The belle of the southern ball has had a dream run at the box-office. Now, she has bollywood set in her sights and steely determination in her heart.
by Meher Bajwa
You had an interesting time battling the elements at the Maxim shoot...
It was actually pretty exhausting with all the physical hard work I had to put in—sitting on some really weird things like rocks, a tree trunk and in the middle of some hay. But then I saw the output and the result is definitely worth it.
Hard work seems to be your thing. A Punjabi girl from Delhi making films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. Do you find it difficult to transition?
When you know what you’re getting into you’re mentally prepared to face that challenge. So it wasn’t like I didn’t know and suddenly I landed up in the middle of all of that. It was quite difficult in the way that I had to work very hard to perfect the language and my lines. I’m not very good at cramming things, which is probably why I didn’t study anything except science in school. So I would actually get my dialogues much in advance to practise and learn the lines and the language.
So now you’re cool with having conversations in Tamil or Telugu?
Since I’ve done only four films in Tamil and almost double in Telugu, Telugu comes to me more easily than Tamil. But I can also manage to have a basic conversation in Tamil. It’s not like I’ll feel like I’m stranded mid-conversation.
How does one go from being a qualified engineer to acting in films?
It was actually a very drastic and unpredictable change for me. I love watching movies because I’m an Indian! But the movie industry never excited me enough for me to want to be a part of it. While in college, I did a little modelling on the side. Then I started getting calls from the film industry—some from Hindi, some from the South. But the Hindi films were not from decent, known names—they were all very new and experimental. After getting my engineering degree, I dropped a year to give entrance exams and get into a good B-school for my MBA. The film offers I was getting from the South were from established people—they really like introducing new girls. So I decided to take them up for the sake of trying it out. That turned out to be a well-planned career move for me. My debut was with Dhanush in Tamil and in Telugu I debuted under Raghavendra Rao, the guy who made the original Himmatwala. My first few films did really well and that helped me break through in the industry.
Do you think acting is something that comes from within? Or is it something you can train for over a period of time?
Actually, it’s a mix of the two. I feel people thought I could act convincingly at the beginning of my career because I’m a trained dancer—I’ve been dancing since I was six years old. So I don’t really have a fear of the camera or the stage. That helped me break through the inhibitions that you initially have in front of a camera. Because I was carefree then, it wasn’t that difficult for them to capture me in a natural way. That made my life easy. But slowly, yes, over time I had to learn certain acting nuances and tricks that I never knew about.
You’ve already achieved mega success in the Southern film industries, but do you ever feel like the commercial success of Bollywood eludes you?
I knew it was going to be slow. Commercially, my first and second movies were hits on paper. Who could ask for a better debut from someone who had no contacts and came from a non-film background? I mean, just sitting in the South I got an offer for a David Dhawan movie where the girl is at the centre of the story. People have seen my work and those who have worked with me have referred me which is probably why I’ve still not done that drill of making people see my films and asking for roles. My work has paved my path.
What are we seeing you in next?
Studios and producers love to announce things a certain way, so I’ll let them do the talking. But, yeah, I have at least two-three projects lined up for 2016. Actually, the one I’m starting in January I can talk about. It’s a movie with Rana (Daggubati), and it’s going to be made in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu simultaneously because the cast is well-known in all three languages. It’s about the suspicious sinking of Pakistani submarines during the ’71 war. I start that on the 4th or 5th of January. Going into another project in February and then a third one shortly after that. Trust me, all of them are worth all the waiting that I’ve done for the past two-three years in Bollywood. It’s not difficult to get work here but it’s very difficult to have the patience to choose the right script. I know, one step gone wrong and people are going to kick me out without a second chance. So I’ve actually been very careful with each and every step of mine, which is why I’ve taken my own sweet time to do movies here.
Who have you been dying to work with?
There’s one director I’ve always looked forward to working with, no matter what language he makes the movie in, and that person is Mani Ratnam. I’ve always been a huge fan of his movies and I really wish one day he gives me a chance to work with him. Where actors are concerned, I’ve always had a huge crush on Hrithik Roshan. So I’m really looking forward to some day getting to share screen space with him. Though I think I’ll probably faint if I get the chance!
Photographs: Toranj Kayvon
Styling: Nelly Wadia
Hair and Make-up: Amanender sidhu
Production: Gravity Grace