She's being praised to the skies for her role as the traumatised schizophrenic Parveen Babi in Woh Lamhe. But it has left Kangana Ranaut so drained that she intends to take a month off to regain emotional strength.
"I'm going back home to my village in Himachal as soon as I can, just to be near my dear ones, just to feel what Sana, my character in Woh Lamhe, never did. I had become so close to her that I had begun to feel her desolation and loneliness. I know what she went through. In this ruthless industry you are all alone. And intense love always brings intense suffering. There may be happy love stories. Parveen didn't have one. Some day I hope to have a happy love story."
Kangana admits she was scared to approach Babi.
"The one thing I could connect with was her mood swings. I have them too. As one woman I can connect to the pain of another. Like Sana, I do get angry. But only once in six months. And then all hell breaks loose. I don't throw things around only because I live alone and I know I'll have to clean up the mess. More than moody I'm practical. I withdraw into myself."
According to Kangana, the industry is a terrible place for a single girl with no godfather.
"Other girls my age are going on blind dates and joining salsa classes. I'm here playing a woman who lost her mind to a world where the only reality is unreality. Not that I'm complaining. I think I've been very lucky. I've seen life from the highest mountain. I've been on my own since the age of 16, though my parents were always there to support me. I took off to chase my dreams and here I am."
Kangana realised that she needed no qualification to pursue acting.
"I came to Mumbai and was doing modelling and theatre. Cinema just happened. It's a myth that Aditya Pancholiji took me to producers. He isn't even doing that for his daughter... But Adityaji, his wife Zarinaji and their daughter Sana were the only family I knew when I came to Mumbai. Today, although I've done two very daring roles, people compare me with Smita Patil. Shabanaji, whom I so admire, says she's watching me."
Talk veers to her audacious scenes in Woh Lamhe such as the one where she flings off her under-garment.
"I'm new. I'm raw and I'm totally open to ideas and roles that strike me as authentic. As a child I didn't watch films. I don't have a favourite actress. All I know is from my experiences in life. I was aware of those scenes. That wasn't me doing it. That was Sana. Kangana has her limits. Sana didn't. When I play a character I've to do everything a character asks me to do. A role comes in a package.
"I was so taken up by my character that I actually began to hallucinate. I could feel a ghost hovering near me. I could feel people trying to kill me. It doesn't take much to psyche yourself into believing in your character's beliefs. All this was very harmful for my mind."
Kangana says Woh Lamhe was far more traumatic than Gangster. "Earlier I saw Parveen Babi as just another actress. But now, when I see her face anywhere, I feel I'm part of her. And she's part of my being. Because I've lived her life."
To Kangana's relief, she gets to play a far less traumatised character in her next film, Suneel Darshan's Shaka Laka Boom Boom, and has a light role lined up in Anurag Basu's Metro.
"But first a break, in February to recuperate and also to attend my sister's wedding. She's my only sister. After seeing what Parveen Babi went through I'm so happy to be blessed with a family."