I was on my way out when the boss summoned. “There’s this girl who will be debuting in Shekhar Kapur’s musical Ta Ra Rum Pum with Kajol’s sister Tanisha. Why don’t you speak to her? She was in the Liril ad.”
The dimpled girl splashing in the waterfall and strumming a lotus.. suddenly the assignment wasn’t a drag!We did her first ‘film’ interview over the phone. Preity Zinta was fun. But Shekhar disillusioned by the censor problems that plagued Bandit Queen, moved westwards to make Elizabeth.
He did recommend Preity whom he’d discovered by default (she had come with a friend to the audition, been offered a contract instead and had tossed a coin telling Shekhar, “If it’s heads I’ll sign it, if it’s tails, it’s bye.”) to Mani
Ratnam for Dil Se for a 20-minute debut.
Priety would have flagged off her career with a full-fledged role of a teenage unwed mother in Kya Yehi Pyar Hai had the film not been delayed. Honey Irani who was to direct it (Kundan Shah eventually did) had spotted her in a Casper commercial back in 1996. Producer Ramesh Taurani admits he was surprised when she accepted the offer.
Since she was a regular tomboy in Shimla, Preity had toyed with a new career every week.. IAS, painter, prime minister, truck driver, psychologist (she has a degree in criminal psychology), astronaut but never movie star. Eyes dancing with mischief, curls tumbling carelessly, she looked like a campus cutie.. and the audience loved her.
I met her for the first time just before the release of Kya Kehna (the title of Kya Yehi Pyar Hai had changed to Friends and finally Kya Kehna). I fired the first question, Preity peered at my Dictaphone and frowned,“It’s not recording.” She rewound and fast-forwarded the tape a couple of times. Only after she was convinced that it was working properly, did she start the interview.
Our next outing was at the Bandra-Kurla grounds while she was rehearsing for an award show. I wanted to quiz her on Kal Ho Na Ho but didn’t have a Dictaphone. Sitting besides me on the steps, she frowned thoughtfully, then smiled, “Go ahead, I trust you not to misquote me. You have dimples too.”
Our most recent encounter took place a couple of months ago at her office. While we waited our turn, we journalists kept ourselves entertained with the gossip and garam chai. Popping out for a break, Priety returned to say that our laughter could be heard all the way down. “I’d rather join you than talk of work,” she said wistfully.
But duty called, both her and me. My q-and-a took almost an hour. When she was telling me what a lucky girl Anushka Sharma was to have landed Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi opposite Shah Rukh Khan, I reminded her that he had been her first co-star too.
Preity laughed, “That was just a 20-minute role but yes, I’m lucky. Not too many have one dimple. Even you have two.” Preity walked me to the door she smiled, “I like your dimples.” I smiled back, “I like yours too and you’re luckier since you have only one.”