'Ranbir is extremely charming on and off screen'
Telugu actress Ileana D'Cruz hopes to make waves at the box office this Friday with her first Hindi film Barfi!
She talks to Patcy N about her career, the big break in Hindi films and working with co-stars Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor.
You started off with modelling. There are some interesting stories about it.
My mom worked at a hotel owned by her friend in Goa, supervising the management. I was only 15, and whenever I visited my mother the hotel manager would tell her, 'why doesn't she try her hand at modelling?' I would say, 'I don't want to wear mini skirts and walk around ramps.' I was painfully shy.
Without telling me, he set up a meeting with model Marc Robinson, who was staying at the hotel once. Marc was extremely nice and said 'you can do pretty well if you handle your career well.'
That gave me confidence. So I decided to give it a shot and that pushed me into doing a few commercials -- the Electrolux, Emami and Fair and Lovely ad.
My Fair and Lovely ad got me my first offer in a Telugu film. It was going to be shot in the US so I decided to go ahead.
You never thought of doing a film in Bollywood?
I did. I thought it would be easier to do a Hindi film instead of Telugu, but I didn't get an interesting enough offer.
I wasn't all that excited about getting into the Hindi film space if I was not comfortable. So I decided to try the South industry first.
It was difficult to speak the language. I had to mug my lines and rattle them off and there were times I would go completely blank and not remember what I had learned two hours ago! It was strenuous and exhausting but I think the hard work paid off.
Image: Ileana D'Cruz
'I had so many doubts that it took me three months to finally say yes for Barfi!'
You started your career in 2006 with Telugu films. Why did it take you six years getting a film in Bollywood?
My first Telugu film Devdasu released in 2006. I had no career plan in mind. I didn't think I will do South films for a few years and then hop to Bollywood. I was just comfortable doing what I was doing.
I worked really hard for one year. Devdasu released and became a big hit. People started calling me a star. I took it very easy and I thought I will not come to Bollywood and do films unless the offer is very good.
I waited for six years for the right offer.
How did Barfi! happen?
It was strange. I was in Mumbai for a day when I got a call from (director) Anurag Basu. We met the same day. The next day I went to his office and he narrated the story and explained my role.
I was stunned as it was very beautiful film, an interesting story that I had never heard in Bollywood. It was a pure love story; there weren't any unnecessary frills attached to make it complicated and more filmy.
I could already see people relating to it. My only concern was that the character given to me was completely unlike me.
I had thought that if I get into Bollywood I will do a typical film with lots of song and dance. When this came along, I thought it was a very risky thing for me to do. I am not relying on the glamour aspect at all; I am relying solely on raw acting, with no fancy make-up and clothes.
Barfi! was serious stuff. I was worried that if I didn't give it my hundred percent and the dedication it deserved, this entire film will crumble as each one of the characters is so significant.
I had so many doubts that it took me three months to finally say yes to Anurag.
Image: Ileana D'Cruz, Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra
'You get to see Barfi through my eyes'
What is your role in Barfi!?
There is a deaf and mute boy called Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor) and an autistic girl, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) but you get to see Barfi through my eyes.
I am the only person in the film who is not physically challenged. My character Shruti has led a very sheltered life. She holds back her emotions -- until Barfi comes into her life and she realises how sad she is and starts enjoying life. She falls in love with him.
People think that if you are not physically challenged, you are happy. But in the film, it is not like that.
Barfi cannot hear, cannot speak but at the same time, he enjoys life. He enjoys making people happy.
How different are you from Shruti?
Shruti is a young girl from the 1970s. She is closed in her thinking and has the sensibilities and expectations of an Indian girl of that time.
She thinks of life in a very simple way. She knows what kind of man she will marry and what kind of life she will live. She wants a stable life.
Barfi turns her life upside down. She starts to see and live her life differently. She starts to enjoy her life.
Image: Ileana D'Cruz
'I am lucky to have Ranbir as my co-star in my first Bollywood film'
How was working with Priyanka Chopra? Did she give you advice about Bollywood?
Priyanka has been acting for a long time now. I did not have that many scenes with her, but she has been very nice. She was very casual and did not attempt to show me what I should be doing.
I think she figured out that I know my way around since I have been working for six years. She gave me a very nice compliment: she said I am very warm and arresting in the film.
How was it working with Ranbir?
I am lucky to have Ranbir as my co-star in my first Bollywood film.
Although I have sufficient amount of experience, it is still very important to have a co-star that you are comfortable with, who understands you, and who you can relate to, improvise and work with easily.
It was easy to work with him. He is very calm and relaxed and lovely. He is extremely charming not only on screen but off screen too. He is chivalrous, supportive, and willing to give of himself to get a better performance for someone else.
Tell us about the kiss in the film.
Ask him about the kiss, I kissed him!
So you did not like the kiss?
Who says I did not like the kiss? You don't think about whether you liked the kiss or not. When doing a kissing scene there are 20 people around and you have to take care of so many things, like is your face angled the right way...
Ranbir was hurt after the kiss?
Yes, that was funny. As soon as he stood up after the kiss, he hit his head. We joke about it. I told him it was the most disruptive kiss that I gave you.
Image: Ileana D'Cruz
'I was ashamed of myself that I had not watched Life in A Metro'
Had you seen any of Anurag Basu's films?
No. I had not seen Life In A Metro before signing this film. I like the fact that Anurag did not judge me because of that. When I actually sat and watched Metro I was ashamed of myself that I had not watched it all this while. I loved it.
I could be honest with Anurag. I could tell him that I can't feel the scene, that there is a block, and he would understand that. Anurag put a lot of faith in me.
Anurag is a very good actor. Sometimes he would perform a scene in front of me and sometimes he would ask me what would Shruti do in this situation and make me think.
He would take my advice and inputs. He lost his cool many times and once with me too. But I was not wrong so he came and apologised later. We were childish on the set and we have bonded well.
Will you bid the South film industry goodbye now?
No, I would not like to. It will be unfair if I do that just because I am in the big league now.
The South industry has shaped me. I am planning to balance both. I will work out something. I haven't planned it out yet. It depends on what films I am offered where.
Where are you settled now, in Hyderabad, Goa or Mumbai?
I am in Goa right now. I am shifting to Mumbai soon.
Image: Ileana D'Cruz