The first time the world took notice of Amrita Rao; she was wearing heels and romancing Shahid Kapoor in Ishq Vishq. The second time we saw her, we were in for a shock. Her over the top and yet underplaying the character in Main Hoon Na stood out from the cliche roles Bollywood actresses were being offered. The third time someone took notice of her, she seduced everyone, especially the renowned painter M.F.Hussain. He proclaimed Amrita his muse on canvas. The film was Vivaah.
Since that moment three years ago, Rao has become known as a maverick in a way that has generally only been applied to directors. She is more maverick than muse, making personal and unpredictable choices, and taking charge of them without throwing her weight around in the manner of an actor-turned-producer. Anil Kapoor came as an exception. He was mesmerised by Rao's role in Vivah and cast her in his second outing as a producer, Short Kut – The Con Is On. Amrita loves challenges and she accepts it when I met her (not for a 'date' this time) at her producers' office in Juhu last week.
The actress is always casually but fabulously dressed, and invariably assumes a kittenish position with her legs tucked beneath her, a modern princess on her throne. She is extraordinary looking with a hint of Uma Thurman's queenly bone structure, her kittenish eyes with a melancholy downward slant in a sweet, heart-shaped face. She sits directly opposite me, her feet planted firmly on the floor and her role planted firmly in Short Kut. She asks for a glass of water and coolly, in a tone that brooks no argument, says, "I'm late... so let's start."
When was the last time you were conned by someone?
I think the last time I was conned by someone was Anil Kapoor to sign Short Kut (laughs).
Anil Kapoor said, "I see a bit of Madhuri Dixit in Amrita", when asked about your casting.
I think to have your own individuality is always better. But to be compared with somebody who is better than the best is also not such a bad idea (laughs). Of course, it is a good compliment and I accept it. Thank you Anil.
Your slim trim look in the film is much talked about. But it ain't a make over, is it?
You're right. I wouldn't call it a makeover. A makeover is for an aunty who is dragged from her kitchen and given a lifestyle which was never a part of her world or personality. As an actress, for me, versatility is something that should come along with being an artist or an actor, and the opportunity you get makes all the difference in how you are presented in front of your audience. I'm glad I was not typecast yet another time by an industry which is otherwise prejudiced.
I'm sure you must've got innumerable text messages for the same?
Yes. Honestly, you do certain kind of a film and you're a hit among the crowd. Not for all your films you get text messages complimenting your look, where everybody is talking about your physical appearance. Short Kut is doing just that. I'm getting seven to ten text messages daily from random people from all walks of life. Somebody from advertising, some trainer from the gym, etc. I think people need to thank Manish Malhotra for making me look sexy.
There was a lot said and seen that the entire cast of Short Kut was never seen together promoting their film.
Can't you see that none of the cast are promoting the film together? I mean, you are interviewing me alone. There is no sign of Arshad or Akshaye (laughs). I was just supposed to be funny. But in the film, both of them are logger headed. Both are very good actors and I don't think that any of them took their characters so seriously that they extended the emotions off screen. We were promoting the film together in Macau and that was great.
You've danced with Sanjay Dutt and Anil Kapoor in 'Mareez-E-Mohabbat'. Both can't dance saala?
(Laughs). Both of them aren't exceptionally great dancers, let's get this right. But they are great performers and entertainers. Both Sanju and Anil have a great screen presence and are like chalk and cheese. Both have different styles of working. Anil is somebody who gets very anxious and hyper about rehearsing the steps twenty times before he hits the deck. Whereas, Sanju is just sitting quietly and observing the step carefully. Then comes and gets it right. Both of them get it right but their approach is miles apart.
Did you go through some physical stress while going into the skin of slimming?
(Laughs) It was not at all difficult. In fact, I was looking forward to it. I knew I could do it and I have always seen myself as that girl from Short Kut. For an actor, anything that is going to be a little drastic in terms of styling and characterisation is always accepted. It wasn't mentally stressful, but physically, it did take a lot of skin off me (laughs).
Anil Kapoor... the traits of your new producer?
Anil was completely wearing the producer's hat when he was on the sets as a producer. That time he wasn't the actor Anil Kapoor. He would go to each spot boy, each make up artist and check whether they are happy staying where they are put up. He would go and check on the food, then come and meet me, pep me up for a shot, etc. Anilji is exceptional when it comes to giving pep talks to the other actors. Otherwise, in the industry, everybody is downsizing everybody. But when someone like Anil Kapoor charges you as a performer, you really look forward in spending more time in their company.
How strong and sound is Mansi's character compared to the other roles you've played in different films?
Mansi comes from a family background where she had a lot of pressures from home. Family members influencing her professional choices, telling her what films to sign, for reasons other than creative satisfaction. In that sense, she was a part of the family with whom she could not relate to. At the same time she wasn't subservient. She had a mind of her own and stood her own grounds. She went against the family when needed. I really like these strong woman roles. I've never played a role like in Short Kut. It's super strong.
Amrita Rao is the new rage?
You can say so. It's great that I'm the new rage of tinsel town. I'm also not saying that this hasn't happened to me before because I remember the perm hair I did for Ishq Vishq had become such a big rage. Every girl went and permed her hair after seeing the film. In Main Hoon Na, the nose ring became such a rage. Every girl wanted to have the grunge look. Thanks to my directors who think out of the box and look at actors unconventionally. Anil Kapoor as a matter of fact, as a producer, has this vision of not to type cast his actors.
What's going to be the fate of Short Kut?
New York was a serious film. Kambakkht Ishq was an out and out masala movie. Short Kut is going to be the best laughter attack this July. I really want all the films to do well because I belong to this industry. That's the only way how we will survive after the depression. I would not want to 'Kut' on other films (laughs).
Did Akshaye come across as vulnerable?
No. He came across as unpredictable. He is somebody who surprises you all the time. But when it comes to acting, he surpasses most actors who are so called 'superstars'.
Arshad and Akshaye are two actors who haven't been tapped properly by many producer directors...
I agree. Somewhere the industry doesn't want to take risks. Somewhere the industry has decided what the audience wants and what they will accept. Akshaye would've only been known as a serious actor had films like Hungama and Salaam-E-Ishq not come his way. Arshad is super talented. He will remain 'Circuit' all his life. Give Arshad a hard core serious performance and I'm sure he will do a brilliant job. I, as an audience would love to see that.
There is no short cut to success. You believe in it?
I don't completely believe. You also need to know when and how to take a short cut. By the way, short cut is the new life to be super successful.