Model-turned-actor Preeti Desai makes her debut as a leading lady, end of this month, in a film being produced by her beau, Abhay Deol. Naturally, then, word in the industry is that the only reason Preeti Desai has bagged the role in One by Two, screenwriter Devika Bhagat’s directorial debut, is because of Deol. But the speculation does little to faze the petite actor. She instead smiles and dismisses the claim: “I had expected such rumours to do the rounds when I signed the film.”
Seated in the Vile Parle office of Viacom 18, which is co-producing the film along with Deol’s Forbidden Films, Desai explains that Bhagat’s decision to cast her in the film came first. “This was followed by Abhay’s decision to produce it, but Devika hadn’t mentioned her casting call to him until he agreed to back it. It was only after he read the script that he agreed to play the lead role too,” she says.
Desai, however, doesn’t hesitate to admit that her beau has hugely contributed to her career. “He’s a talented actor and being with him helped me learn more about the craft. It also gave me the chance to get my foot in the door as far as gaining access to the industry folk is concerned,” she says.
When she moved to India six years ago from London after bagging the Miss Great Britain title, Desai was merely testing waters. But a three-month course in acting was followed by a career in modelling to “keep paying the bills” and soon, the actor “lost her way”. Modelling came with its upsides — quick buck, a chance to travel and meet new people, and discover new things. Besides, it kept her busy. It wasn’t until she worked in Shor in the City (2011) that Desai decided to realign her priorities. It was also around this time that she and Deol started dating. “So, I decided to give up modelling, sat at home in order to hone my craft,” says the 29-year-old.
It was tough to remain without a job and wait for the right film to come by. Yet, she stuck to her decision and spent the time visiting films sets, watching shoots in progress and cleaning up her Hindi. Bhagat, a friend of hers and Deol’s, saw her hard work and offered the role in One by Two. “I play a ballerina, Samara, who wants to become famous. But she’s stuck in a rut and finds Amit Sharma, played by Abhay, in a similar situation. The film’s about how they together decide to achieve their dreams,” she says. She had to train in jazz and ballet for five months to play the part.
In an industry where Bollywood couples avoid making their relationship public until they’re either ready to tie the knot or have already moved on, Desai and Deol are fairly open about it. “What’s there to hide? There’s nothing wrong with dating someone,” quips the actor in response. At the same time, she is unwilling to let Deol overshadow her individuality. Talking about how different they are, Desai says that while he is known for his eclectic taste in cinema, she loves her romances, period dramas and escapist cinema. “I love films like Jodhaa Akbar and Goliyon ki Rasleela — Ram-Leela — films that he will never watch. I like world cinema too, but some of the stuff he watches is too weird for me,” she says, laughing. “For that one reason, I’ll make sure that work-wise, all my decisions are my own and not Abhay’s.”