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Friday, November 09, 2007


Since it's Diwali and the better part of the weekend will see us partying and catching up on the two big Bollywood releases, thought I might leave you with an interview that I did recently.

She's gorgeous, smart and successful. She's sustained an injury on the sets of Drona. Though her mega-watt smile gives no indication of the pain she's been through. 12 noon is 12 noon for her. She arrives on the dot, takes the mike collar in her hand. When the sound man gets up to help her, she gently says, "it's alright, I'm used to this." When her make-up guy walks in, she's polite. After checking if everything is alright, she's back to chatting. Having had my brushes with stars who only light up when the cameras are rolling, this one is a real surprise. I tell her about witnessing some of her back-stage action at Genting during the Zee Cine Awards. She had to do her descent several times because the choreographer wasn't happy with the way she was landing on stage and not once did she complain. If this is the stuff of stars, I want to keep seeing more of them. For now, let's get to Priyanka Chopra. Winning the Miss World title in 2000 changed a lot of things for her. She chose a career in films. The awards, the roles, the films Andaaz, Krrish, Don, prove it's been the perfect choice.

In a wide ranging conversation, she talks about how she picks her celluloid roles, the things that inspire her and what keeps her working 15 hours a day:

Q : Priyanka, you are an amazing actress. You injured yourself while shooting for your recent film ‘Drona’ and ignoring your doctor’s advice you were back at work the very next day. What drives you and makes you take on the roles that you do?
A :
I like doing films and cinema that intrigues me and movies that I’d like to go and see myself as an audience. If the script touches me and I feel I’d like to pay and watch this film, then I say yes. That’s how I pick my films and it seems to have worked. So far, so good.

Q : And you believe in doing extensive training for your films. For your latest film its in Sikh martial arts?
A :
I learnt gatka for a little while. Besides that my character in Drona is completely action oriented. It’s something you don’t see leading ladies, at least in Indian cinema, do too often. I haven’t seen actresses do as much action stuff as I have done in Drona.

Q : Do you think actresses today have to work a lot harder?
A :
The generation of today is putting in a lot of effort to make sure that the characters we play are a lot more fleshed out. They are not just stereotypical running around trees and singing. Yes, we do have singing and dancing and I love that, but Indian movies today are a lot more than that. They are pushing boundaries, they are trying new stuff, they are integrating technology. I’m not just talking about actors, I’m talking about film makers and directors and producers who are making different films where the roles of leading ladies are a lot more fleshed out.

Q : In Don, you played Roma’s role, which is almost immortalised by Zeenat Aman? How did you approach it considering there was someone the audience was always associating your character with?
A :
When you try and fill someone’s shoes, it’s always difficult and you have a lot more responsibility especially if those shoes are as big as Zeenat Aman’s. So I tried to make Roma’s role as different as I could and I’m glad that it worked.

Q : Indian cinema has grown so much over the years, in terms of eyeballs, revenue, fans, recognition and also in the ways movies are being made today. How does it feel to represent one of the world’s fastest growth industries?
A :
I’ve been in the film industry for four years now. My first film released in 2003. Before that I was a student, I was studying engineering in fact. It’s quite a short span for me to understand this industry. I saw film as entertainment. I never really saw the business of Bollywood. But having become a part of it, I take a lot of pride that Indians all over the world unite through Indian cinema and I feel a huge sense of responsibility and am honoured to represent Indian cinema today.

Q : Priyanka, the first time I saw you in person was when you were rehearsing for the Zee Cine Awards in Genting. I still recall you being pulled up by those ropes, every time your choreographer felt your touch down on stage wasn’t perfect. It must have gone on like 10 times and I was thinking, that’s what true superstars are like. It’s not easy, we don’t get to see this stuff. Do you feel people just don’t get what goes on behind the scenes?
A :
You are right, so much happens, so many cuts, re-takes, the sheer number of people who make things happen and the audience never really realize it. Such is the magic of cinema that you often can’t even fathom the effort that goes into the making of each film. There’s so much at stake. I’m not just talking about the economy or the monies part of it. I’m talking about the sheer effort it takes to make a film and sometimes, you wish there was a little more appreciation of what it took to put all of it together.

Q : You’ve actually been spoilt for choice. I know a lot of actors would have jumped at the opportunity, but you’ve said no to a Hollywood film. Why’s that?
A :
It wasn’t the kind of film I was looking at doing. If I do something outside of India, it has to be something that really excites me. I wouldn’t do something just because it’s Hollywood. I think Indian cinema has reached a point where we stand at another level altogether. I’m not taking about the budgets and business, that would take some time, but in terms of popularity, I think Indian cinema has reached another level altogether. As an actor if I go out there and do a film it has to be at a certain level, it has to meet my expectations and that of the people who would be watching it.

Q : Does Hollywood still remain an option for you?
A :
Not just Hollywood, even Tamil cinema, regional cinema, any cinema that touches me, moves me and inspires me.

Q : Speaking of Tamil cinema, you in fact launched your career with a Tamil film. What’s the journey to superstardom been like?
A :
That’s right, my debut was in a Tamil film. Well, I’ve learnt a lot in the 4-5 years I’ve been in the industry. I never thought I’d be here or that I’d come so far. I’m extremely grateful to all the people who have forgiven my errors and all my fans who have come out to support me by watching me on and off screen. You know I’ve never really trained as an actor, it’s been a lot of trial and error, portraying the kind of characters I have on screen. It takes a lot for people to love an artiste and I’m enormously grateful for their support.

Q : What about the media and the way they treat film stars. I find the treatment of Indian film stars is a lot like that of the Indian cricketers. The minute you have a hit, everyone’s waxing lyrical, one flop and loyalties shift quick time. Do you think the media has been fair to you?
A :
Brickbats and bouquets are part of the game and you have to be accepting of that. But I think you’ve got that spot on. In India, cricket and films are the two biggest religions after religion. We have a tremendous responsibility when we are making films. Yes, the media can be a bit unforgiving at times but one has to be understanding that they are reaching out to an ever hungry public, who constantly want more news, more information. While I understand their need to keep writing to meet the demand, I think sourcing has to be more authentic, that doesn’t really happen now.

Q : Getting back to your films, apart from Drona, which your fans are very excited about, which other films are you excited about?
A :
I have Love Story 2050 coming up which is another really exciting film. It’s a science fiction drama traveling across two time zones. It’s something that’s not been seen in India before and I’m looking forward to it. Then there is God Tussi Great Hon.

Q : When you aren’t shooting, when you aren’t criss-crossing the globe and when you have more than a minute to yourself, what do you like to do?
A :
I love to read. I’m a voracious reader. I like reading any kind of book. Thrillers, science fiction, fiction. And I love watching movies too – not mine of course.

Q : And how does it feel to be back in Singapore?
A :
It feels great. Singapore is one my favourite places in the world. I have some really nice memories attached to the city and it’s always great to be back.

Q : Speaking of Singapore, Krrish was a blockbuster all over the world and keenly watched in Singapore. What was shooting for it like, were your expectations pretty much what came out in the film?
A :
Actually it looked much better than I thought it would. We shot all over Singapore. We got a lot of support from the Singapore Tourism Board. We were allowed to shoot pretty much where we wanted to and Singapore came out looking even more spectacular than I thought it would. And coming back to the city, it’s a beautiful city, there’s so much do here, it’s a great life here and I was really looking forward to coming back.

Q : You are an Army kid, or 'Army brat' as the term often goes. We spend the better part of our childhood packing boxes, moving cities, making new friends. Do you think your Army background has helped you in your career?
A :
Absolutely. We, as Army children are like water. We can fit in anywhere. Our parents keep us on the move but at the same time they instill in us the values of discipline, punctuality, conducting ourselves in public. I have absolutely no problems working 15 hours a day. And I think a lot of this has to with my childhood. In fact, I am very grateful to the Indian Army for instilling all these qualities in me.

With that, its time for her to make the first of many public appearances. Like a true fauji she doesn't want to be a second too late. She unclips her mike, is game enough to give us some pictures to remember her by and then she's off to meet and greet her fans.

Pictures courtesy Zee TV

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