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What are the other films that you are doing?
I have just signed Shree Asthavinayak Cine Vision's Blue¸ an action drama revolving around water-sports. Anthony D'Souza makes his directorial debut and Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar, and Zayed Khan are my co-stars. Then there is Sudhir Mishra's Aur Devdas and two films with David Dhawan, of which the only thing I can reveal is that one is with Govinda. I may also be doing a film with Priyadarshan.
Is the other David film the one written by Rensil D'Silva?
I cannot answer that.
Till a few years ago, stars would openly talk about their films to come. Today everything is confidential. Is this a good trend?
I think that it is good not to speak out until everything is in place. This is the era of bound scripts and we usually accept films after hearing the first narration or draft. So it's better to wait till everything is concrete as it helps avoid controversies.
Apart from the heroes, are you too doing some action in Blue?
Yes, I am. In fact, Blue is the first Indian film to revolve around water-based sports. We will be shooting in the Bahamas among other locations and for over a month now, Akshay, Zayed, and I have been training for the action sequences.
Bhagam Bhaag, Partner, Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai and the other David Dhawan film - you seem to be doing a lot of films with Govinda.
Yes, but Banda... is a bit different, because in that comedy we are meant to be an odd pair!
You are also doing a lot of comedies.
I am very happy to be known as a comic actor. In the last five years all the great comedies have done well, and five of the best and most successful - Masti, No Entry, Phir Hera Pheri, Bhagam Bhag and Partner - have been mine. I am honored to have been thought of, for these films by directors who are the kings of comedy. It's also great that David and Priyan are coming back to me. I think that no other heroine has had such a streak as a comic actor in such a variety of comedies.
In India, however, comic actors are not rated highly though comedy is the most difficult part of acting.
I agree that comedy is tougher to do than anything else. But it's great to know that perceptions are changing. A few years ago, it was drama but now the success ratio of comedies is much more. Now some of the best actors are comic actors, and I have been lucky to work with actors who are brilliant at comedy, from Govinda to Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan and Paresh Rawal. Pareshji in particular has taught and guided me a lot.
How would you compare David Dhawan and Priyadarshan?
They are both so good yet so different. With David, a lot of work is done on the sets, on-the-spot improvisations rule, and that means in the performance too. Priyan, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants from the scene, and so everything is canned in one or two takes.
But as an actor, I have to be very alert with both. Everything about comedy boils down to timing and improvisation and one look or glance and a slight change in your dialogue delivery can actually turn the whole character around.
Actors from ramps or pageants fit into two categories - those who accept offers after their wins and turn serious actors only later, or those who use this route as a passport to films. What about you?
I knew that I wanted to be an actor since I was 13. But since I lived in Bangalore, faraway Mumbai was just a dream. When I ended up winning the Miss Universe contest, I got offers straightaway and I thought that I should not look a gift-horse in the mouth! But you cannot blame the industry and the audience for slotting a girl from the glamour world. It is up to the actor to get the identification with her work and establish a link that goes beyond the Miss Universe tag by doing different, normal roles.
And was Andaaz the right debut?
Of course it was! Unless I could have got a debut vehicle like Deepika Padukone did in Om Shanti Om!
Are there any films you regretted doing?
There were, but at least they taught me lessons early, so that I do not make mistakes now. I am very happy with what I have achieved and am in no hurry, I am not into the numbers game and I want to have fun. I am growing as an actor and I don't obsess about a big film being made without me!
And which are your special favorites?
My turnaround film was Boney Kapoor's No Entry. It not only opened up many doors for me but also became special as Boney Kapoor asked me to choose between the role I eventually did and Bipasha Basu's character. I thought that there was a greater challenge in playing a suspicious wife, and also Bipasha's role was broadly on the same lines as my character in Masti.
You talked about the numbers game. But Kajol recently said that but for a few male exceptions the era of the star-system is over. Would you agree?
She is right in a way. A star by definition is unreachable. A film star is someone who earlier was only seen in a film. If he or she did only one film in a year, the audience would have to wait. Now the exclusivity isn't there - stars are accessible and are seen daily on television and in ads. And ever since the '70s, the heroes have always had the upper hand.
One of the biggest shocks of 2007, though a pleasant variety, was your performance in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. How did that happen?
Anyone who enters the film industry today, wants to work with Yash Raj Films. And Yash Uncle and Aditya had promised me that when they had the right role for me they would call. And it happened in a very bizarre way - JBJ's offer came when both my parents had been hospitalized and I was sitting outside their rooms. I was completely distraught and recall telling them that I could not talk about anything for five days, which was really crazy as I had wanted to work with them for years! What also made JBJ special is that Adi and Shaad Ali wanted only Lara Dutta, which was a first for me, because it was not a case of which good-looking female actor was available on some scheduled dates! This made me want to give more than 100 per cent.
You are endorsing Sri Ravi Shankar's The Art of Living. How involved are you personally with this?
I am certainly not just a celebrity pushing something. I was introduced to this by a friend eight years ago, and whatever I am doing is voluntary and unpaid and only because it worked and still works for me. I have been following the techniques since and it's a wonderful de-stressing tool. It helps you focus and also deal with everyday pressures. When I became a celebrity I was just 21 - and that's not an age at which you are mature enough to deal with the pressures and the competition. Making your mark and becoming a go-getter is important, but this technique allows you to do that in a proper, stress-free manner and in the right way. It veers you away also from dangerous things like crash diets and eating disorders. When both my parents were ill, it helped me a lot too.
So what exactly are you doing as their ambassador?
It's like this: Yoga has been around for ages, but it took a Madonna for it to be recognized in the West. Celebrities make a difference. Right now I will be going to New Zealand with the teachers. New Zealand has the highest suicide rate among youth in the world and the people there do not know how to deal with this. We will be initiating the youth there into ancient Indian techniques like 'Pranayam' and Meditation, amongst other things. We will be interacting in a big way with the government authorities as well as the media. I have already gone with their teams to a few places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But again, all this is because I have benefited and I know that others will too.