The Breadwinner is an edifying animated film that tells the story of Parvana, a young girl living under Taliban rule in early 2000s Afghanistan. When the Taliban comes and takes Parvana’s father away, she is left to fend for herself and provide for her family, but girls aren’t allowed to leave their house without a man, so something as simple as fetching water for the house becomes a dangerous task. She then makes the decision to disguise herself as a boy in order to attain the freedom that is so easily given to men in her village. The film, executive produced by Angelina Jolie, is able to handle Parvana with great affection as she moves through tumultuous Afghanistan with a positive and resilient attitude. The focus on gender inequality and access to education is exactly what intrigued the actress behind Parvana’s voice, Saara Chaudry, when she read the book years ago. Parvana’s strength and wit resonated with Chaudry on a profound level, so it was a dream come true when she got the role.
I had the great pleasure of discussing how she prepared for the role, along with her dedication to women’s rights and other interests.
THAHABU: What about the book, and what did it feel like to be asked to play the character in the animated adaption?
SAARA CHAUDRY: I read the book (The Breadwinner) about four years ago at the recommendation of my librarian. I needed something to read over March break, and she recommended The Breadwinner, and I fell in love with it. It became my favorite book, and Deborah Ellis was my favorite author. When I was asked to be the voice of Parvana it was a dream come true. It all just came full circle, being able to play my fictional idol in a movie. It was incredible. Regarding what I loved so much about the book was this young girl in the circumstances that she’s in, and despite the chaos that surrounded her, she still remained so positive, and she has so much strength and determination. That’s what I admired about her so much. That’s why I was so honored to play this young strong woman.
The film touches on violence against women and other sensitive topics. How did you prepare for such a rough role?
I was 11-years-old when I was recording it, so it was hard to understand what this young girl was going through, and how to get into the character. As a very lucky child from Canada, living in a First World country, it’s hard to wrap your head around concepts like that. It’s hard to fully understand what other young women and children have to go through around the world. But having read the book, and having my mom and dad help me understand, and educate me on what this character would’ve been going through was really helpful. I also have some relatives from Afghanistan. My great-great-grandfather was from Afghanistan and he fought in the Hindu Kush mountains, and he was lucky enough to move to South Africa and move on and obtain a better life. But definitely having read the book and having my mom and dad help me grasp what Parvana was going through helped me understand and get into this character.
Do you see any similarities between you and Parvana?
Obviously, there are major differences, but even when I was nine-years-old, reading this book, it gave me an odd feeling. I read this book and I felt so connected to this character and it was a really odd thing, because how does a young girl that is getting a great education, who has great friends and family, who lives in Canada; how does she connect so strongly with a character from across the world who’s living a completely different life? But I did and I felt so close to her in such a odd way, but my mom put it in perspective for me. If my family hadn’t moved to South Africa, and England, and later on Canada when they did, and if my family and ancestors didn’t believe in the power of education, I could’ve been just like Parvana. That’s how I connected emotionally with this character and that’s how I found similarities with her.
What do you think the audience stands to learn from Parvana?
I always say that people should not only watch the movie but read the book and the whole trilogy as well because that way you have a better understanding. But people should watch this movie because it allows those of us living in the West, to understand what other young women, children and people in Afghanistan and around the world have to go through, and what they have to endure in their day to day life. Deborah Ellis helped me to understand how lucky I am, and to raise my awareness about gender equality issues and to made me passionate about helping girls and helping them get an education. For me, the takeaway is to raise awareness and I hope when people watch this movie it will spark conversations and in turn create change.
What was your favorite thing about playing this character?
This movie was definitely a new experience for me. I do a lot of voice acting, but doing this movie was a very unique experience because I was playing a young girl from Afghanistan and I had to have an accent, and it was a very dramatic performance that I had to take on. That was a really exciting to me, and it was definitely my favorite part, being able to experience the acting with an accent and playing a character from across the world, living in very different circumstances. It was really exciting, and that was my favorite part because I got to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
Do you have any hobbies outside of acting?
Regarding this industry, I’m starting to write. I’m really passionate about writing as well, and I hope that when I’m older I get to write for different shows and stuff like that. Right now I’m working on writing for a show I’m currently on called Dino Dana. But I’m also really passionate about music and singing. I write my own music, and I sing in a band called Girl Power. Definitely just music and singing and writing is definitely what I’m passionate about. I’m a very artsy person.
Is there anyone in the industry that inspires you?
It’s really funny that you ask that. When I was like 10-years-old, I did an interview where someone asked me what actors inspire me the most and who would I love to work with? I actually said Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson, because they’re such strong female figures in the industry, and its really funny because now i got to work with Angelina on The Breadwinner. But definitely Angelina because she’s passionate about the similar things I’m passionate about, such as women’s rights, access to education, and gender equality.
You seem very passionate about women’s rights. How do you try to incorporate that cause into your work?
I would say that almost every single project I’ve ever done has linked back to my cause: gender equality and access to education. The Breadwinner is clearly about gender equality and access to education, and I was on a show called Max and Shred on Nickelodeon, and I played a young girl who was passionate about science, and really didn’t care what anyone thought about her, and she did what she wanted. She was a nerd and was proud to be a nerd, and she was happy to be passionate about science and math. I think it’s really important that I am able to play roles that inspire other young girls to set their mind to whatever they want to do, and not let any male, or anyone else, tell them what to do. When I was in grade 5, I did a project about girls, education, and gender equality. Ever since then, I’ve been really passionate about women’s rights and young girls obtaining an education, because knowledge is power. Deborah Ellis came to my school one time, and I got to meet her a couple of months before I auditioned for The Breadwinner, but she was doing a talk at my school, and she talked about the potential that is being lost because of war and ignorance. All these young girls have so much potential all around the world, but all their potential is being thrown away, so ever since then I’ve been so passionate about women’s rights, and I try to incorporate it into my everyday life as much as I can. I try to use my platform to raise awareness and I incorporate gender equality and access to education into schoolwork or anything I do, and in turn, hope that change follows. ♦