You are ‘a wanted criminal’ in Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh. What’s your fascination for such hooks?
It is not a conscious decision to go for roles which give me such hooks. It is the content which dictates this. I found both the character and story of Kahaani 2 very compelling. Even though it is not a sequel, it has the essence of Kahaani, and that was the real hook for me. Putting up the posters of ‘wanted’ criminal (featuring Balan’s face) all over the town, as part of its promotion, was a by-product of the film.
What draws you to quirky promotion activities, such as moving around as a pregnant woman for Kahaani?
I would do anything to get audiences to watch my movie. With the kind of films that I do, I get an opportunity to play around with characters and looks. During the promotions of Kahaani (2012), I loved the shocked reactions whenever I walked in as a pregnant woman — whether it was the office of a publication or a television channel. Even though people knew that I was promoting Kahaani, it would take them by surprise for a second.
How challenging is it to transform yourself?
When I am offered an exciting part, I try to use the tools at my disposal to give the character a distinct look; to do something different so that I am able to create a person out of that character. I have tools of make-up, hairstyle, costumes and mannerisms. Sometimes language or some other skill also become tools. This is extremely challenging as well as fulfilling.
When a film doesn’t work at the box office after you have worked hard on the character, how disheartening is it?
It is heartbreaking, disappointing. You want to cry, you want to beat some people up. You come up with these conspiracy theories and you tell yourself that there is some scheme at work. The truth is that some films work, some don’t. But every film is like a baby. You want your baby to be loved by the world. Even when the world does not love it, you don’t love your baby any less. So, you cry for it, grieve and then move to the next level.
Your beginning was quite shaky as you were branded as ‘unlucky’ when your debut Malayalam movie with Mohanlal was shelved.
My source of sustenance has been the faith instilled in myself by my parents, and the faith in universe. Films did not work out, I was labelled as ‘jinxed’ and was thrown out of projects. I did not know whether I would ever become an actor but I had this deep desire to pursue acting. It is my love for myself that makes me not give up on my dream — my only consistent dream.
Even after you established yourself as a notable actor, there were setbacks.
I am not scared to face the harshest truth. I speak to my husband Siddharth (Roy Kapoor) and my family about how low I am feeling. I blame myself and the world. I need to get it out of my system so that I can move on — I need to grieve and mourn. Currently, I am in a happy space. After the high of The Dirty Picture and Kahaani when my movies did not work, I was affected a lot. I suddenly began to feel that the world had been unkind to me and I have to prove myself again and again. These experiences made me realise that there would be ups and downs. Probably, when I enjoyed success I believed that nothing would go wrong anymore. That’s why it hit me harder.
You probably took maximum risk with The Dirty Picture. Other than that which movies do you think were demanding?
Paa (2009) and Ishqiya (2010). It was a gamble to play mother to a 67-year-old. There was a risk of being offered the role of mothers following that. Thankfully, it worked. Ishqiya helped me rediscover the actor in me. It made me realise how much I love acting.
You took a break for nearly eight months in between. What do you generally do in your free time?
I have always worked at this pace. I have done one movie or maximum two in a year. People made too much of the break. But that’s how I work. When I do a film, I immerse myself in it and inhabit that world. Then I take a break so that I can look at life and borrow from it.
During the break, I read, watch movies, go for plays, spend time with my loved ones or just laze. I lead a more regimented life in terms of eating, sleeping and exercising.
You watch plays at Prithvi Theatre. Would you ever act on stage?
No. I don’t think I can handle a live audience. I apprehend that I would forget the lines. I need the security of a retake.
Any fantasy that you have as an actor that’s yet to be fulfilled?
I wish to work with Woody Allen.