Season 2 of WWII drama “World on Fire” has proved to be another success for popular South Asian-Canadian actor Ahad Raza Mir.
Created by Peter Bowker, Season 1 of the PBS Masterpiece production premiered on the BBC in 2019 and dealt with the war in Western Europe. In Season 2, the action shifts to the North African theater of war and one of the protagonists is Lieutenant Rajib Pal of the British Indian Army, played by Mir. The show is a ratings smash for the BBC, pulling in more than 3 million viewers when it debuted earlier this month.
Mir, who was most recently in Netflix’s “Resident Evil,” has a considerable body of work in Pakistan and has earned acclaim for his performances in “Parwaaz Hay Junoon” (2018), “Aangan” (2018), “Ehd-e-Wafa” (2019) and “Yeh Dil Mera” (2019). Series “Dhoop Ki Deewar,” where Mir starred alongside Sajal Aly, was a global success for streamer ZEE5. In Canada, Mir has built a reputation as a theater actor, including playing Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet” (2014) and Lennox in “Macbeth” (2015).
“Peter has created real characters that feel real, and each character gets the importance that they deserve,” Mir tells Variety. “Most of my learning came from actually being on set, because our set was basically the desert. And that was a character on its own, which really helped feed into the fear and the action element of it. And then the words on the page helped define the character, it organically came to life.”
North Africa was recreated in Northern Ireland on a set at a former Michelin factory in Ballymena, near Belfast. “When we got the call, I assumed we’re either gonna shoot in Spain or Abu Dhabi or Africa. And then they told me we’re shooting in Belfast, to which I went, ‘That makes no sense at all. What do you mean, they’re gonna do it all on set?’” Mir says.
When Mir got to the set, he saw that the factory was filled with sand. “It wasn’t a small little setting, it was just so huge that if you sprint it, it took you at least three or four minutes just to reach the end,” Mir says. “There was a lot of running around, and a lot of panic because we dealt with a lot of explosions. And doing that level of pyrotechnics and stuff was a first for me. So I was terrified to begin with. I didn’t have to act much when it came to the fear and the sweat on my face.”
Bowker told Variety that one of the objectives of Season 2 was to look at the conflict from multiple global perspectives, including that of India. Some 2.5 million South Asians fought as part of the British Indian Army in WWII. Christopher Nolan was accused in India of ignoring this in his film “Dunkirk,” while Sam Mendes’ “1917” featured a solitary Sikh soldier.
Mir says that sometimes South Asian characters do get sidelined, but in “World on Fire” it has been “fleshed out properly.”
“In this series, they really did give importance to it and I think there’s still more room for other characters and other people to join, I would say, if it goes on to do another season,” Mir says. “I learned so much history from doing this show that I actually myself had no idea about. There was the British Indian Army and they served. I didn’t really, to be honest, know the details of how they were treated, what they went through.”
He adds, “At the same time, I understand that there’s films like ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘1917’ that didn’t really play to the South Asian roles there — I don’t think they took that as an opportunity at all. But I think what ‘World on Fire’ has done is it has decided, ‘We’re going to tell everyone’s story.’ And that that’s one of the reasons I’m so proud to be part of this show.”
Next for Mir is another chance to play Hamlet at the Rose Theater in Brampton, Canada in October. In 2019, he starred in “Hamlet: A Ghost Story” for Canada’s The Shakespeare Company, and his interpretation won him a Betty Mitchell Award for outstanding performance by an actor.
“I’m a little nervous for that this time,” he says. “I was nervous last time, too, when I did the show. But I’m a little older now, I don’t know if I’m all that much wiser. But still, I’ve started going over the text again and I just look forward to being on stage.”
Mir is represented by Hamid Hussain and Muhammad Yaqoob at Action Consultancy.