Man-eater Mallika Sherawat, long distance from LA, opens up on her Hissss-story.
Ever since it was launched, your home production, Hissss, has been an eagerly anticipated film but it’s been in the making for a while now. Have you fixed on a release date yet? Will the film be as awe-inspiring as the 10-years-in-the-making Avatar?
Hissss is a complicated, special effects loaded film. And this genre of film needs time for post-production, especially in Hollywood. Hissss will be premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in the Film Market in May this year. After that, the distributors will decide on the international release date. I don't think any film in the world can be compared to Avatar, the most expensive movie ever made. But Hissss will definitely raise the bar as far as special effects in India is concerned.
Your co-star Irrfan Khan says that the role of the vengeful reptile is tailor-made for you. That with your sizzling sensuality and sharp teeth, you make a frightening yet alluring man-eater. He’s relieved that you don’t kiss him in the film or else he’d have died too.
Any compliment from the great Irrfan Khan is flattering. I'm a huge fan of his work and excited to see him in our movie.
Hmmm, so how many men do you kiss in Hissss?
Snakes don't kiss, they swallow. (Laughs out loud) You should ask me how many people I swallow in the film.
You’ve been quoted as saying that Hissss is the “first female empowerment superhero snake horror film”. What exactly do you mean?
Well, the nagin (female snake) is the ultimate femme fatale — a venomous shape-shifter. But at the same time, she is a sympathetic character.
In our mythology she’s been depicted as a goddess and that in modern terms, would be a translated as a superhero.
That's my interpretation of the character.
Most women are afraid of snakes, aren’t you?
No, I'm not particularly afraid of snakes. They are pretty fascinating creatures — limbless, venomous, cold-blooded predators who swallow their prey whole. My earliest memories are of snake charmers who used to pass through my village in Haryana.
We have had several superhit reptilian films in the past on love and vengeance, including Vyjayanthimala’s Nagin, Reena Roy’s Nagin and Sridevi’s Nagin. Which one of them inspired Hissss?
There were also several other Nagin films too, made in South Indian languages. And also films made China, Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia.
Tsui Hark's Hong Kong film, Green Snake, with Maggie Cheung and Joey Wong playing twin snakes, was interesting in a campy way. But strangely, one of my inspirations was An American Werewolf In London.
It’s surprising that none of our Indian Nagin movies were your muse?
Well, as a kid, I had enjoyed watching Sridevi's Nagin.
As we have just established, the subject is not new to Hindi cinema. So will it be the treatment, the SFX or Jennifer Lynch’s direction that will make Hissss different?
It is a reboot of the old genre but the story, SFX and treatment are out of the box. Calling the Lynches (Jennifer and filmmaker and artist father David Lynch) different is a huge understatement.
Which was the most difficult scene to shoot?
The toughest part was dealing with the leeches crawling all over my body in freezing cold rain in the jungles of Kerala.
Pages have been written on Amitabh Bachchan’s make-up ordeal during the shooting of Paa, yours couldn’t have been any easier.
It was tough. It took over four hours for the make-up to be applied. I couldn't drink anything the whole day and was dehydrated as I was wearing a complete body suit and couldn't even visit the loo.
Hats off to Big B for his stupendous effort. I'm looking forward to seeing Paa soon.
There was talk recently that you brother, Vikram, had thrown a tantrum on the sets during a shoot in Mumbai over a skimpy, skin-coloured bikini you were wearing.
I'm extremely close to my brother but we never seem to agree when it comes to my raw vegan diet and my wardrobe.
Reportedly, you don’t have too many lines in the film and it is the hiss sound that gave the film its title.
Well, snakes hiss more than they talk, don’t they?
How long did it take to develop the perfect hiss?
I did my best but the sound designers in LA will have to help out a bit now.
Sridevi’s Nagin had a sequel, Nagina. Will you also be carrying the story forward?
Well, it’s the era of sequels, so of course. Hollywood is already jumping at the idea.
‘It’s the first time he’s dedicated a song to someone other than his mother’
At his Los Angeles concert last year, Yanni Voices, the composer dedicated a song, 'Changes…’ to Mallika. Apparently, the actress had run into Yanni and Oscar and Grammy winner Ric Wake at an upscale LA restaurant, The Ivy. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that resulted in the composer picking up the mike and telling his 7,000-odd fans, “This song is for Mallika Sherawat. One of a kind.”
On the giant video screen behind, images of Yanni’s concert in India at the Taj Mahal played. Maan gaye Mumtaz-e-Azam!
Quizzed on how it feels to be Yanni’s ‘It Girl’ the actress says, “It was really nice of him to do that. It was the first time he ever dedicated a song to someone other than his mother. Yanni is a gem of a person.” Buzz is that Yanni has invited her to accompany him when he tours India. She agrees, “I will always be there for him when he tours my country.”
‘America is less judgmental'
While Bollywood often dismissed you as a bimbette who was all body, Hollywood seems to have connected with your soul and sensibilities. Is it goodbye to Hindi films then?
I'm just trying to find material that excites me, that's all — and these days it seems to be coming from Hollywood.
I know you don’t like post-mortems but in retrospect, where do you think films like Ugly aur Pagli and Maan-Gaye-Mughal-e-Azam go wrong? And where did a Welcome go right?
As William Goldman says, in the film business nobody knows anything. So some films work at the box office and some don't.
Will you be a part of the Welcome sequel?
If they offer it to me, why not?
A special appearance in Dasavataram had reportedly earned you Rs 1.25 crore, making you one of our highest paid stars. Is price keeping other offers at bay?
If it’s a great script, a starring role and a director whose work I admire, price is never an issue.
Still, wouldn’t you say that you were too independent for India and Bollywood? You once said that you could not put on a fake smile, say the right things and be diplomatic. Can you be yourself in Hollywood?
I think America is less judgmental, and respectful of a person's individuality. But one still has to be diplomatic and I'm working real hard at it as it does not come naturally to me. (Laughs) See how diplomatic I've been in this interview!
You’ve just signed a political romantic comedy. How did Love, Barack come about?
I loved the script—it’s election time and the Democratic campaign organiser falls in love with her Republican counterpart. I loving working with veteran Hollywood director William Dear
Will you be shifting base to LA now that you have an honorary citizenship?
It was a surprise to be the first Indian actor to be honored by the mayor and the council members at LA’s City Hall, that too on the eve of the Indian Independence day.
Mallika opposite Avatar star Laz Alonso
Love, Barack is a political, romantic comedy set during the frantic and intoxicating days leading up to 2008 U S Presidential election. Doug McHenry is the director. Mallika plays Aretha Gupta, a local Obama volunteer coordinator. The story’s inspiration comes from the many publicly-documented campaign romances that sprung-up around the Obama Presidential win, which experts speculate resulted in a Obama baby-boom last year.
‘I sure got a good-looking nose’
Mallika has made it to Asia’s 100 Most Beautiful People list. When asked to define beauty she says, “These lists come
and go. What remains is great work.”
Beauty, according to her, is subjective. When asked what are her best features she says, “I think my brother and I are blessed with perfect, beautiful noses. So there you have it --- criticize me all you want, but I sure got a good-looking nose.”
‘Twitter helps me keep in touch’
She arrived in a stretch limousine, was mobbed as soon as she stepped out, spent an hour signing autographs and posing for photographs, and then, sent the temperature and glamour quotient at the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco soaring.
Mallika was the first Asian star to be invited to Twitter. “Jai Ho!” she gushed in Slumdog Millionare mode. She even demonstrated a few Bollywood moves to excited employees as she flagged off an impromptu dance party! Later, promos of Hissss were screened. According to Twitter staff, since Mallika started tweeting, membership in India has skyrocketed.
When asked if the social networking site helps her to keep abreast of what’s happening in her home country, the actress says, “Sure it does. It also keeps me in touch with my fans and their feedback keeps me
Irfan Khan on HISSSS..
No, Mallika Sherawat doesn’t kiss me in Hissss. If she did, I would die. I’m spared because I’m not one of her victims but the man who saves her and his wife.
There wasn’t much interaction on the sets because we have different tracks. But she’s one enthusiastic actress. The shoot was chaotic but surprisingly, it has shaped into an interesting film thanks to the director, Jennifer Lynch, who is one strong woman. I wasn’t sure if she could pull it off but she has.
She directed the film literally on her knees. She was suffering from a severe back problem and once, when we were shooting at Filmistan Studio, she crawled into my make-up van to brief me. I’m waiting for the teaser ads. The special effects by Robert Kurtzman will blow you away. It’s the role of a lifetime for Mallika.
She plays a snake and suits the character to the T. It’s not an Indian ngin, so she won’t have to sing and dance or speak either. But she’ll get to do all the other things she is famous for.
Mallika has been away in LA, working on the post-production. She spoke about the film on Oprah Winfrey’s show. Oprah was to come down to India last May and travel with Mallika to Hampi to visit Hanuman’s birthplace. But she was apparently scared away by the Swine Flu.
That surprises me. Oprah, being an intelligent woman, should know that it’s the U S and Mexico that were bigger risks
then than India. She could have saved herself from the viral by coming down.