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|June 25, 1997||
'I'm not his ex, Akshay Kumar is my ex'
Batra says her outgoing nature has much to do with good nurture. "I have a very secure family base, my mother Neelam Batra was a participant in Miss India-1971. It was the year Vani Ganapathy (Kamal Hasan's first wife) won. My mother came in the first five. It was my mother who filled my form too. At that time I was in Fergusson College in Pune. It's a great kick to be participating in Miss India when you are in college."
Batra's father was a colonel in the army and their family was always on the move, Batra laughs "I must have been in 12 different schools in 12 years because of my father's job. This whole experience of uprooting has made me respect people from all walks of life. I can talk to anyone, from a beggar on the street to any big shot. The experience has made me totally hassle free, you won't find me cribbing if there is no air conditioner in my room, or if the bathroom is not clean. I can make friends very easily."
Her father also taught her to compete.
"I participated in the sports meet and I came last in the 400 metres race. My dad was so ashamed that he did not talk to me for three days. After that he trained me for six months and I went on to represent my school in the national meet."
"I considered fashion as more en vogue, more trendy. In college it's the in-thing to be a model, it is less trendy to be an actress." She hastily adds, "Now I disagree."
Batra makes friends easily and admen have long praised her professional attitude.
Malaika Aurora, model and MTV veejay, says that Batra is vibrant, bubbly, and "one of those few people who know what they want in life and work towards it". Also a bit wild.
"We had gone to Nepal for a shoot... They don't have any night clubs in Nepal, so all us girls got together and we went into the mountains at 2 am in the morning to party. I don't touch alcohol and Pooja insisted that I drink... We partied on like crazy till 5 am in the morning.." Arora's view may not be completely unbiased since Batra's success may do some good for Ram Ghanshyam, the film her own boyfriend, Arbaaz, stars in.
Batra had never thought of acting as an career. "I had been receiving lots of offers for films and magazine covers." She chewed on the matter with Omar Qureshi (editor of Stardust). "He said that there would be no going back once I had done a cover because I would receive a lot of offers... At that time a lot of models were moving into the acting field... If they could do it so could I. Finally I... decided to take the plunge into the film world when I did my cover with Sunil Shetty."
That cover raised some eyebrows since Sunil Shetty was seen as Akshay Kumar's rival. And Akki was, at that time, Pooja's brand new ex-boyfriend. Er, would she work now in a film with the bruiser, now that he's past her?
And her current success is helping her get back at the people who would identify her as Akshay's ex-girlfriend?
Her voice becomes chilly when discussing the matter: "I had an identity before I met him. I was a former Miss India and I'm not his ex, he is my ex." Touchy, touchy.
Bhai was the first film that Pooja bagged after her cover in Stardust, but it wasn't her face that bagged her Virasat; it was actually her much-touted claim that acting is child's play. "Priyadarshan had read one of my interviews in which I had said that... and he laughed and said, 'Well, let's see how easy she makes acting'. I still go for it that acting is child's play: its a combination of intelligence and concentration."
Pooja thinks up a tactful response. "I'm a national level athlete. My training... helped me a lot, it trains you to focus completely on one thing. It teaches you to discipline yourself mentally and physically. And that helped me a lot while I was in front of the camera."
Batra thinks the myth that models can't act is old hat. "If a model is able to convey emotions in a 30 second commercial to make you buy soap bars, three hours is enough of time to sell a whole shop of that soap."
Liril, you realise, should have taken a three-hour spot.
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