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March 18, 1999


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Chuimui si lagti hai


Preeti. Click for bigger pic!
The mailbox at her residence bulges with adoration.

Inherent in those letters -- besides, of course, the raves of Preeti's fans -- is a certain irony. For these letters relate to her performance in her debut film Mazhavil, the romantic thriller now doing good business on the Kerala marquee.

Judging by the mails that come in by the day, the audience loves her performance in it. But -- herein lies the irony referred to above -- she is yet to see the film herself. She couldn't attend the premiere due to other commitments. Her mother, father and college-going sis are also waiting to see the film.

So for now, all she has are those fan mails. And through them, an opportunity to appreciate her maiden performance through alien eyes.

Mazhavil is a remake of Amrutavarshini, a Sharat Babu-Suhasini-Ramesh starrer that was a superhit in Karnataka. While remaking it in Malayalam, director Dinesh Babu opted for a younger, trendier star cast -- and lined up Kunchako Boban, Vineeth and Preeti.

She came into the limelight with the Milind Ingle video for the Chuimui si tum number -- a song that has gone into one sequel after another. As further testimony to its popularity, Hallmark, the greeting card people, have teamed up with Rajshri Productions, which produced the videos, to launch a series of cards and stationery around the Chuimui si couple.

It is in Preeti's house, in Bandra, that I find myself sifting through the stack of fan mail. Here's one with the usual request for an autographed photograph. Another -- with UAE stamps all over it -- appreciating her performance. Another in an 'application' style from a young lad 'applying for friendship' with her. A few of them in Malayalam...

This is one thing I haven't learnt to handle -- I wonder how the stars do it? I mean, it feels good to be liked/appreciated by so many. I feel for them, but I can't possibly reply to them all, and that makes me feel bad. Then there are the phone calls -- blank calls, crank calls, occasional calls from seedy producers offering me dubious roles...

All this after Mazhavil? Or did Milind Ingle's video for the Chuimui si tum song which paired you with Abbas have anything to do with it? How did that happen anyway? How did you get into a Rajshri production?

Like most girls, I had a portfolio made by an amateur photographer, and kept passing my pix around to co-ordinators. Then one day I got a call from Polygram, and was told I was picked for Pankaj Udhas's song. I didn't have to do much, didn't even carry clothes for the shoot. Daboo (Ratnani) made me walk casually along Carter Road, and clicked pix, and they were used in the song, you'll find them as blow-ups on the walls in the video.

Rajshri Pictures people were looking for a fresh face for their video. First they simply returned my portfolio. But then they called me over. The entire family spoke to me and I was selected.

It's become a kind of serial song, hasn't it? The first had you and Abbas falling for each other, the second had the two families approving the match, the third had you guys going on a romantic outing, then an engagement...

Yeah, and we've shot the fourth -- an engagement one with both families all so merry -- and a fifth one too. Around that time, the Malayalam producers called me up. They told me the storyline of Mazhavil. I loved it, they liked me, so that was that. It all fell into place, actually, I had my holidays then -- no college -- so the timing was just right. The shooting was in Austria...

Your debut before the cine cameras was in Austria? Are you a travel kind of person?

If you mean do I like churches, cathedrals, monuments and museums and the whole sight-seeing thing, no, I don't. Even beautiful nature -- mountains or seaside... Yeah, sure, I might go 'wow!' when I see something spectacular, but that isn't my trip either. Actually, I am more into people. I like to know about people -- what they think, their feelings, values etc.

And what were the people like, in Austria?

Well, for starters they don't speak any English. And I was amazed at the number of Malayalees I came across there -- we were staying in a hostel, and there were so many Keralites around, a lot of them nurses. And the Keralites there spoke German, not English, and of course their own language, Malayalam. I didn't find the Austrians very friendly, or warm -- in fact, some of them were downright rude. And they are not garrulous, like us Indians.

The funny thing was that some of them were surprised that we Indians speak English! I mean, they think we are primitive, I guess they think we live on trees or something. They don't know we have so many cities. They should see Bombay!

But having said all that, I must say that the German lady whose house we shot in was patient with us. Apparently they hate giving out their place for shootings -- the place does tend to get cluttered with all the paraphernalia but she was very nice about it, nice to us.

But what about the shooting itself, what was that like? And the unit? What's it like working with a Malayalam unit?

I enjoyed the schedule. The director, Dinesh Babu, was so very sure about the entire story. He knew every line, exactly what he wants and he could communicate that to you. The team was fun -- Boban, Vineet... Both are easy to work with.

Then there's Chitra -- she is a character artiste -- very warm, very funny, and such a good actress. She would tell me the nuances -- like how even the act of turning, looking up, could be different. She told me about shades, like how in a Malayalam movie the girl, looking up, would be coy, soft; in Telugu films not quite so. She taught me about stuff like that. Lalu (Alex) was fun, too, and Naseer, the comedian in the film, was very funny, I mean, I didn't know comedians were fun in real life, too.

We stayed together, so it's like we ended up sharing so much, eating together, doing everything together. There is so much interaction. It's not like you go in the morning to the location, shoot and go back home. This way, it was real fun -- eating in the common room of the hostel, all that kind of stuff. I must admit though, by the fourth or fifth week, we were dying to get back home again.

You were homesick?

Not just me, all of us. Towards the end, we were missing home, family -- though my father was with me, actually. But still, we couldn't wait to just pack up and go home...

Dad was with you, you said?

Yes, he came because they were all new people to me, all strangers, and I didn't even know the language, Malayalam. I was totally new, alone. And being in a strange place made it even more difficult. Of course, later I became comfortable with the unit; but initially, I was, like, I needed someone around. And now of course, my dad is my manager.

You are doing two Telugu films, right? With Nagarjuna and Pawan Kalyan, Chiranjeevi's brother? I read some place that Brother, the film you are doing with Pawan, has you playing a sweet, homely girl... Is that a hangover of the Chumui si thing? Are you seen as one of those sweetie pie types?

I think so. It's like sometimes people come to me and they go, "Oh, so you do wear jeans too?", as if they thought I was the "feminine, sweet, only-seen-in-salwars" type.

Actually, in real life, I am mostly in casuals. I guess I'm going to get a lot of those roles where I am expected to be homely and oh-so-sweet. I'll have to look for roles that let me perform as well.

So when you are considering an offer, what do you look for?

Scope to perform, yes, but for me, the big thing is the team should be inspiring, young and energetic, people with whom I can get along. A young team is more interactive, I think, and that brings out the best in you. Besides, working should be fun -- if the team is, let's say, senior, and has been doing this thing for a long time, they may not be too charged up about it, which is why I like a young team.

But yes, of course my role is important, too. And while on that, I am not in a tearing hurry to sign a Hindi movie just yet, I am not even making the rounds, trying. For now I'm happy in the south. Those who have worked in both places say it is different in the south, more disciplined and so on. Not having worked here, in Bollywood, I don't know about that. In the south, it varies. Like in the Telugu industry, after a shot, the heroine sits by herself and she is left alone, treated with respect and the hero is off somewhere else. Cool, I accept the respect as it is given. On a Malayalam set, though, things are a lot more casual...

Both alien languages, right? So how do you manage the dialogues?

Yeah, I think Malayalam is even more difficult than Telegu. But then, they help you a great deal -- you have an assistant who helps you with the lines. Also, see, they do it in such small bits, it isn't that tough. And when I can't do it, I say it in Hindi or English.

They just give me the right pauses and nuances, and dub over later. Which reminds me, I really must mention the dubbing artists -- they do a fantastic job. One other thing is that these days so many of us are being signed up in the south, the producers and directors know how to get the best out of us.

And you find acting enjoyable?

Hmmmm, there are times when I think I prefer modelling, that is it better, not as much acting to do there. Then again, you think, there is acting in modelling too. In a few seconds you have to convey something. Ads are actually quicker, fast money. As far as acting goes, hey, we all act in real-life situations, don't we?

I've heard this from some other artistes - you really think so? That we all act?

Yeah, in the sense, we conceal what we really feel at times and express the opposite of what we feel -- sometimes smile though there is displeasure. I guess the difference between the ordinary person and the actor is confidence before the camera.

If you have it, if you can conquer camera shyness, then you have it made. Another thing is that, initially, the unit hands, hangers-on, they tend to inhibit you. Once you overcome that, once you learn not to be distracted or disturbed by the people around, things become easier.

I guess these are the areas where we are different, otherwise, we all have emotions, we all express it, and that is what acting is, isn't it, expressing emotions and feelings? Good and bad acting? I don't know, I guess that is where the public comes in. Maybe when we say bad acting, it is the public rejecting that person's way of expressing those emotions, whatever...

So anyway, since Hindipop was what brought you into the limelight, what is your personal fave?

Actually, I am not into much of Hindipop. I sort of like Silk Route, that's about it. Also, the Pankaj Udhas one. But I am not into Alisha Chinai and so on. I watch a lot of music channels, MTV, Channel V...

How about reading? Umm, not much, you can't call me voracious, I do occasionally read Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, things like those. I recently read Sheldon's latest, Tell Me Your Dreams...

Liked it?

Sort of, though I find it difficult to believe in a 'split personality' -- I mean, can two personalities within the same person be that diverse?

Well, I believe there are recorded instances, this film, Sybil, is based on a real life story of a woman who had 10 or more personalities within her...

Oh okay, if they have studied it so much, and they have recorded cases, I guess I have to believe it, then (smiling).

Going back to working in the south, what would you say is the standout feature?

Well, before going there I knew nothing about the industry there. Now I'm finding out that the south isn't about jhatak-matak stuff -- which I don't want to do anyway. I think there is a general feeling that, in the south, everything is loud -- but I find that the acting there is very subtle. That is what stands out, actually.

Now that you are working in the south industry, do you try and keep abreast of what is happening there?

I did see a couple of films. There's this new Telugu film for instance with Venkatesh and Preity Zinta that I saw recently...

Any plans to migrate, to set up base in the south?

Oh no, I can't do that. Actually, people had suggested that I buy a flat in Madras, but that's not for me; it's too different from Bombay. I guess I am a typical Bombay girl. I need to keep coming back here, can't live all the time somewhere else. I have friends here, I can't imagine settling down somewhere else - not even abroad. I love it here, I can be myself, be casual, roam around freely...

Do you get recognised when you go out?

Yeah, but only as the Chuimui si girl. They come up and ask for autographs, things like that. But it's cool really, I can go out with your friends, which I do a lot, I can go to the neighbourhood store to fetch something I want...

How about at home? Are you now the pampered celebrity?

Oh no! I mean, I am pampered, like when I get back home after a shooting schedule. The first two days all my favourite food materialises, but then I guess all mothers are like that, aren't they? I don't think that's because I'm a celebrity or anything. It's just this mommy thing....

What kind of person would you say you are?

I'm a Leo, and I like being one. Basically, I guess we are warm, generous, like having people around, love attention, have a fetish for cleanliness. They say Leos are egoistic -- I don't think I am. Then again, maybe, I know there are times when I like to think everything revolves around me! And I'm very confident of myself...

Hey, thinking back to your music video, the first one, Chuimui si -- do you have a real life Abbas visiting his sister next door to you? Any boy next door?

(Laughing) NO! Actually, my next door neighbours are Christians, and they aren't even here!

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