After getting favourable reviews for her role in Lamhaa, Bipasha Basu is in no mood to swing back into fluffy, ultra-glam roles. The dusky actress says she has more serious stuff lined up - a film on honour killings and another on Goa's drug mafia.
In fact when actor and beau John Abraham saw Bipasha in Lamhaa, based on the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley, he was so blown away that he advised her to only get into projects that brought out her acting skills.
"John loved me in Lamhaa. He has done a film on terrorism, New York, and he feels we both need to stretch ourselves as actors beyond entertainment," said Bipasha.
So are John and Bipasha looking beyond their great physique and high glamour quotient?Said Bipasha: "Sure, I'm very proud of my physique. I've worked hard on it. But now I'm hungering for challenges as an actress. In Lamhaa, I was not only in a burqa throughout, I also got a chance to understand how life is lived in an atmosphere of crisis."
Though she didn't plan it that way, Bipasha's next two films - Priyadarshan's Aakrosh and Rohan Sippy's Dum Maro Dum - again feature her in films and roles that address themselves to socially-relevant issues.
"Until I finished Lamhaa I didn't notice that the only two films I've signed after that are about burning issues," she said.
While Aakrosh is about honour killings, Dum Maro Dum is about the drug mafia in Goa. In both, Bipasha says she's pulled out all stops to deliver real performances.
"Real doesn't necessarily mean de-glamourised. While in Aakrosh I play a school teacher in a dusty, small town of north India and wear cottons, in Dum Maro Dum, which is about substance abuse, my character Zoyi is very zany, with it and a girl of today. I'm very glamorous in Dum Maro Dum," the actress revealed.
Both the films would again require her to stretch her limits as an actor. Aakrosh, in fact, has been as exhausting for Bipasha as Lamhaa.
"The way Priyadarshan has dealt with the subject of honour killings is remarkable. Again as an actress I was put in a situation I had little knowledge of. I learnt about honour killings and Kashmir on the job. Not that I don't read the newspapers. But reading about these things is one thing, seeing them first-hand is another," she said.
Everyone is talking about the sequence in Lamhaa where Bipasha's character is attacked by hordes of burqa-clad women.
"It was very, very humiliating and painful. I had all these women screaming abuses and hitting everywhere on my body until I fell to the ground. Even after director Rahul Dholakia called 'cut', I was on the floor sobbing inconsolably. The director kept recording my trauma..."
In Aakrosh too she has a similar sequence of mob trauma.
"At least one could prepare and rehearse in Aakrosh, no such luxuries in Lamhaa. We sometimes literally had seven minutes to shoot in a crowded lane or street of Srinagar and flee before being accosted. That suited me fine because I'm a one-take actor," she said.
Bipasha says she was taken aback by children's lives in Kashmir.
"I was shocked by how alienated Kashmiris are from the mainstream of Indian life. Innocent children who have nothing to do with politics referred to India as 'aapka Hindustan' (your India). They actually see Kashmir as an independent state."
"They (children) are not allowed to go out and play. When Sanjay Dutt shot a song in a garden with kids, it was literally a rare treat for them. They had never been to a movie theatre. But the kids had seen some of my movies on pirated DVDs," she said.
Now Bipasha wants to pitch in whatever way she can for Kashmir's kids. "It's easy to talk about helping the distressed sections. But assuming an initiative is very difficult."
John and Bipasha will create awareness about Kashmir's issues in Bollywood. "We can turn a blind eye only if we want to lose Kashmir forever," Bipasha said.