Bollywood’s top actresses with some of the biggest films and endorsements in her kitty, she has realised every bit of that dream. At 24. Excerpts from an interview with Bollywood’s most happening young actress:
You made a dream debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan, signed films back to back with one of the biggest production houses in the industry (Yash Raj Films), you’re working with top actors and directors...
(Laughs) Lucky, no? I can’t dispute that. But no one can say that it was just luck. Yes, I did get the perfect break but after that I have slogged my a** off. It is also a dream come true. I always wanted to be a young achiever. I started modelling at 15 but that, in my head, was already too late. I wanted to be up there with a lot of time still on my side. It’s my time now.
Well, you managed rather well. In fact, you are one of the most ‘sudden’ discoveries of the Hindi film industry. And your rise to the top has been just as sudden. But no one really knows anything about you.
You are right. In fact, most people, and that includes a lot of journalists and people from the industry, apart from the general public, think I am from Amritsar or Delhi. They say I am a Punjabi. That’s absolutely not true. In fact, my parents are from UP and I was born and brought up in Bangalore. My father served in the Indian Army till this January. We travelled a lot. But contrary to my “north Indian” screen roles, my upbringing has actually been in south India. All my friends were south Indians and spoke English more than Hindi.
You were a model at 15. Was it too soon?
No. Like I said, for me 15 was too late. I always wanted to be a model, never an actress. I would see children in ads and stuff and wanted to be like them. I remember there was this girl in my neighbourhood who had modelled for an ad that came out in Reader’s Digest. She went around showing that ad to everybody. I was so jealous and thought how cool that was. I guess my mother saw my dreams. She took me to Prasad Bidapa one day. Not to get me a job but to tell him to guide me if and when I should start modelling some years down the line. It was Prasad who said, “Why wait? Start now!” I was 5.7” tall and had a decent figure. Prasad booked me immediately for a show the week after. And that’s it. After that, I started getting booked twice or thrice a week.
But what about studies? Didn’t they go for a toss?
No. I was a very good student. Really? Yes, I don’t want to boast but I was always among the top three in class. I didn’t want to make modelling an excuse for getting distracted from academics. I wanted to prove that I could manage both things well. I would stop taking on work, say, two months before my exams. I wouldn’t get out of home. I’d concentrate only on studying. I was working a lot during my Class X but I passed with 92 per cent. Also, I didn’t want anyone to tell my parents that I had done badly in studies because I was modelling. I was also a very sincere child.
Didn’t you miss going to college?
Not really. I was doing my first year of Economics from IGNOU when I got Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. And soon after I got Badmaash Company. I had to quit then. Because there was no time at all. Initially I felt bad, especially because we are conditioned in a way that says “you are doomed if you are not educated enough”. Also, I was a good student. But now, when I think about it, rationally, I feel if I need to be knowledgeable and be well read, I’d rather be that in a subject that will either help in my profession or just help in general. What will a degree in Economics really help me with?
Speaking of Rab Ne…, how did you get this huge debut with Yash Raj Films?
I didn’t realise the difference between auditioning for a movie and auditioning for an ad. I had been testing for a lot of ads and walked in for this one almost as nonchalantly. Usually, I would always be shortlisted but never get the final call. So by now I was tired of it all. I didn’t take the shortlist seriously. I thought it was all crap. Manish Sharma, who was the assistant director of the film, had to pursue me for two weeks before I was convinced I should come for the second audition. I realised things were serious only after I saw Aditya Chopra at the auditions.
When did you realise you were being signed opposite Shah Rukh Khan?
Not for the longest time. I had no clue.
What was your first reaction when you found out?
I was stumped! Really, when you are getting launched in a Yash Raj film opposite Shah Rukh Khan, I don’t think any reaction is bigger than that. Also, I realised that I wasn’t just a showpiece in the film. I had this big role and I was expected to perform. But honestly, I did not realise how big the entire thing was.
You mean the movie, your debut?
Yes, everything. You know, I never saw myself as an actress. Also, being in Bangalore, my exposure to films was rather low. It was only after a month and a half of the film’s release, that I actually gauged that what had happened to me was huge. I was honestly treating it like a job. A big job, all right, but just another assignment. In fact, Aditya Chopra later told me that my unaffected attitude and not being in awe of anything filmy was what got me the role. That, according to Aditya, gave my character a lot of spontaneity and naturalness.
From your debut film Rab Ne… to Badmaash Company to Band Baaja Baraat and now Jab Tak Hai Jaan or even Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, all your characters are somewhat similar: chirpy, vivacious, Aren’t you getting typecast?
I am just a few films old. I can’t possibly get typecast or moulded in a certain way so early in my career. You need a huge body of work to get into any mould. Besides, if you look at my contemporaries, even they did the same thing for the initial five to six years. I guess that’s needed to make any sort of mark. I am no exception.
Sure, but what about versatility?
I have two very strong advantages. One, I have age and hence a lot of time on my side and two, thankfully, I have a brilliant range in terms of the directors I am working with.
From Aditya Chopra to Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap to Rajkumar Hirani all are absolutely different film makers, with different visions and presentations. So I get the chance to do completely different characters in their films. Also, in all these films I am being someone or doing things that I don’t otherwise. Like in Band Baaja Baraat, I am this Punjabi girl from Delhi which I am not. Or for that matter I play a con artist in Badmaash Company which obviously I am not.
I have stayed in south India all my life. English comes more naturally to me than Hindi. I am not a vivacious person in real. I hate smiling. I hate doing small talk. So in that sense I am playing different roles. And after all this if people think I am doing the same stuff, then damn good ya, I’d rather do it again and again and do it right. And now I am starting to experiment. Like in Matru ki Bijlee or in Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, where I play a jazz singer.
You’ve got a lot of appreciation but there’s also been some criticism, be it your acting or your plain Jane looks...
I started working very young, and I was used to rejection. As a model, every time I went for an audition and if there was another girl being auditioned for the same thing, it was almost sure that the other girl would always get the part. But the magnitude of criticism and the experience of being under the scanner hit me only post Rab Ne… or maybe Badmaash Company. Initially it was tough, but like I said I learnt to take it. And after a point you get used to it. Everyone has an opinion and you cannot satisfy everybody.
What about competition? Doesn’t insecurity bother you?
Insecurity, no. Again I think this is because I am not filmi. I have no background here. I have had a regular middle-class upbringing and I have a very nice family that stands by me. But competition, yes. It is there... big time. And honestly, each of us is competitive, otherwise why would I be working my butt off? But what can you do about it? You can’t sit and keep thinking that there is competition and get scared. The deal is to work hard and kill it with your work. I can’t focus on anybody else’s work. I’d rather concentrate on mine.
Is it very restrictive to be constantly under scrutiny - by the media, by colleagues?
The only thing that I feel bad about is being judged all the time. I have consciously tried to have a very normal life. I was never the pub-hopping, night life sort of person. I still have the same set of friends, it’s a small group but it’s the same and I still have an attitude that says I don’t give a damn!
Working with Shah Rukh Khan
He is just lovely, thoroughly entertaining and very, very intelligent. He was my first hero, and he’s had the maximum influence on my career. When I met him, I realised he was very easy to talk to. I didn’t feel there was any age difference between us. And he didn’t act like a big star. He is a great co-star. Very considerate. He never treated me like a new girl. It wasn’t that I had to be in awe of him.
Katrina Kaif She’s ambitious, and hard working. That, plus her intelligence, has got her to where she is today.
Kareena Kapoor She’s such a pleasure to watch. Stunning. Very spontaneous and a real diva. I love that about her.
Deepika Padukone She is very tall and so very gorgeous.
Priyanka Chopra She is a great talent who has made it on her own. And she’s cut an album too!
I hate smiling, making small talks. So really, Im playing a role
For the longest time, I didn't know I am debuting with Shah Rukh Khan
I don't want to boast but I was always among the top three in class
A lot of people think Im from Amritsar or Delhi. That's just not true
I started modelling at 15, but that in my head, was already too late
Is she anorexic?
I don’t care about what people think or say. I am not anorexic.
I eat and I eat lots
The role she really wants to play
A female assassin!
I hate shopping. I just can’t do it. I find it very tedious. It
irritates and annoys me
Her kind of man
I am done with boys. I need a man, someone who is in control of himself, can be my anchor and has patience for my negatives. I can’t hang out with “a coming of age” syndrome!
I love, love travelling. One of the few perks of my job is that I can just buy a ticket and take off. When I got my Schengen visa, it was one of the best things that happened to me
I just got exposed to electronica and I really liked it. I am also good with alternative rock. I like Lana Del Rey, Adele, Dido, Jack Johnson, and I love the Beatles and the Beach Boys
Ranbir Kapoor From a film family, but totally chilled out and easy to talk to. People take him to be politically correct but it’s just that he doesn’t want to create a sensation.
Imran Khan Simply a nice guy; very sharp and no-fuss. He’s worked so hard in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.
Shahid Kapoor He’s a good actor. He has a lot of experience. He is a certain way which works well for him.
Ranveer Singh He is talented and a people pleaser. He is great to have around to entertain you.
With Jab Tak Hain Jaan, Anushka becomes the romance king Yash Chopra’s last heroine
Vishal Bhardwaj: He is so well read and intelligent that it intimidates you. It was a big challenge to live up to his expectations.
Anurag Kashyap: He is a friend. He’s always bustling with energy. He loves cinema, and his knowledge of films is great. He is so simple but his simplicity is so dramatic.
Rajkumar Hirani: He’s somebody who can teach you values while entertaining you completely. Such a gentle soul.
Yash Chopra: He was a legend. India’s king of romance.
Manish Sharma: He is also a friend and very talented.
What she reads
A lot of fiction. I just read Fifty Shades Of Grey. It was horrid. Now I’m on Battle for Bittora
Photos: Jatin Kampani
This story appeared in the Brunch Quarterly, the new lifestyle magazine from Hindustan Times. Out on stands now.
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