Poonam Dhillon: Even after 30 years, people call me Noorie
'I believe that your respect is in your hands in any profession. If you have no character, people will think and talk bad things about you. You can be in films and have a lot of dignity.'
'I still remember somebody told me when I joined films that you should be like actress Neetu Singh, who works in films and still has so much respect.'
Ponnam Dhillon gets candid about her life and films.
Poonam Dhillon is back into our lives with her television show, Ek Nayi Pehchaan, on Sony Television.
The actress, who has given us many films and roles to remember her by, hasn't been seen in too many movies lately.
She looks back at her life, and discusses her favourite films and co-stars with Rajul Hegde.
Working for television:
I was mentally not ready to do a daily show, which need 20-25 days. I didn't feel it was right to give that kind of time commitment when my kids were still growing up.
So I did theatre and one film a year which didn’t require me to give much time.
This show (Ek Nayi Pehchaan) projects a very important topic -- the empowerment of women -- and will bring confidence to millions of women out there. It is my first daily soap. I was probably the first film person to do a television serial, Andaz, when nobody wanted to look at television.
Himesh Reshammiya, who was just 19 years old, was the producer of that show. Everyone warned me not to do it, but I did the show. It was a hit in those times.
Just as I have done TV before anyone else, I started doing theatre too before most of them.
I also had a website 18-20 years ago. Now, when everyone has one, I have stopped updating it. I launched a talent portal way back in 1995, Star Ya Kalaakar, to guide aspiring actors. I was also associated with zeenext.com as a consulting editor.
I enjoyed working in films. Now I enjoy my work for TV. The response is encouraging and gratifying. In television, if it works well, it is so much more responsive than films.
I am shocked at the kind of people who are watching. Some of my snobbish friends who I thought would never watch soaps and TV, are watching and giving a positive feedback.
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Image: Poonam Dhillon
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar
'I was in the tenth standard when I was offered my first film, Trishul'
On her acting career:
I was just 15 years old when I came from Chandigarh, which was a very small town then. I became part of the entertainment field after winning the Young Miss India contest.
Yash Chopra saw my pictures and offered me my first film, Trishul. I was still in the tenth standard then. A year later, he offered me my first film as a heroine, Noorie.
Over the years I grew up just like any other kid who goes from school to college. I'm a good learner. I am fond of reading and educating myself all the time.
Image: Poonam Dhillon and Yash Chopra
Photographs: Poonam Dhillon/Twitter
'It was a big shock for my mother when I joined films'
On her mother:
It was a big shock for my mother when I joined films. It took her at least five years to come to terms with it.
It took a while to convince her to come with me for shoots. Over a period of time, she saw the kind of attention and respect we get on the sets and realised that it was not a bad career.
Dad was very supportive.
I believe that your respect is in your hands in any profession. If you have no character, people will think and talk bad things about you. You can be in films and have a lot of dignity.
I still remember somebody told me when I joined films that you should be like actress Neetu Singh, who works in films and still has so much respect.
I was acting in films but there were certain rules at home that I had to follow. If the pack up was at 10 pm, I had to reach home by 10.30. If I reached 15 minutes late my father would look at his watch and comment, “Aaj thoda late hogaya na”.
It was a different atmosphere then. I wouldn’t get permission for late night movies with my friends.
Since I was young, my dad or mother would accompany to an outdoor shoot. But they would never be on the set as they were shyer than I was.
Image: Amitabh Bachchan, Poonam Dhillon and Sashi Kapoor in Trishul
'When I see myself dancing to the song Gapuchi Gapuchi Gam Gam in Trishul, I laugh'
On her films:
I do try to watch my films whenever people call or message me about any of my films being shown on TV.
I enjoyed working in Sohni Mahiwal, Ek Chaadar Maili Si, Sawerewali Gadi, Kasam and of course Noorie.
I can see my progress in these films from the time I didn’t know the ABC of acting or how to stand in front of the camera, to later when I was pretty confident.
I see all these new actors today who are so prepared.
When I see myself dancing to the song Gapuchi Gapuchi Gam Gam in Trishul, I laugh. I didn't know how to dance. It looks cute on the character in the film but it is so embarrassing.
Image: Sachin Pilgaonkar and Poonam Dhillon in Trishul
'I was lucky to do my first film with Yash Chopra'
Her best films:
It is difficult to say which I consider my best films. There are a few films that are special for sentimental reasons.
Besides being my debut film, Trishul was a brilliant film. It had a huge star cast -- Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar, Rakhee and Hema Malini.
I was lucky to do my first film with them and a director like Yash Chopra.
The second film Noorie actually launched me in a big way. It was an author-backed role. Even after 30 years, sometimes when I meet people, they still call me Noorie.
I really enjoyed doing Sawerewali Gadi and Kasam. With these films I started learning acting, understanding camera angles and how to project myself.
Red Rose got me a lot of acclaim, but the entire credit goes to the director, Bharati Raja. He made me do a role like he wanted. I was probably underage and inexperienced for that role.
Rajesh Khanna was the superstar at that time. Bharati Raja was disappointed when he saw me because I was young and slim. Being a south Indian director, he expected a womanly-looking heroine who would look like a married woman to play Rajesh Khanna’s wife.
He kind of looked disapproving when I got ready and came out. He looked at me, said something in Tamil, and took a pencil and tried to push my hair up. I think he said that my hair is too flat.
I was thinking how am I going to work with this man who speaks no English or Hindi, that too for a difficult role? But he is such a brilliant director. Later we became friends and I did Sawerewali Gaadi.
Rajesh (Khanna) was very protective. He would help me with difficult scenes.
There was this particular scene in Red Rose where I had to get scared and run from one corner of the room to the other while confronting a psychopath.
Being unexcitable by nature I did it very mechanically. Rajesh Khanna came up to me, caught my shoulder, shook it really hard, and pushed me into the field of the camera.
I got help from my director and co-actor for my first serious film.
Image: Farooque Sheikh and Poonam Dhillon in Noorie
'People liked me a lot with Rishi Kapoor in Yeh Vaada Raha'
On her favourite screen pair:
People liked me a lot with Rishi Kapoor in Yeh Vaada Raha.
Kumar Gaurav was the first hero who was closer to my age. Otherwise, all my co-actors like Randhir Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra, were 15-20 years older than I was.
I had to do romantic scenes with them and I was very shy. I couldn’t look into their eyes and say anything. It was painful for me for the first few years.
With actors like Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor and Kumar Gaurav I could talk as they were my age or only slightly older.
Image: Rishi Kapoor and Poonam Dhillon in Yeh Vaada Raha
'My films have been hits and flops, but don't have any regrets per se'
My films have been hits and flops, but don't have any regrets per se. I have acted with top directors and actors of that time.
Sometimes you are disturbed about something that has happened to you. Like during the filming of Red Rose I had to do a scene in which I get ready after having a shower. I was wearing an off shoulder top. The stills photographer took the picture when I was fully drenched, with a back light, and the expression of having a shower.
That picture was on all the publicity hoardings. This upset me tremendously because that particular scene wasn’t in the film and my trust had been misplaced.
Image: Rajesh Khanna and Poonam Dhillon in Red Rose
'My kids help me decide what I wear when I go out'
On her children:
We are almost like friends. I am a very curious person who likes learning new things every day. My children help me do that.
We fight, go out together and have a great time. They also help me decide what I wear when I go out.
I watch more news and less soaps, but my kids watch English shows and I watch along with them.
I try to watch shows where my co-actors or friends from films appear, as in Karan‘s (Johar) Koffee With Karan. When my son used to follow Bigg Boss I would try to see it once a week.
Both my kids, Paloma and Anmol, are taller than I am and I feel like a midget! If either of them wants to join the film industry, they can.
I will not force them to take up any profession since I feel that destiny will lead them to it.
Image: Poonam Dhillon with daughter Paloma Thakeria
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'At one point, I wanted to join the Indian Foreign Service'
On her studies:
Currently I am in the middle of doing my MBA (correspondence course from Jaro Education's the International Business Institute in Brussels).
I am curious by nature which has helped me in my film career too.
I want to specialise in International Business and so I chose subjects like finance etc. I like their programmes, their tutors, and their online study material.
The next semester will have subjects such as media and advertising.
An Indian university would have meant attending college which I can’t do because of my other commitments.
At one point, I wanted to join the Indian Foreign Service. I was studying to appear for the UPSC exams but then films happened.
I have this dream of getting a doctorate but that’s possible only when you do your Master’s. After the MBA, I can hope to get my doctorate.
Image: Krystle DSouza and Poonam Dhillon Ek Nayi Pehchaan