When Preity Zinta had to share screen space with a cobra for the lengthy and dramatic climatic sequence in Deepa Mehta's Heaven On Earth, the director wasn't really sure whether Preity would be able to carry of the reptilian act without the actor succumbing to the fear factor.
Recalling the harrowing episode from the shooting of her most important film to date Preity says, "I had to put my hand into a hole in the ground, take out this big long snake and not just hold it but also put it around my neck. It was a harrowing in the script. I wondered how I'd manage on camera."
Preity had nightmares before they shot this crucial sequence. "Deepa wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. So she suggested a digital snake instead of a live one. It would've looked as authentic if not more, because the movements of a digital snake would be more controllable."
But somehow Preity's heart and art were not in the artifice. "The whole film is about getting as real as possible. It didn't make sense at that late stage to suddenly swerve into a digital kind of filmmaking after Deepa and I had gone through so much to make sure everything was as authentic as possible."
Preity shot with a real snake. "And it went surprisingly well. After I got over my initial revulsion and fear I was fine with the snake. People who have seen Heaven On Earth wonder how I could take such a long snake around my neck. But isn't that what true acting is all about?"
The film has episodes from Girish Karnad's play Naag Mandala where the battered wife imagines the naag devta transforming into a caring loving husband as an alternative life to her nightmarish reality.
"The snake is almost my second co-star after Chand who plays my husband. I couldn't shirk away from it."
Incidentally, not too many of our Bollywood queens have shot with real snakes. Pooja Bedi it did in Jagmohan Mundra's Vish Kanya.