indian father, she was a pacifist. To understand and understand what kind of accent she might have for instance, was just too daunting. But then instead of trying to imitate things because we don't know how she talked or what her body language used to be what we agreed was necessary was to communicate with the audience,” she said.
The team agreed to let its own 'khichdi' accent remain, Radhika says. "So with my accent, we agreed to stay. My accent is now a khichdi, literally. It doesn't have anything. I sound Indian when I am in India. When I'm in the… British people tell us why it sounds like this. I'm just like I don't! It's just that you hear different things all the time. It's just a strange thing. I understand that. Fortunately, I can't hear myself," she stated. While placed right in the middle of the Second World War, A Call To Spy tells the storeys of its three heroines bound by duty and the need to prove themselves in the eyes of naysayers. Back at home. In bringing out more human storeys from war zones, such as Raazi or the more recent Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Kid, Bollywood is making steady progress in bringing out more human storeys than the usual.
Radhika admits that there is still an overly nationalistic mentality in Indian war films that can often obscure the actual actions of heroism. Even America is doing that, everybody's doing that. There are very few films that are not so patriotic when it comes to war films, like this one, also in Europe (there are possibly more films). In India, it is, let's say, a delicate subject. But indeed, all of them are very nationalistic, and in that respect, we have a long way to go. It is really important how we look at the war on that front. Often it worries me that we actually have the two most popular forms of cricket and cinema. And if we start looking at our neighbouring countries and the war in this way, it's a little alarming. I mean, at the moment, I understand the situation, but it is people being sent there to shoot each other. It's a really interesting thing to think about what war is," she said. A Call To Spy airs on Friday, December 11 on Amazon Prime Video.