“It’s amazing when you can use your heritage and culture to help educate and move forward peoples perceptions on a subject matter that’s rarely talked about.”

After graduating in Marine Biology from St Andrews, Kiran Sonia Sawar appeared in numerous projects from ‘Aladdin The Musical‘ to ‘Legends‘. However, it is her portrayal as Salma in Murdered By My Father, a BBC drama about the issue of ‘honour’ killings, that has received the most attention mostly due to the controversial nature of its content. For this role, Kiran was tasked with the challenging job of portraying honour-based violence from the perspective of a British-Asian girl instead of the westernised point of view that is commonly presented through the media.

Meet the girl behind Salma….

What made you decide to get into acting?

It’s something I was involved in from when I was little – I was in the Australian Girls Choir from the age of 5 and was always involved in the school shows and dance classes. Me and my sisters would also put together performances and force my parents and their friends to watch – we were a bunch of show-off’s. After high school I decided I wanted to try and pursue it professionally.
You’re known for your recent role in Murdered by my Father. Being part of a documentary, which is exposing the mentality of extreme Asian culture and where everything is kept somewhat quiet. How did you feel playing a role which was so controversial and were you apprehensive as to how it would be received?
I was very apprehensive as to how the film would be received but in the end the importance of the subject matter and beginning the conversation about ‘honour’ killings being a problem in certain communities far outweighed any reservations I personally had. The script was so tactfully and truthfully written and the production and filming itself so sensitive that I felt it was a story worth telling.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive and people have started talking about the issue which is more than I could have hoped for. My agent also received a call from an Imam at a mosque in Bolton that wanted me to know that he had watched the film, thought it was very powerful and a brave and important thing to do. He wanted to thank me and everyone involved as he felt it was a big problem in their communities and wasn’t being talked about or dealt with. His response to the film for me was everything I wanted to achieve in one phone call.
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In recent interviews you’ve emphasised how this was a story that needed to be told and you wanted to be involved in this project for this reason. What motivated you to portray the character of Salma and why was this so important to you?
I wanted Salma to be a normal teenage girl that you could bump into anywhere in your life living in Britain. She had to be accessible and relatable to the viewers in order for them to see a little bit of themselves in all her actions.
What did you take away from playing the role of Salma, and how did this shape you as an actress?
It was an emotionally and physically draining job but one that I’m so grateful for. It’s amazing when you can use your heritage and culture to help educate and move forward peoples perceptions on a subject matter that’s rarely talked about.
The documentary focuses on themes of male domination within Asian culture, the strict criteria of who you can and cannot marry, and as a young girl concealing a lot of things from your parents. What are your opinions on them?
We live in a patriarchal society so we must educate young people that choices whether you’re male or female are your own. We need to fight for equity and equality.
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Growing up in the UK many Asian girls experience a culture clash, where their outside environments such as school, college e.t.c. are much more modernised/Western in contrast to when they go home, where culture feels a lot more traditional and out-dated. Did you ever experience this culture clash and if so how did you strike a balance between both cultures? 
I’ve grown up around the world and living in Glasgow and attending a Catholic school as a teenager was difficult. But being a teenager is also difficult anyway.
My advice would be to learn how to protect yourself, mind, body & spirit. As much as people appear perfect, everyone has their inner crumbles and demons – you’re never alone.
What do you have planned for the future?
I’m currently on tour with English Touring Theatre playing the youngest daughter Cordelia in the World Premiere of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Bryony Lavery which finishes in London at the end of June. After that, who knows…
Finally, what exactly inspires you?
Free-thinkers, free-spirits, free ice-cream. I like free stuff. Let’s get rid of money!

– Kiran Sonia Sawar

For those of you who have not yet seen ‘Murdered by my Father’ click here to catch up!

(Photocredits: Katie Julia Piper)

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