British-Sri Lankan actor Nimmi Harasgama has returned to the U.K. stage after nearly a decade with “Silence,” a co-production between Donmar Warehouse and Tara Theatre.
Harasgama, who was a member of the U.K.’s National Youth Theatre and went on to get a BA in drama and theater arts at Goldsmiths College, London University, has also trained at Groundlings Improv School and Lesly Kahn and Co Drama School in Los Angeles.
The actor shot to international prominence with a brace of films by Sri Lankan auteur Prasanna Vithanage – “August Sun” (2003), for which she won best actress at Las Palmas, and “Flowers of the Sky” (2008), which premiered at Busan. After some shorts and roles in BBC series “Doctors,” Harasgama had an extended run on the U.K. stage in productions such as “The Snow Queen” (Unicorn Theatre); “Gandhi and Coconuts” (Kali Theatre Company); “Aunty Netta’s Holiday for Asylum” (Tamasha Theatre Company – Edinburgh Festival Fringe); and “Handful of Henna” (Rasa Theatre Company).
Harasgama relocated to Sri Lanka and did a few plays there before she signed hit ITV series “The Good Karma Hospital,” which was shot there. Deepa Mehta’s “Funny Boy,” where she was the female lead, followed.
“Silence,” adapted from Kavita Puri’s acclaimed book “Partition Voices: Untold British Stories” by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood, was commissioned to mark the 75th anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence from the U.K.
The play presents a shared history inspired by the personal testimonies of British Asians who lived through the last days of the British Raj, and the horrors of the partition that split the subcontinent asunder and cost millions of lives.
“It’s an extremely relevant play, even now, because it’s extremely important not to forget our mistakes – what happened with partition, why it happened as a result of empire and colonialism,” says Harasgama. “The consequences are still with us, in so many countries. So for me, it felt extremely relevant, especially with what’s happening right now in Sri Lanka, what’s happening in Ukraine, what’s happening in African countries – it’s never going to go away unless we make these kinds of theater, books, TV and film, so that people never forget and we don’t repeat history.”
“It’s important that we own who we are as British Asians,” says Harasgama. “That’s really important that you do look back at the history – that the reason we’re here in this country is because of the fact that Britain was there,” adding that colonialism has caused “untold trauma” and “devastation to communities.”
Harasgama is also a writer and a film she has co-written, “Arrangements of Love,” is due to film between January and March 2023. A comedy series she has written, titled “Brown Girl Panic,” has been optioned by Blue Bear Productions. “It’s based on the premise of, ‘What if I married my white boyfriend when I was growing up? What would my life have been like, if I did that?’” says Harasgama. The series also tracks racism from the 1980s to the present day via the prism of Harasgama’s formative years in the U.K.
The busy Harasgama is also co-writing a Sri Lanka-set animation titled “Chaya’s Tale,” based on Brish-Sri Lankan Muslim writer Nizrana Farook’s book “The Girl Who Stole an Elephant.” “It’s a young adult animated story about a young girl living in a make believe time. I fell in love with this book because it tackles everything about Sri Lanka from the history to the politics now, without being invasive,” says Harasgama.
“Silence” has completed its run at the Donmar Warehouse and is now playing at Tara Theatre through Oct. 1. It is directed by Abdul Shayek and the ensemble cast also includes Renu Brindle, Bhasker Patel, Sujaya Dasgupta, Jay Saighal, Rehan Sheikh, Martin Turner and Anil Goutam.