'My debut is bigger than Deepika or Anushka'
Not many people noticed her cameos in Fashion and Heroine but former Miss India Pooja Chopra seems unfazed by it.
The model-turned-actress plays the lead role in next week's release, Commando, which co-stars Vidyut Jamwal. It has been directed by debutant director Dilip Ghosh.
Pooja is relishing the fact that the first promo of her forthcoming film received a positive response.
In a candid conversation with Sonil Dedhia, Pooja recalls her Miss India journey, and why she's desperate for Commando to become a hit.
Considering Commando is an action movie favouring the hero more, what made you choose it for your debut in films?
I disagree that Vidyut's role in the film is given importance. If you compare my screen presence with the debut films of Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma or Sonakshi Sinha, I think it's way different. I think my debut is bigger than Deepika or Anushka's.
Why do you say that?
Commando is not only an action film. It is a story which is said from my character's point of view.
The tiff is between the girl and a villain. I play the central character in the film. Without my character, there wouldn't have been Commando.
Image: Pooja Chopra
'I don't have a good script sense as yet'
You must have got a lot of offers before Commando...
(Interrupts) I am glad I didn't take them up.
What kind of offers were they?
They were not meaty roles and neither were they big banners or producers.
But you did do cameos in Fashion and Heroine.
Yes, when (director) Madhur Bhandarkar asks you to do a cameo, it would be foolish to turn him down.
Today, if Rajkumar Hirani tells me I have just one shot, I'll do it.
When I did Fashion, I wasn't even a Miss India. I was amongst the models and was given a dialogue. As far as Heroine is concerned, Madhur very clearly had told me that it isn't going to be a launch pad for me.
You say you were waiting for big banners and directors, and yes, Reliance Entertainment and Vipul Shah (the producers) are big names but the director Dilip Ghosh is making his debut.
I was very clear about one thing: either you give me a strong director, producer, or a strong hero because I don't have a good script sense as yet.
This is my first film. I didn't want to do something new and experimental. I didn't want to take the risk because I know I won't get a second chance.
When I got a call just for a meeting for this film, I was told it's a Reliance Entertainment and Vipul Shah film. I had almost made up my mind to say yes to the film.
When I read the script, I told myself I must get this film. I felt my character is so endearing, she is charming, she is fun, she takes the villain hands on, and she is a total pataka.
I have laughed, cried, and fought the villain. It couldn't get better than this. I kept saying to myself that I have to crack this, and I did! (yells and laughs)
Image: Pooja Chopra
'It was challenging to do the intimate scenes with Vidyut'
How difficult was it to crack Commando?
Honestly, not very difficult. The character is a lot like me in real life. When the screen test got over the director actually told me that it didn't look like I was mouthing the dialogues -- it was coming so naturally.
Did the hotness quotient of Vidyut Jamwal and the frenzied reaction he gets from women intimidate you?
Vidyut and I have always been friends. We have done a lot of fashion shows together. So to have such feelings for a friend is difficult.
What was challenging for me were those little intimate scenes that we had to do.
What was it like doing the action scenes?
I did the stunts myself but I will never do them again. No one in their sane mind would want to jump off a 45 feet bridge into water when you don't know how to swim.
I am not an adventurous person in real life. I am never going to do bungee jumping and sky diving. It was very challenging and I will never do it again.
Image: Pooja Chopra and Vidyut Jamwal in Comnnando
'I am indebted to my mother for my life'
You say your mother is the inspiration for whatever you are in life.
I think not only for me but anyone in my family would have felt that their entire life. I am indebted to her. Every child feels a certain respect or love or connection for their family, but for me it's a different case.
The stand she took to take two girls and walk out of a man's house and the kind of struggle she went through cannot be described.
Waking up at 4 am and going to work, coming back, taking tuitions after that, and over and above that, taking care of my sister and me...
I have seen her struggle and somewhere deep down, I feel I am indebted to her so my entire being is totally dedicated to her.
Did the struggles you had when growing up toughen you for any struggle in life, even maybe in films?
The struggle in my filmi career until now has been the waiting period. The four films that I was offered I am very happy I didn't take up. Then the dilemma was should I take up the offer or not? What if I don't get a better film ahead?
There's nobody to guide you so every decision you make you are the one responsible for it. I am glad I waited.
For a role like this to come my way is a blessing in disguise especially in today's times when girls in films are hardly getting any screen time.
Image: Pooja Chopra
'If someone offers me a film like The Dirty Picture, I would say no'
Today, a lot of films revolve around the actor and actresses don't have much to do. There are top of the line actresses who are a part of these films just to get a wider appeal. Would you take up these offers?
Of course, yes. Even before Commando if I had been offered a film with a big actor and I had just two songs and five scenes, I would have done it because it works.
At the same time, if I had an option of choosing between doing a central character or just be a part of the film for two songs and a few scenes, then I would go with the first one.
Do you come with a set of do's and don'ts in the industry?
I come from a middle class, conservative family. Just hugging Vidyut on screen, who has been a friend of mine, was a little awkward. At the moment, lip locks, lovemaking scenes, item numbers and short clothes are a complete no for me.
Today, if someone offers me The Dirty Picture, I would say no because I don't think I will be able to pull it off convincingly. Maybe things might change in the future.
Image: Pooja Chopra
'A lot of girls had a crush on me'
Your mother in an interview described you as a complete tomboy.
(Laughs loudly) I come from a family of four women -- my nani (grandmother), mother, elder sister and me. As I was the youngest and as there was no male member in the family, I was given a lot of love and was spoilt for choices.
My sister is seven years elder than me but she is very shy and soft spoken. I was a complete tomboy. Once, a boy hit my sister and the next day, I went back to hit him. I was a complete bully in school.
I studied in a convent school and the girls were big fans of mine. They had crush on me and would write letters to me on Valentine's Day. I had short hair. I wanted to be an IPS officer like Kiran Bedi. In short, I was the male member of the house (laughs).
So how did the transition from tomboy to beauty queen come about?
I was doing fashion shows in college and a designer picked me to do a catalogue. The photographs came on hoardings and in a magazine and people started appreciating me. I felt really happy. It also allowed me to earn extra pocket money.
Tanushree Dutta and I had done a lot of fashion shows in Pune. When she became Miss India, I felt if she could win, so could I. That's when I decided to participate in Miss India.
It became my dream. I didn't leave any stone unturned to win the competition. I had to transform myself from a tomboy to being a regular girl.
Every year they would show the making on television and I would go to a friend's place and record it and watch it.
I was born in Kolkata and so I decided to participate from the East zone. The advantage of that was that if I won that contest I would get an entry to the top ten. I won Miss India East and went on to win Miss India.
Image: Pooja Chopra at the Pantaloons Femina Miss India Contest 2009
Photographs: Ritam Banerjee/Getty Image
'My biggest regret in life is not winning the Miss World title'
You fractured your leg just a few days before the Miss World pageant. What was your state of mind during that period?
My biggest regret in life is not winning the Miss World title. I could not compete or stand there as an equal to the other contestants. If I had lost as an equal, I wouldn't have felt bad.
Out of 120 contestants, I was already in the top 16 contestants, which is a huge achievement. Just five days before the final rounds, I fractured my leg.
All the girls representing their country had to assemble at 7 pm for dinner. Miss Indonesia was sharing the room with me and she took some time to get ready. I was in a hurry and instead of taking the elevator, I opted for the staircase. Suddenly I tripped. I was moved to a hospital and found that I had a fracture and was advised two months of complete bed rest.
I was completely devastated. I remember Julia Morley, the head of the Miss World pageant, came to the hospital at night to meet me and told me either I pack my bags and go back home or sit and watch the other contestants.
I chose to participate. I limped onto the stage and took two steps. It was really tough and disheartening.
So, like any other Miss India, you too decided on becoming an actress?
No, actually I never wanted to become an actress. After Miss India, I was advised bed rest because of the fracture. I wanted to open a cafe or restaurant for my mother because she has always worked in a restaurant. But she said wanted me to become an actor. That's when I thought if her happiness is to see me as an actor, I will do that.
Commando is like life and death for me. I am desperate for it to become a hit.
I am not from a filmi background and everybody knows that a second chance for a newcomer is very difficult.
My mother wants to see me as an actor and this is the best I could perform as an actor. I have given my best to Commando. I don't think I can do anything more than this.
If this fails, it will be my failure for life because I will not be able to fulfill her dreams.
Image: Pooja Chopra
'My first pay was Rs 300'
Do you remember your first pay cheque?
My first pay was Rs 300. I was in junior college when I participated in a fashion show in Kolhapur. We were taken in a bus from Pune.
Aditi Govitrikar was the show-stopper and the designer's name was Shraddha Nigam, who was from Kolhapur. I had short hair and was wearing a ghaghra-choli (laughs).
You made your acting debut in a south film (Ponnar Shankar). Will you continue working down south?
As of now, no, because the language is a huge challenge. If I don't like doing something, I won't do it.
The reason I did a south film was because I wanted to check whether I could face the camera and enjoy being an actress. It was a litmus test.
If in future, if I get some good offers, I might consider taking them up.
Image: Pooja Chopra