From Yash Raj Films to Rajkumar Hirani’s PK—how did the role come to you?
Raju sir had called me after watching Band Baaja Baaraat and spoke to me at length about my performance. He was very specific with his observations and I was thrilled that he had liked my work! A few days later, after watching the Rockstar trial show, I was walking out of the theater feeling very emotional and overwhelmed because the movie had touched me. Raju sir was already standing outside, but I was lost in my thoughts, so we just made some small talk and left. Next morning when I woke up I was like, ‘did he talk about scripting? Did he say something about being ready and casting soon?’
So I sent him a message, ‘ki, sir if you are talking about casting me in your film then I am really sorry if I gave a thanda response yesterday. It’s just that I was really lost in my thoughts, but if not, then please ignore this message’.
He called back and laughingly told me, “That’s exactly what I was telling you. Later, when I met him he narrated the story to me and also spoke about my role in PK. Before he narrated the role, he said that his wife would often tell him that he doesn’t have prominent women characters in his films. So, I am glad that when he finally decided to have a prominent female character, he thought of me.
Reportedly, you play a journalist in the film, so did you minutely observe scribes and learn their mannerisms etc?
I am playing a regular working woman in the film, something that I have played in most of my films. But she’s not a journalist just for the sake of it—she’s an idealist and is trying to adapt to the set-up. In the film, you see her emotional journey—this girl has seen things in life that has made her more mature. What I have always tried to do is to understand the thought process of the character. When you develop another person’s thoughts, it kind of adds that diversity to your character. One thing I did, while preparing for the role was to talk slowly, because in real life, I speak really fast. I started observing journalists since Matroo Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, especially those on talk shows, because there’s a certain way in which they speak. It’s a little theatrical, so I was observing that. Initially, it was funny, but I soon got the hang of it.
I don’t have any scenes with Sanjay Dutt, but during the first few days of shoot with Aamir, you begin to understand how this person is playing the character. When you start, you know the relationship between the characters because you have prepared for it. After that it’s just about feeding off each other’s energies. And because Aamir is a very good and intelligent actor, it becomes easy. I have observed that whatever he does, it is to make the point clearer or communicate things very clearly.
During readings, whenever he would put up a point or an opinion, we would discuss it, to make the communication clearer. He’s always thinking about it in the larger context, and not just about that particular scene, but it’s important in the overall perspective of things. Other than that, when he asks you questions, just generally also, he doesn’t faff. He’ll ask you something because he really wants to know about it. He’s very sharp; I can’t explain why, but you can see that he is very sharp and can see through things. I also feel that when he’s doing something, he’s only doing that. People sometimes mistake it and call it over-involvement. I had heard that, arrey Aamir bahut involve ho jata hai, but I didn’t find that.
It was different with Sushant, because he’s closer to my age. I can’t be on backslapping terms with Aamir and I can’t talk out of turn or start a conversation with him because I would feel uncomfortable. I come from an army background and because of that I have a sense of hierarchy. Whereas with Sushant, I could be more free and informal. I could talk to him, have fun, joke etc.
Aditya Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bhardwaj, within a rather short career span you have managed to work with the best directors! So was that the plan?
From the very beginning, I have always wanted to work with the best directors and on good scripts. That’s what my excitement is about. It is the only criteria, but nobody ever asks me about these things. I was shooting for Vishal Bhardwaj and I was shooting for Yashji around the same time, so you can see yourself being different—the way you are talking or behaving or approaching scenes, everything is very different. It’s a thrill because you are being versatile and adding that versatility to your body of work. I also felt thrilled when working simultaneously on PK with Raju Hirani and Bombay Velvet with Anurag Kashyap.
Before Band Baaja Baaraat released, I made a list of the directors that I wanted to work with and that became my aim. And I am doing that now, whether it’s Zoya (Akhtar) or Karan’s (Johar) film, it’s something I was working towards. I didn’t just sign everything. I didn’t get nervous or insecure that should I be doing more films etc. The thought was that if I am doing films they should be really good, otherwise I don’t want to do it. I am ready to take whatever comes with it.
Did you find similarities or differences among these directors?
They are all very good at handling people, are easygoing and not jaded. They don’t close their world. They are trying to open new vistas, whether it’s Zoya who talks about travelling as she wants to meet new people or Anurag who’s chilled out— he’s not thinking kiske saath hang out karoon? Or Raju sir, who is very simple and whose life revolves around his work and family.
And of course, with Adi, nobody knows anything about him. He’s a myth (laughs). He’s completely different.
Speaking of Aditya Chopra, you are the only one from your generation who has acted in films directed by both Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra. How different were they as film-makers?
Yes, Shah Rukh (Khan) is the only other person to have done that. Yashji speaks of women’s stories in his films, whereas Adi speaks of the man’s story and is male driven. In Yashji’s films, all the emotions, conflicts will be with the woman. It’s so smart, because in a relationship, the woman is the one with all the vulnerability, the emotions and also the strength. Yashji always brought that out in all his characters.
What has changed about you since you started in the industry?
When I started out, I didn’t have any set plans because I did not think that I would become an actress. When you are striving to be one, there would be some sort of kachcha -pucca plan. I had just joined the industry. I didn’t become a star, but people knew me. At that time you don’t know what to do. Everyone is advising you what to do—how you should lead your life, who you should be doing films with, what’s hot, what’s not. But all these things didn’t resonate with me and perhaps that’s why I haven’t even done that many films. It’s now that I am going forward and things are looking good for me.
Earlier, I think I just knew what not to do. Now, I know what to do. That’s one big difference. As an actress I feel I am internalising more. Earlier, I would read a scene and it was just about doing that scene well. As you gain experience, you look deeply into many things. Initially, you are just thinking of the lines and the way in which they had to be said, keeping a basic graph in mind. Also, earlier, I had a lot of nervous energy that would come out and scene ho jata tha.
What prompted you to turn producer in the prime of your career— perhaps the youngest actress to do so? Actresses usually do that towards the tail end of their career.
A lot of trade people sent me those tumhe bacha rahein hain kind of messages like, ‘You are making the wrong move, you are in the high phase in your career so why are you doing it now? This is not the time to do this. It is a huge risk etc.’ But I don’t really think like that. I really liked the script of NH10. I believe in the film and I have faith in the director and writer. And if I have the ability to back a project I will do it. It’s an instinct, yaar. Somewhere, I know I want to make the kind of films I watch, films which are not being made or you have to wait for a really long time for those films to come. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that since it’s my production house only I am going to act. We have been reading some other scripts for films which I wouldn’t be acting in. I am doing it, so let me put all my chips in and let’s see. Jo hoga, bahut achcha hoga, aur nahin hoga to koi baat nahin.
Since production is a whole new ball game, did you face any difficulties?
I did, actually. As an actor, you don’t see that aspect of Hindi films. So, as a producer, you are not only making decisions, you are constantly educating yourself while doing that. And then you are collaborating with people, there are agreements and disagreements and it can all get a bit overwhelming at times. But it’s good that it happened, because by taking this step I feel more connected to cinema, feel closer to it.
We are now finally seeing film scripts with strong female characters, so would you agree that heroine-centric films are gaining ground? Is NH-10 one such film?
I wouldn’t call NH-10 a female oriented film because I find such categorisation quite sexist. You don’t say that Ranbir Kapoor is in a male-oriented film. That’s the thing about NH-10, it’s not about a cause or a vigilante thing. Anybody could have been in that situation. It could have been a boy in this film, but there’s a girl and it’s just a film about how much can someone push you and how much you can endure. So, I would say NH-10 is a road film of sorts.
Perhaps, because films with central male characters narrated from the male point of view with the heroine as merely an extension of male protagonist (hero’s wife, love interest, mother, daughter, friend or sister ) are far more common to our films. Now, there is a surge of such stories. For instance, Kangana Ranaut’s Queen, about women that do not quite fit into that mould.
Our industry is success driven, but first someone has to take the risk before the idea is widely accepted. So Vikas had to do that with Queen. That’s how it starts to build up. I feel we have changed. Queen is the only film where the girl is a character. Vidya (Balan) was fantastic in Kahaani, but it was more about the story.
I want to make films wherein a girl or girls are not there in the film because of the boy. I would love to work with actresses and do good films. Have you seen Frances Ha? It’s a very, very simple, yet a beautiful slice-of- life film. I want to do films like that.
I would love to collaborate with actresses like Deepika (Padukone), Alia (Bhatt) or Priyanka (Chopra). The thought of it is quite interesting. If we stop projecting women as just female entities in a film, we will be able to understand women better.
Has turning producer given you any new film-making insight?
I never realised how difficult it is to have two camera set-ups. When I was shooting, I knew cameras hai, but when you are making a small film we used to have debates like ‘no we need the cameras’ or ‘us din ka kaat do woh karne ki zaroorat nahin hai’. I would never have known about these things. It’s ranging from that to climax ka kuch badalna hai kya? And then comes the money point of view, because we worked on a shoestring budget.
Being an actress involves looking the part, but is it tough dealing with the uproar that followed your appearance on Koffee With Karan wherein people thought that you had undergone surgery to make your lips look fuller.
My decision to have done that was because I very strongly felt that it would help me with my character in Bombay Velvet. Now, it’s a decision I took. If I was ashamed of it, or I was hiding it or had done it for other reasons I would not come out and talk about it. Even after watching Bombay Velvet someone might agree or disagree and say kya tha? But I felt it very strongly, so I went ahead and did it.
I saw a few things, I laughed at a few things because they were genuinely funny. I was reading something and Ritika (my manager) thought I was crazy because I was laughing, so yeah, I could enjoy myself too in the process. But it was so funny. I spoke up also because people were calling it a surgery which is a permanent thing, like you have gone and slit your lips or something, which it wasn’t. You look at me right now and you can see that it’s subsided. Like I said earlier, it’s success driven. Everyone says what you did was good when ‘A’ mil jaata hai.
You took it very bravely on your chin and were very sporting about the whole episode. Would it then be correct to describe you as straight-forward person? Is it difficult to be that way?
If there’s one thing that I could etch on my grave is that I am extremely honest. I can’t lie. I can’t pretend. And I am straightforward because I find that the easiest way of communicating with somebody. I don’t want to strategise or manipulate things. It makes me very uncomfortable, but sometimes I get pulled into it, and I have to suffer because of it. Gradually, when you start accepting yourself the way you are, people also start accepting you as that, though they may be shocked and mistake it for something else. But that’s how I am!
There’s also been a lot of talk about your relationship with cricketer Viraat Kolhi. But you have maintained silence on the subject.
I feel that if I start to talk about my relationship once, there will be no end to it. Even if I thought, ki aaj hi bol deti hoon, uske baad nahin, you have to continue speaking about it. And with everyone commenting on it, talking about it, writing it, it sort of becomes destructive. I am like that even with my parents and my brother. If someone comes to me ki come let’s tie a rakhi tumhare bhai ke haath par, and clicks a picture, I will be very uncomfortable with it. So I am very guarded about my personal life. Otherwise, I am what I am. I am not hiding it. I just choose not to talk about it.
What are you proudest of in your career?
The fact that I am successful, and that I can do things on my own terms is something that gives me immense happiness. Because true success is when you are able to do things on your own terms.