How is life post-Ghajini? You are flooded with endorsements now.
Life is pretty much the same. As for endorsements, I have been doing ads since the age of 14. So far, I have done around 50 ads including Parachute, BPL Mobile, Mirinda and Colgate. Most of the commercials you are seeing now have been signed much before Ghajini happened.
But didn't you sign Tata Sky after Ghajini and after Aamir Khan became its brand ambassador?
Not at all. My ads are already on in the South and they are planning to shoot another with Aamir soon.
Now that you have tasted success with both the Ghajini's, which is more special?
Both. I was excited when the Tamil film came about. I had done a few films till then but Ghajini was a huge success. It was the highest-watched regional film in that year (2005). A huge box-office success, it even caught Bollywood's attention. As for the Hindi version, when I was shooting for it, it was like watching a re-run of your film but I was equally enthused working in it. I have been told the film is the highest grosser ever in Hindi. Screen gave me the Most Promising Newcomer award and I got my first national recognition.
Do you get mobbed in Mumbai?
I think people in Mumbai are really cool. When they see me, they wave out or greet me with a Hi or a Hello. It feels nice. But when I was shooting for London Dreams in Chandigarh, I got a taste of North India. I had never been there before and though I stayed there only for a day I enjoyed it. The crowd was encouraging and kept calling out my name. If I didn't respond to Asin, they would resort to Kalpana (her name in Ghajini). I loved the food there, specially the aloo parathas.
Are you not afraid of putting on weight?
Not at all. I believe in eating healthy food. My mother is a doctor and she has always encouraged me to eat right and live a healthy life. Whenever I get time, I work-out and do cardio exercises. I am not interested in being a size zero.
What difference do you find between the Mumbai and the South film industries?
The South industry has a lot more sense of punctuality. They start early and wrap up by a particular time. I am used to that and make it a point to be on time for a shoot or an event. People tell me I shouldn't be on time and that it's an 'in' thing to be fashionably late. In Ghajini, the entire unit was from the South, so in that sense there was no difference. London Dreams is the first complete Bollywood unit I am working with. Most of the film has been shot in London and Paris and it was a good experience. Each of us got a bound script, besides the shoot schedule including the sunrise, sunset, weather forecast, temperature, site -map of the location, reporting time etc. For the first time, I was introduced to the concept of ADs (assistant directors) with walkie-talkies on the sets of Ghajini. It was odd to hear them telling each other 'loading Kalpana on the set', 'walking Kalpana' etc.' I used to tell them I am not a thing to be adressed like that!
How did London Dreams come about?
It was when I was shooting for Ghajini that I got a call from Vipul Shah. I got a script narration, liked my role and agreed to be a part of it. It is a relationship-based musical film. I am looking forward to it.
What is your role like?
I play Priya, a London-based girl of Indian origin. She is part of a music band, which has Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan as the lead singers.
We've heard that you sport two distinct looks in the film.
Yes, Priya acts like a paawan (innocent) traditional South Indian girl at home in front of her parents wearing only chudidars and salwars. But when she steps out, she switches over to strappy, short outfits and hot pants, the kind a London girl wears. Unlike Kalpana of Ghajini who wore clothes picked up from the streets in Bandra, since she was shown to be a lower middle-class girl, Priya's outfits have been brought in London.
There were reports that you weren't happy with the outfits given by your designer in London Dreams.
There's not an iota of truth in that report. Ashley Rebello is the designer and I had no problems with him. In fact, I have never stated my preferences for any of my movies. The director decides the kind of look he wants and conveys it to the designer. If the director is not satisfied how can I be blamed?
Between Kalpana and Priya, who is closer to you?
Oh! That's difficult to say. But I think I identify with Priya more. I had fun shooting for the film as the two newcomers Ranvijay and Aditya are closer to my age. We are all part of a music band in the film but we became good friends in real life too. Ranvijay is cool and Aditya is sweet.
What about your heroes, Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan?
Salman is chilled-out. I like his attitude. With him what you see is what you get. Ajay Devgan was a revelation. I thought he was this serious, reserved type of guy but he turned out to be quite a prankster. He's witty and is a complete entertainment on the sets. He used to come up with this tongue-twisters in Hindi like oont ki peeth oonchi, oonchi poonch oont ki. And I would retort with some of the old Hindi one-line tongue-twisters that I know.
So, did he play any pranks on you?
Yes, he tried, but it fell flat on his face. (Laughs) During a shoot in London, when I was sitting in my caravan, two guys who were around 7 feet tall and of African origin started yelling at me. They asked me to come out of the caravan and started banging on it. Something told me this couldn't be happening. After they were through I calmly asked them to get out. Then, I saw Vipul (Shah) and Ajay standing with a camera filming the entire scene! Vipul was disappointed that I hadn't given a single reaction.
Tell us about the scene where Salman proposes to you.
That picture of Salman kneeling and proposing in front of the Eiffel Tower was splashed everywhere. We were shooting a song in Paris near the De Luvre Museum. A wacky song, which goes Man ko adhik bhave saiyyas, dil taa taa thaiyaa, haaye re has Salman wooing me and at the end of the song he proposes to me. It was freezing in the nights with chilly winds. But the song is so funny, it was great shooting for it.
Ghajini's producer Madhu Mantena has said that he has cancelled the three-film contract with you because of your attitude?
Let me clarify that I never sign any contract deals with producers. So, there's no question of him cancelling it. In fact, the day the report came in the paper, he called me to tell me not to believe whatever has been written. I must say that compared to the media in the South, the press here cooks up stories without any clarifications. I have decided not to react to these reports.
You refused a Priyadarshan film co-starring Akshay Kumar. In fact, you haven't signed any Hindi films apart from London Dreams.
(Cuts in) I would love to work with Priyan, I have grown up on his films in Malayalam. And he has offered me films in the past too. I have refused them for different reasons. For me, the most important things are the script, my character, the director, the producer and co-artiste, in that order. I try for the best combination and I am lucky to have worked with the cream of the cream. I can afford to wait. I don't want to be repetitious in my roles.
It's being said that you are charging a high price of around a crore and a half.
Money is not a criteria. I don't have any financial pressures. I want to enjoy what I am doing.
Like Bharatbala's 19 Steps?
Yes. It is a Walt Disney production to be made in Tamil and Japanese. It is about a Samurai warrior who comes to Kerala to learn Kalaripayattu, the mother of all martial arts. The film stars Tadanov Asano, a Hollywood Japanese actor. Kamal Hassan plays the male lead. I can't reveal much about the role as we haven't even started shooting for it. It is to be shot in Kerala and Japan. I will be leaving for Kerala soon to learn Kalaripayattu. I am a trained classical dancer but I need to learn the body language of a trained Kalari. However, it is quite risky and many are known to get seriously injured while training. My mother is very apprehensive and is asking if it's a must to learn it!
Are you doing any Malayalam film?
No. I was offered four films but I am not doing any.
Is it because you want to establish yourself in Bollywood now?
No. I am open to doing any film, language is not a barrier. But as I told you I can afford to wait for a good role.
But your competitors may race ahead..
I want to concentrate on my career and not look at what others are doing or not doing. I am raw in films, I have neither taken acting classes nor have I assisted directors. Whatever I have learnt is on-the-job. I was 14 years old studying in the ninth grade when people told me I had a photogenic face and should try modelling. One thing led to another and I made my film debut in a Malayalam film Narendran Magan. It did average business, but my second film Amma, Nana, O Tamila Ammayi in Telugu was a big hit and I made it.