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September 23, 1999


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'Once you enter films, your private life becomes a joke'

Sukanya Verma

Bipasha Basu

Getting an appointment with her was nothing short of a Herculean task. After numerous phone calls and leaving messages, we were on the verge of giving up. But finally, our persistence paid off and we fixed up a meeting with Bipasha Basu. The dusky beauty, one of the most successful models in the country, is now stepping into tinsel town.

Winner of the Godrej Cinthol Supermodel contest in 1996, Bipasha has catwalked for all leading Indian designers, besides featuring in several popular commercials and in the Sonu Nigam video, Tu.

Meeting Bipasha was definitely worth all the trouble. She comes across as a person who has her head well on her shoulders. Sans make up, dressed in a simple white lucknowi salwar-kurta, Bipasha still looked gorgeous. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we settled down for a chat.

Tell me where are you from? And what does your name mean?

Well, I was born in Delhi and grew up in Calcutta. And now my base is Bombay. So you see, I have lived in three metros. Bipasha means deep dark desire (with a naughty grin).

Did you always want to be a model?

Never! I actually wanted to be a doctor. But doing all those horrid rat dissections made me faint (laughs). I studied science till the 12th standard and later took up commerce. I was planning to do chartered accountancy, but fate had something else in store for me.

I met Mehr Jessia in a hotel in Calcutta and she suggested that I take part in the Godrej Cinthol Supermodel contest. I did, I won and the rest is history.

Bipasha Basu What were your experiences during this contest?

You know winning this contest was like getting an all-paid one-month holiday for me. For the first time, I was away from my parents. So, there was a sense of independence.

When I won the contest -- which I had not in my wildest dreams had imagined would happen -- I was just 17. I had an international contest to attend in Florida, and everything seemed to be going wrong. I lost my suitcase, so I was left with no clothes, no shoes.

But the organisation which held the contest was really kind and helpful. They provided me with clothes and accessories. And I managed to come third in the contest.

How did you begin modelling?

Well, I went to this modelling agency called Ford in New York where I had a great time. I kept telling mom I was coming home. Finally, I started feeling homesick and came back. I did some work in Bombay, then went to Paris, was there for a month and then came back again.

Do you regret doing the controversial Calida commercial? Or were you aware of what you were getting into?

I regret doing that advertisement. The truth is I am not very comfortable with my body. I was roped into doing it because my boyfriend Dino Morea and the ad-photographer, Prabhudda Dasgupta, who is a friend, were a part of the campaign. Now, I had worn a proper t-shirt and underwear, but while taking the photographs, there were some personal snaps taken as well, which were not meant to be used. The agency released one such photograph.

I distinctly remember being shocked when I read in Dubai that I was in jail for doing that ad! Back home, representatives from some women's organisations did come outside my house, but things cooled off pretty soon. I must add that my neighbours were very supportive at my hour of need.

Bipasha Basu You had categorically stated that you were not keen on movies. So, what made you change your mind?

Vinod Khanna, who was one of the judges at the contest in India, asked me if I were interested in movies. He was planning to launch Akshaye Khanna with Himalayaputra at that time. I wasn't interested as I was too young to handle the pressure. For one year, I stuck to my resolve.

Then I came back from my stint in Paris. I thought it was better to have fame and money in India rather than just earn money abroad. At that time Jaya Bachchan (who was also a judge at the contest) told me that Abhishek's launch was to happen with Aakhri Mughal. J P Dutta was on the lookout for a dusky girl to play the part of a village belle. Jayaji convinced me that I was appropriate for the role.

But then they had second thoughts about the film. They felt Aakhri Mughal being a period drama may not work as a launching pad (for Abhishek). So later the script changed, the characters changed -- and the film became Refugee. For this film, they needed a girl who is young, vulnerable. Now, I don't look as if I need any protection (laughs). So I refused the part which later went to Kareena Kapoor. I was offered a role opposite Sunil Shetty or Jackie Shroff, but I wasn't keen.

Is that when you accepted a role in Vijay Galani's venture, tentatively titled Talaash?

Yeah, I have realised it's very difficult to work without a manager. A lot of politics and underhand dealings keep going on here. Well, to get back to the point, after Aakhri Mughal I got many offers, but none of them really interesting.

Galani's offer was different. I feel Abbas-Mustan are good directors -- what else can a newcomer ask for? It's a great suspense thriller and has a really unique story. It will shock people and definitely be talked about. I feel it's a good launch for me, though ideally anyone would want to star in a solo heroine project.

In fact, after Aakhri Mughal got shelved, J P Dutta was to do a second film with me. But continuous delays were getting to me, so I picked the best of what I was getting.

Aren't you apprehensive avout the fact that Abbas-Mustan's last film, Baadshah, bombed at the box-office?

I think you have got your facts wrong. Baadshah is a hit, it has done well in the cities. Abbas and Mustan bhai are very talented, no matter what the outcome of the film at the box-office is. My film will do better, at least I hope it does.

How are your co-stars?

Fabulous! They are fun and they make me very comfortable. Kareena (Kapoor) is a very nice person. Bobby (Deol) and Akshay (Kumar) are more like buddies. Tanya (Deol) was really helpful and made things easy for me. I could not have asked for a better setup.

What other films are you doing apart from this one?

Well, talks are on with other filmmakers too, but I really wouldn't like to divulge it because the industry is a very strange place. One moment you are doing a project, the next, you are not.

Bipasha Basu Do you believe in the cliche that models can't act?

Models are themselves responsible for creating this cliche. For most of them, looking good is very important. Acting is secondary to most. There are so many human expressions and emotions for which you have to contort your face. For instance, when you're crying, you cannot be bothered about the amount of pancake on your face. As for myself, I know I have done well in my first film and intend to do better.

What kind of image do you want for yourself? Is there any dream role in your mind?

I think my first film will create an image, which I will immediately try to break away from later. I have a sexy, glamour doll image which I want to get out of. But if nothing else is works out, I shall cash in on it (laughs). I don't have any dream role in mind, I want to try out everything.

Don't you feel your height comes in your way as far as pairing with shorter heroes is concerned?

There are taller girls in the industry -- like Shilpa Shetty, Sushmita Sen and Pooja Batra. I am only 5ft 8. In fact, I am getting used to the idea of wearing chappals to work.

What kind of movies have had an impact on you?

Godfather is an all-time favourite. If I were a man, I'd love to have played the godfather. I've seen the movie so many times. Another favourite is Masoom. I love movies that deal with human emotions, movies with which you can identify.

Who are the actors and actresses you admire?

Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford. Even at this age, they are so sexy, smart and so good. I like Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan too.Among actresses, I adore Michelle Pfeiffer and Julia Roberts. I would love to act in a film like My Best Friend's Wedding. In Bollywood, I like Kajol, Manisha Koirala and Tabu. Also Aishwarya Rai, who I feel, is a complete actress, just like old-time actresses.

Which director are you looking forward to work with?

There's no specific person, I'm open to the idea of working with all.

Do you feel your open relationship with Dino Morea could affect your career in this orthodox industry?

Maybe it will. But I think it's better to be in the open about it before the media starts saying 'spotted here, seen there' kind of stuff! Once you enter the industry your private life becomes a joke. And the filmi people look upon your boyfriend as an excess baggage. If your mom accompanies you to the sets, it's okay, but it's unacceptable for your boyfriend to do it.

The industry is a very insecure place, but I am least bothered.

At this point, Bipasha's mobile rings. She realises it's time for her to say goodbye as she has to meet Dino (contrary to rumours, they are still together). At 20, she has the confidence and poise of a much older person. She has already achieved so much and is ready for more.

Way to go, girl.

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