It is a love story. What attracted me to the film is that it’s set in a different world. She’s an extremely ambitious girl. Figure skating is where her talent lies and she wants to do a lot with her life despite her disability. She is a go-getter. She wants to get out of the world she is in. There are people in her wadi (residential area) who keep telling her that she is stupid and she shouldn’t be doing this. She doesn’t listen to anyone. She does what she feels like. And in a way, that’s very similar to the kind of person I am.
Aren’t you playing a blind character?
She is blind in the film. To find out how and why she is blind, you will have to see the film. There is a subtle message in the film that says blind people are also capable. In fact, they are sometimes more capable than we are, because their other senses are much stronger. When one is handicapped, we automatically start sympathising with that person. But I don’t feel they need it. They’re differently abled. They’re okay with the fact that they’re like that, and that doesn’t stop them from achieving what they want.
Did you have to do any research?
I met a few blind people. We spent a lot of time interacting with them and having them around to observe their body language and how they react to certain situations. Apart from me observing how it works, it was also very important for Dada (Pradeep Sarkar) to learn. For people like Neil (Nitin Mukesh) and the rest of our gang, we had to watch and observe the way to react to a blind person, because it’s different from the way you react to a normal person.
I am always asked if I’ve seen Black (2005) or Fanaa (2006). Well… no. I have seen these films when they released. But haven’t seen any of these films as a reference for my performance. I didn’t watch it specifically before I started shooting. For me, the challenge was to do it my way. Now let’s see if it works. I think it’s something different that I have attempted, considering this is my sixth or seventh film. It was a huge challenge that Adi (Aditya Chopra) just threw at me, because he thought I was capable of doing it after he saw Love Aaj Kal (2009).
The director has made two films before this, and both were, in their own ways, very different from what this one seems to be.… Was that a big challenge for the director too? This film is a love story. It has a little bit of everything. I can’t think of anyone else who could have pulled it off. And I think he took it upon himself as a challenge as well, because people relate Pradeep Sarkar to films like Parineeta (2005). They think that all his life, he is going to make these social dramas, where the girls look ethereal and they’re all Bengali.
When I said I am doing a Pradeep Sarkar film, everyone said, “Oh, you’re playing a Bengali girl.” He also took up the challenge of doing something young, different; a world that we don’t see too much in our films — a life in a wadi in Mumbai. I’ve not seen mainstream films like this. And this is a Yash Raj film.
Normally, in our cinema, love stories used to be based in Switzerland, Europe… now it’s New York, Australia and Sydney, and then it suddenly became Delhi and Mumbai. But very few films are actually set in the world that we all live in.
I played National Level badminton, but somewhere I always knew my heart wasn’t in it. I think I did it because it was a natural transition and, everyday after school, I would go to the court and play with my father (Prakash Padukone). Before I knew it, I had started to play competitive badminton. In 2002, I took a break for my class 10 board exams, and that’s when I realised that this is not what I wanted. I thought the break was the right time to make a career decision, because what I did in my class 11 and 12 would shape my future decision.
When I was in the fifth or sixth standard, I did some ads for kids clothes... Westside used to be called Little Woods then; I also did ads for appliances where I’d be the kid in the mum, dad and kid frames.
I started modelling later. A friend’s mother is one of the most famous model coordinators in Bangalore. She would come to drop her daughter to school and would always tell my mother that I was going to become a model one day. She’d say, ‘Why don’t you make her a child model?’ And my mum would say, ‘Please don’t say these things, she’s too young, maybe later…’ But since so many offers were coming my way, I did a few of them. I realised that this is what I really wanted to do — modelling.
Because it’s good money also… I didn’t think of the money at all. Even today, I don’t think. No (pauses)… I am very materialistic, but I am like that today, because I am independent and I need to support myself. Even today, I don’t know how much I got paid for those ads. But I realised that if this is what I want to do, then I need to tell my parents and get serious about it.
During my board exams, because one just sits at home and eats, I put on a lot of weight. Around then I went and met the same model coordinator I worked with earlier, and she said, ‘Great. I knew you would come back to me.’ So, I lost some weight, got my portfolio done, sent it to a lot of people in Mumbai and in Bangalore, and work started pouring in. I did a lot of those college fest shows. Finally, I landed my first big campaign, the Liril one and then the Colgate ad happened. That became popular, and before I knew it, I was doing movies.
When I was in school, I’d watch Madhuri (Dixit) and Sridevi and would think that even if I didn’t run after films, they would happen to me at some point.
You have been linked to Siddharth Mallya, right?
No… I have been linked to Neil (laughs).
Are there scripts in Bollywood that everyone wants to get hold of or be a part of? For instance, if Vishal is casting for his next film...
When a director makes a film, I think he knows whom he wants to work with. Unless affording the actors is an issue, which is rare. Even then, I don’t think a film wouldn’t work just because of that. If at all, actors are replaced when dates don’t work out. And then also, the director knows who the next actor should be.
Julia Roberts still goes to audition for roles... that doesn’t happen here, does it?
No. It doesn't. Someone calls and you're in. With Rockstar, Imtiaz Ali did auditions; Ashutosh Govarikar was auditioning people to find the right face for Buddha. Very few directors have that system in place. Also, maybe they're doing the auditions because they are looking for a new face, but none of us do auditions. It works because someone calls. The first call is obviously made by the director. Then if you want to meet him, you go ahead. After that, you decide the films you want to do, based on the script and the director, because it's really important that the film is in the right hands. Very often you can have a great script and the film can just go wrong because it was not given to the right director.
—Transcribed by Serena Menon
‘I knew the film was opposite SRK, I’d be a fool if I said no’
Whenever I saw Yashji’s (Yash Chopra) films and I saw these girls running around trees in their chiffon saris, I fully saw myself doing it. In my head, I knew I would land up there, maybe that’s why I planned not to become an actor. I knew once I started modelling and got recognised, offers would come anyway and that’s what happened. I knew there were two things I never wanted to do, one was a music video and the second was never to participate in a beauty pageant. I didn’t do the second, but I couldn’t resist the first.
I remember it was January 1, Aapka Suroor had just released and Himesh Reshammiya was huge at that time. His office had called me for shooting a video. And I knew, as much as I did not want to do it, it was the right thing to do. The song went on to become a huge success, and thank God, I did that, because that’s where Farah (Khan) saw me and that’s how Om Shanti Om (2007) happened. She was watching me on TV; I think she liked my dance moves (laughs). I met her once, and I was on. Then I met Shah Rukh Khan. At that time, Farah was going to make a film called Happy New Year. All she said was that she is writing the film, and that I am on, and that she will let me know when it is ready.
I knew the film was opposite SRK, and I’d be a fool if I said no. I was offered many films before that, but I knew this was the one. By the time, SRK’s dates worked out, Farah had finished writing… I had about a year. So I joined Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares for about three months.
In the meantime, Farah suggested I do the Kannada film called Aishwarya, that was offered to me, because it would make me more comfortable in front of the camera. It did really well in the South. I thought it was a very modern film for its time. It was about a guy who has been hurt several times in love and has given up on it. Then he falls in love with a girl.
Do your fans deserve to know if you’re seeing somebody?
I think that my fans are my fans because of my acting, and not because of what’s going on in my life otherwise. Very honestly, the reason I choose not to talk about my personal life anymore is because the media doesn’t know where to draw the line. I was very open about my past relationship, thinking that they would leave us alone and give us our space and privacy, and respect us for the fact that we are in a relationship.
Please remember, I am 24, and I know I am an actor and there is this side of me that people perceive. But I am a very normal person. I know I have certain responsibilities, but that does not mean I will stop living a normal life. I will still go for that dinner; I will still go for that movie with the person that I want to go with. I don’t care if the media wants to jump to conclusions, or what people will say about me. At the end of the day, I am a human being, and I have one life to lead. As much as I understand that I am a celebrity, I also want to enjoy that life. I want to live my life the way my friends live theirs, without having to think twice.
I feel because of this profession, I am missing out on that life. But if I can balance both, why not? I’ve been in Mumbai for three years now, and I really wanted to see Café Leopold, and I eventually did.
I think I have the right to my privacy. First, they say you’re in a relationship, then they want to get you married, then they want to know when you’re having babies and so on… I love the fact that there is so much speculation. It’s fine… it’s okay.