Although caught up in the movie whirligig, she’s been a rebel with a cause. She initiated a Clean Mumbai campaign, has participated in marathon runs and has appeared in law courts to assert her convictions. Preity Zinta on what freedom means to her today..interviewed by Hiren Kotwani.
What would you associate immediately with the word 'freedom'?
A bird that can fly high .. having a choice to say yes or no.. leading your life the way you want to.. breaking free of social norms and superstitions.
What are your earliest memories of Independence Day?
It's not the only day for me to be patriotic. My dad was in the army, so I was born patriotic.. even my brother is in the army. At Independence Day programmes, I would be at my boarding school. It would be a holiday, we'd have flag hoisting ceremony. We were allowed to wear casual clothes, instead of the usual uniform. <b1>
What do you do on Independence Day these days?
My Independence Day is when I don't have to work. There was time when I was shooting for Kya Kehna in Ooty, I was told that since it's my first movie, I had to work.. could take a holiday on Independence Day only when I became a big star.
What is the most patriotic thing you've ever done?
Honestly, I don't know. I'm proud of being an Indian. Off hand, I can say that when I did the Jai Jawan programme for NDTV, I felt good having done something for our soldiers.
Having studied psychology, what do you think of the mindset of the average Indian today?
I don't think Indians are truly patriotic. So many sections of our society are clannish and communal. I met this 18-year-old medical student on a return flight from Paris..we got talking..and he said he didn't know a word of Hindi.. though it's our national language.
Where do you think the fault is?
We have some of the worst leaders. When you see them on television, you're like come on, give me a break. We need leaders who are educated with no criminal record, who are not corrupt. We need clean people. The government has to be transparent. Look at CEOs of companies, they work in the interest of the entire company, and hire employees on merit, not on the basis of caste, creed, religion and contacts. If a politician divides people on the basis of religion, he should be shot down. Earlier there was just one enemy, but now there are so many, and that too from within. But I'm sure we shall overcome. <b2>
Suddenly it's cool to be patriotic.
I don't think it's cool, it's an intrinsic part of your life. If people are not satisfied being in their own country, then they don't deserve to be here.
You started on the cleanliness drive with the BMC. But then what happened?
You tell me..how long can I take a broom and sweep the streets? I need people with me. But where are they? I met various officials and the municipal commissioner, I bought dust bins, hired people, but after a year, only a few bins have survived. I need support to make a difference.
Have you ever been tempted to live abroad?
Well, yes.. when I return from abroad it's such a contrast. But I love the pani puri, barging into my friends' homes, the gossip that buzzes around us.. I miss all that when I'm out of the country. When I'm away for a long time, I feel depressed.. Admittedly, the quality of life is far from perfect. Last Sunday I had a day off..but there wasn't much to do, except go to a restaurant or see a movie. There's no proper entertainment sector, no sports, children can't play in open spaces because there aren't many. And there's so much pollution. I saw a huge poster which said, "Mera Bharat Mahaan"...way down in small letters, it was written, "banana padega".
What about the inclusion of a Pakistani character in some of our movies today?
It's not about
mera gaon mera desh
anymore, it's about our planet. If the rains have flooded Bombay, they have also wreaked damage in America and Britain.
What if you were the Chief Minister for a day?
I'd make sure I'm CM for five years.
What can you do in a day?
If I was given time I'd try to rehabilitate slum dwellers and improve the roads immediately. If you've read Shantaram, you'll know that its writer lived in the slums for a long time and worked for the underworld. Knock knock, hello.. isn't the government supposed to check crime when it's staring them in the face?
What if you were the Prime Minister for a day?
Now that would be very difficult. India is too big.. I'd rather be the CM. <b3>
So I won't ask you about being President for a day.
(Laughs) That post is already taken.. now there's no novelty about being the first woman President anymore.
What would you have been if you were a man?
A lover of women. Or may be Superman.
In retrospect, how do you look back at your testimony against the underworld?
I thought it would make a difference. I wanted to speak the truth. In retrospect, I feel let down.. because it was supposed to be an in-camera trial, no one was supposed to know anything about it. But the media had it all in one hour of me leaving court. I thanked god that I'm famous and a film star, because if anything had happened, more would have come out in the open. If I'd been a simple girl from a village, I'd be raped, killed and chopped up, and no one would have known.
Anything else to say?
Maybe, there should be a bit of freedom from technology too. Our children don't know the meaning of childhood, friendship and love. It's not possible if they're just sitting before Playstations.