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The Rediff Interview
'All I wanted was an item number'
Subhash K Jha | March 07, 2003
Lara Dutta was named after her mother's favourite film, Dr Zhivago, which she saw innumerable times.
There is much more to her than just her striking physicality. As her costar Akshay Kumar says Lara grows on you. Subtle yet upfront, strong but fragile, she encompasses the best of both worlds -- feminine and aggressive -- within her personality.
Lara is a person you have just got listen to, says Subhash K Jha:
Aapki Hindi bahut achchi hai.
Haan, shukriya. Actually, all my interviews since the crown [Miss Universe 2000] have been in English. But Hindi has never been a problem for me. Why should it? I am a full-blown Punjabi kudi.
Was a film career an inevitable step forward after the crown?
Not really. I have been involved with theatre since I was 13. I never seriously thought I would get into movies though I had every intention of continuing with theatre. To be brutally honest, when you win a title like Miss Universe, your entire life turns topsy-turvy for one year.
Coming from Bangalore, I suddenly saw a large world of opportunities open up before me, movies being one of them. Again, to be honest, I had no idea what the Indian movie industry was like. What I heard made me sceptical. But it was also a chance to go forward in life.
It took me a year-and-a-half to sign a movie after I gave up my title. As Miss Universe, I made a huge effort to keep at least some areas of my life to myself . The film industry requires you to drop all inhibitions, demolish all the walls built around you.
It took me while to get used to the constant glare. Know what? Now I love every bit of it.
In fact, I finished two films in six months -- Andaaz and Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost [with Abhishek Bachchan]. Which is really exhausting. My movie career took a long time to start.
Once it did, I felt like screaming, "Please slow down!"
Two very different films, isn't it?
Absolutely, and am I glad. I picked my scripts carefully from the ones that came my way. I could not have hoped for a better producer than Suneel Darshan or a better director than Raj Kanwar. They have been in the business long enough to know what the audience wants without getting crass about it.
I have had an amazing experience working on Andaaz. It was almost like being part of the family. I may not agree with everything in Andaaz. But there was nothing here to scare me off the industry. Being an untrained actress, I have my own method of acting which works for me.
What is your role in Andaaz?
Kajal, the protagonist, goes through a lot in life. The role is superbly defined. I have given all of myself to Andaaz. The tomboyish character I play reveals a very private side of Lara Dutta.
Before you ask, it was great working with Priyanka Chopra [laughs]. You know, we competed on the same level for the Miss India contest though I had been modelling before. We trained and won together and even won international crowns in the same year. I could not have hoped for a better costar.
Surely there must have been a competitive edge?
There was. But that helped both of us perform better. And I would much rather compete with Priyanka, whose career has grown alongside mine. Besides, she's very talented. We advised each other like two veteran actresses whenever the other would mess up a shot [laughs].
There was no ego on the sets. I sincerely hope there will be no attempt to imagine a rift between us by the industry when it is not there.
What was it like shooting with Akshay Kumar?
Hats off to him for dealing so patiently with two strong-willed, spirited women. He was wonderful.
I believe he rescued you from the sharks in South Africa.
This story is getting weirder by the day. We had quite a close shave while shooting a song in Cape Town on a rocky shore. We got slightly adventurous and, the next thing we knew, we were pulled into the waves. Akshay did save my life.
I loved every second of shooting for Andaaz. But I also enjoyed Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost, though it was done with a very different attitude. It was a far younger and unconventional crew. I felt equally at home in both set-ups.
Mumbai... is a small-budget film. I play a Rajasthani girl called Kesar. Quite surprisingly, my name in all three films begins with K -- Kajal in Andaaz, Kesar in Mumbai… and Kiran in Aan. The film looks stunning.
Akshay and Abhishek are very different costars. But you know what they have in common? They are both thorough gentlemen. Akshay is much misunderstood. Before signing the film, everyone kind of snorted when I mentioned he was in it.
But not once did I feel I was taken advantage of. A career is about learning to adapt yourself to the new environment and learning to sink or swim.
Do you give the industry a clean chit?
I think it depends on the individual to a large extent. If you give anyone an inch, they take a mile. I have never had anyone make a pass at me.
I am new around here. There were lots of things initially that didn't make sense. Certain things upset me. I can't change the industry, so I learnt to adapt. As I got involved with the whole business of moviemaking, things started falling into place. Now, I am having a great time.
Right now I am shooting for Madhur Bhandarkar's Aan, again with Akshay. Aan is essentially the men's story. The women are the flavouring [laughs]. But it is not as drastic as falling asleep at the dinner table, waiting for my man to come home. Thankfully, I am not the wife, only the fiancée.
Aan gave me an opportunity to work with producer Feroz Nadiadwala, with whom I'm doing another film. There are many others I would love to work with -- like Mani Ratnam, Subhash Ghai, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Yash Chopra... directors who present women so well on screen.
Are you comfortable with the singing and dancing?
Yes. In fact, I am supposed to have said in one of my ad campaigns long ago that all I wanted to do was one item number in a Hindi film. So here I am. Both Andaaz and Mumbai... have introductory numbers for me which rock.
Is cinema your only passion right now?
At the moment, movies consume most of my time. But I am still working with the United Nations. I often go to Bangalore to visit my parents. The going is good. I am not complaining.
I want to direct, though it may not be a feature film. Maybe documentaries.
What about the toll on your personal life?
I have been happily romancing the same man for the last four years. I love my work. But I love it all the more because my man Kelly Dorjee supports me in everything I do. That makes my work so much more productive. It is a relationship with a lot of give and take. We have both been through a lot.
Is marriage on the cards?
I would like to at some point of time. I haven't thought seriously about it.