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Murdered by My Father: Creating characters with feeling

Vinay Patel and Kiran Sonia Sawar

Writer and actress

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Murdered by My Father dramatizes a very real human tragedy at the heart of a family. But how did its star and writer ensure its characters had heart, too?  

Kiran Sonia Sawar, actress:

It was really important to me that my character, Salma, wasn’t portrayed just as a vulnerable victim. I wanted to make her an intelligent girl who could make her own choices, who had her own will and who had her own backbone – having that behind her was really important to me. Just making her a normal teenager and a really accessible character that you see in the street every day was important.

I also didn’t want it to be a tyrannous relationship with her father – I wanted it to be a really loving relationship in a loving family home where there is a lot of compassion and empathy between herself, her brother and her dad.

Essentially, what I discovered with Salma was all her actions were to protect the people she loved and that’s all she really wanted, and the more she tried to do that, the harder it got for her.

I think it’s important to give a voice to these stories and also to bring light to the fact that it’s not necessarily what people think it is. It’s a human rights issue. Making dramas like this opens up that dialogue – I think that’s really important.

Vinay Patel, writer:

A 17-year-old girl is a complex person – I remember my sister when she was 17, she was lovely but an absolute nightmare! – and I think you want people to be able to see themselves. You want her to perhaps be a bit bolshy, you want her to have her own thing going on, you also want to see the contrast with that and the way she interacts with her father. We are all different with our friends than what we are with our parents – when you’re 17 that’s an especially big contrast! That was really important to me to get across. 

With the father, Shahzad, you come to the programme knowing what an audience’s expectations of that character are roughly going to be. I think it’s important for the writer to try and flip that as much as possible.

It’s weird what having a title like Murdered by My Father does to something like this dramatically because you know what’s going to happen – both what’s going to happen to someone and who does it. You already know everything about the actions of that character so as a writer you want to give that character an arc and a journey.

There are cases where you can see a person’s mind turned by the sort of pressures that sit around them and that’s what helps you really get to the heart of the issue. The act is almost an aside – it’s the way of thinking that causes that to happen. I wanted people to see that he does struggle, because he does genuinely love his daughter and his mind is in conflict.

You want to believe that he might not do it. You want that character, who you know a little bit about, maybe even like a little bit, to tell himself: “Don’t do it, there is a good person in there who doesn’t have to do this”.

Vinay Patel wrote Murdered by My Father. Kiran Sonia Sawar plays Salma.

Murdered by My Father is available to watch in BBC iPlayer until 5pm on Sunday, 25 September.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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