Many filmmakers have had to cope with the fact that long-awaited theatrical releases were postponed due to the pandemic (and often more than once) last year. Nilam Farooq has felt this, too, having seen CONTRA screened already at the Zurich Film Festival before its upcoming release in German cinemas in October 2021 instead of December 2020. “This film is kind of my baby, so I can‘t wait for people to finally see it,“ she says of Sönke Wortmann‘s new movie, in which the native Berliner, born in 1989, plays her biggest role to date. “But at some point, of course, I just came to terms with the fact that I had been granted a particularly long period of anticipation.“
CONTRA – a remake of the French film LE BRIO about a Muslim student and her condescendingly racist professor – has a very special meaning for Farooq, not least due to the fact that her career as an actor began during her school days. However, it wasn‘t the theatre club at school that sparked her interest, but a summer job as an extra. Gaining a foothold in the industry was not easy in the first few years, though – despite having an agent and coaching. “I was invited to very few auditions and kept being told I was too foreign-looking or not blonde enough,“ the daughter of a Pakistani father and a Polish mother recalls. “Sometimes, I wonder why I stuck with it. But when you love a thing, it‘s just hard to keep away.“ In parallel, Farooq was more successful on YouTube, where for several years, she ran one of the best-subscribed vlogs in Germany.
Her breakthrough as an actor finally came with a permanent role in the crime series SOKO LEIPZIG, which she found much harder to give up – two years ago – than closing her YouTube channel. “The decision took courage,“ admits Farooq, “after all, I left a secure job without knowing whether there would be any work waiting for me afterwards. But I had always dreamed of the one project that would enable me to show what I could do. A film that would actually be seen – and tackle a subject matter that‘s close to my heart.“ Without question, Wortmann‘s CONTRA was the right film at the right time.
Showing tolerance, engaging with others, and not giving everyday racism a chance – these themes, according to Farooq, are the true essence of CONTRA. In other words, the film‘s messages are no less important in light of this autumn‘s federal election in Germany than they were during its shooting – and they are equally relevant to her in her everyday work. “Sometimes, I wish I had dared to speak out more often earlier on,“ Farooq says in reference to her experiences of discrimination in the German film industry. “But I‘ve found my way now, and it‘s absolutely in line with my personality to speak my true mind and to accept the resulting losses if necessary.“
“Every day, I‘m growing more optimistic that this isn‘t just short-lived hype,“ the actor says of current efforts for change in respect to diversity, inclusion and equality in front of and behind the camera. “But the important thing is that we continue to talk about it and stay tuned to the issue, because something needs to change, and it‘s decades overdue.“
As far as her own career is concerned, the next chapter has definitely begun for Farooq. She has no illusions that CONTRA, a project so close to her heart, could be topped in the near future. And she is also aware that winning the Bavarian Film Award at the beginning of the year was not enough to dispel her irrational fear of being exposed as an impostor one day. “On the contrary, the pressure is now even greater, of course,“ she concedes with a laugh, before openly admitting that after 15 years of acting, the award did mean more to her as outside validation than she had originally thought.
But for the present, the times when her next role was not already waiting on the horizon are over, as indicated by a quick look at the months ahead: the movie THE FOUR OF US by Florian Gottschick will be released on Netflix before the end of October, she will be back in Wortmann‘s next film LOCKED-IN SOCIETY, and shooting for Doris Dörrie‘s FREIBAD has now been completed, as well.