Flying high

You have scored a hat-trick of successful films with Krrish, Gunday and Mary Kom. How does it feel?
Oh! I didn’t think of it that way! Krrish actually released last year so, yaay! It’s always nice to hear that your movies have done well. I have always said that the box office is king and that’s not a lie. It feels great.

Tell us about the deal you recently signed with ABC Television Studios.

It’s a very unique deal. It is their talent division. They have signed me as ‘talent’ and will develop a show around me. ABC is one of the best television networks and television is where the content is today. I mean, look at the shows ABC does with Grey’s Anatomy, Castle, Revenge, Scandal and Modern Family. All the good shows with good writing are a part of ABC, so I was naturally very excited to be a part of the deal. It is very flattering to have someone take such a big chance on you. It’s a big step for me because they have shown so much faith in me by signing me as talent and then developing a show for me.

How did this deal happen?

I was in LA for my music work and I have representation there as well, and I am an actor too. So I think they got curious after they saw some of the work I have done. They probably felt it made sense to have me as part of their American-led shows. They thought I was an easy crossover. I was quite offended at the word ‘crossover’ and told them I was not going to cross over anywhere. (Laughs)

When did all this happen?

I was shooting for Gunday, which makes it about a year ago. I was busy with the paperwork, you know how American and Indian laws are. That’s why it took so long for us to announce it.

How did you manage to keep it secret for so long?

Main itne secrets rakhti hoon, Vajir, tumko toh pata bhi nahi chalega! You know what they say about women na, that we keep secrets quite well. (Laughs)

You started your career as an actress and then turned singer. Now there’s this deal, plus you’re launching your own banner…

(Cuts in) I think we all have to evolve and grow. I have always believed in changing, whether it’s the roles I do or the parts I play. It’s the most constant thing about evolution. Moreover, if you’re a creative person, you will stagnate if you don’t evolve. I have so much to say and so much to do. I didn’t even know I would get into films.

That brings me to my next question… did you ever think you would reach where you have?

No, I never thought I would. I wanted to become an engineer, so when I got into films, I was a child in a toy shop. So I wanted to try everything. I knew that I had to give it a try. What was the worst that could happen? I would fail, right? So what? Anyway, since I had not planned on a career in films, I guess it was in my destiny. It’s also a great time to be in the industry because even the industry is undergoing a great change.

You have been in the industry for 12 years and have consistently stayed amongst the top. How does it feel?

I am happy that people want to watch me and experience the things that I do. I am happy to get the opportunity to do amazing work or the roles I get in films, whether it is Dil Dhadakne Do or Bajirao Mastani. They are amazing parts. I am also grateful for the faith my directors have in me, including ABC. When I learnt the ‘A’ of acting, I knew only how to work hard, baaki socha tha seekh lenge. I have a thirst for knowledge. Many people are in pursuit of happiness; I am in pursuit of excellence and I have to be the best at everything I do. I have always had to stand first in class in school; I had to take up an Honours course; I had to pursue solo singing.

I never pause to take stock of what I have achieved, except when I return home with an award and my maid, Basanti, makes room to keep the new award. That’s the only time I take stock of what I have achieved. Shuruwat se leke abhi tak. Then I think, ‘Hmmm, there are so many more things I can still do and that’s a good feeling. I don’t want that feeling to die.

Do you still feel excited to receive an award, when your film does well or when people appreciate your performance?

I still get nervous doing a new scene, never mind getting excited when I receive an award. When I am driving to the sets, I get physically sick from nervousness. I felt that every day when shooting for Bajirao Mastani. First, it’s a 500-year-old story; I am playing a Maharashtrian character; and Sanjay sir (Leela Bhansali) expects a phenomenal amount from me. I used to feel nauseous, I used to feel sick ki aaj line hai. And he shoots a scene in its entirety; he doesn’t allow you to take cuts in between, like a five-page scene in one go. I still get really nervous and I still get excited when a new film starts. I love the excitement when a script is been written, working on it and discussing it. It’s a great experience.

Is this the secret of your success – that you treat every film you do as if it were your first film?

Maybe! Also, perhaps because I do a different kind of role every time. All the films that have earned me awards have been very different from each other. Like Mary Kom was a very different experience than getting an award for Barfi!, which was very different from getting an award for 7 Khoon Maaf. I think I relive that experience when I get an award. Iss film mein humne yeh kiya tha, woh kiya tha, it never happens in another film.

Your last three successful films were Gunday, Krrish and Mary Kom. In the next few months, you have films like Dil Dhadakne Do, Bajirao Mastani and Madamji, which are very different from the first lot. What makes you chose them?

Main bore ho jaati hoon same cheezon se. I don’t like doing roles that people have already done. In fact, I don’t like repeating roles. I get bored doing the same things and I need to feel scared on the sets. I need to feel inspired on the sets. I went through a phase – and I won’t lie – where I would go to the sets, put on my make-up and watch a movie, simply because I was not inspired.

Which film?
(Laughs) I can’t tell you but I did go through that phase.

You mean a low phase?

No, it has nothing to do with my career; I was still doing successful films. By God’s grace, hit films have always come to me. But I had to simply walk onto the sets and say my lines, and it was okay. That was not enough any more. I used to think, ‘How can I make it different?’ You see, a friend told me I had become complacent and that made me think ki main jo bhi karti hoon theek ho jaata hai. Then I realised I had to do something that shook me up and I did three films like that – Mary Kom, Bajirao Mastani and Dil Dhadakne Do.

This is the first time you’re working with a female director in Dil Dhadakne Do. What was that like?
Yes, Zoya (Akhtar). I had said it would be a very different experience for me as she is a female director but whether she was a man or a woman made no difference. As a filmmaker, Zoya is a force to reckon with and this film makes a statement about issues in our society. This film is a unique interpretation of things that may even seem regular. It made me think – why do we do it like this? Why do we think like this? Humko yeh pata hi nahi chalta ki yeh ho raha hai.

I am very excited about this film and have done an ensemble cast after a really long time. When you arrive on the sets, you meet Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar and Anushka Sharma. When you see the star cast, you know it’s a bhari bharkam film.

Also, you have worked under Farhan’s (Akhtar) direction and he was the co-actor in this film. Was that difficult?
It was very difficult. I kept telling Farhan before the film started that I was so scared even to act with him. I am really scared of Farhan as a director. He is a perfectionist; he knows exactly what he wants. So I was, like, ‘Farhan, I just can’t… You are this romantic lead in this film with me and I am scared.’ Don was an action film and it was a very difficult movie to make. So Farhan was very serious and focused on work and it was very difficult for me to talk to him. If I had to speak to him, I would wait for him to be in a good mood and then approach him. Zoya found it so funny so she made us do workshops together, where we would talk and read our lines. I got over it in a few days but initially I was very intimidated.

Looking back, do you regret any of your decisions, about accepting or rejecting a film?

I’ve done so many films but not many regrets.

What are your production plans?

(Laughs) Main plan bade banati hoon. I wanted to take a step towards growing as a person, I wanted to do more and production became a part of it. When Madhur (Bhandarkar) and I spoke about Madamji, we thought I should produce the film as I wanted do a little more and contribute a little more. But the idea arose as a lot of my sisters are making their debut to films and I realised… Box Office India
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