When desi supermodel Lisa Ray got a call from producer Mukesh Bhatt's office, she thought it was just another film proposal.
One of the dime-a-dozen the official Lakme Model receives every month, asking her to do a sexy item song or a vampish siren in a bit part.
But when director Vikram Bhatt and scriptwriters Mahesh Bhatt and Tanuja Chandra narrated the script and the role to her, she had second thoughts.
"It was so much like my own personality, a careerwoman living alone in the big city. It didn't require me to be an oomphy model and have a hundred dancers leaping out every ten minutes. I decided I had to give it a shot."
Contrary to expectations, Lisa's debut in Kasoor is the biggest anticlimax imaginable. Not only is she shorn of her glamour-puss trappings, she's actually called upon to turn in a serious, intense performance.
Now, that's not the typical model-turned-heroine role you expect.
From Zeenat Aman to Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, models have always been used by filmwallahs to add sultry spice to their masala mix. But Lisa's all set to be the bold exception. In fact, she's proud of the fact that the only part of her on display in this film is her acting ability!
"I'm wearing more clothes in Kasoor than any heroine!"
After all, her character happens to be a hard-headed, justice-seeking lawyer. And the film is an intense courtroom suspense drama co-starring Ashutosh Rana, Aftab Shivdasani and Apoorva Agnihotri, among others.
Definitely not a fluffy bubblegum film.
So what was the experience like? After all, it was the first time in her life that Lisa stepped before a camera and had to do more than simply look good or pout. Wasn't she nervous on her first day?
"Would you believe? My first day on the set, I had a major confrontation scene with Ashutosh Rana. I was totally freaked out. I was walking the walls for days before the shoot. And finally, I thought if I can just get through this, I'll be okay."
As things turned out, Rana off-screen was as supportive as his on-screen character was combative. "He's a real gentleman. He's such a powerful actor, he could have gobbled me up. But instead he gave me so much energy, I just returned his energy and the scene worked."
Lisa credits her director Vikram Bhatt for her entire performance. He taught her everything she knows about acting, she admits candidly.
"He drilled it into my head that good acting must be understated, natural, and you must really feel the emotion you're portraying."
She learnt her lesson well. On one major emotional scene, she finally achieved that famous "out of body" sensation that honest acting brings. But in the same moment, she also learned the reality of filmmaking as a business.
"I was blown away by what had just happened, how I'd cried without glycerine, done the scene in one take. But the unit congratulated me, and then someone picked up the camera and moved it for the next shot. Life went on.
"There I was, standing there and experiencing one of the biggest moments of my life, and everybody was like, 'Great shot, Lisa, let's do the next set-up'. It was a real eye-opener."
But she soon learned that life, like the camera set-ups, does have to move on. Lisa herself has come a long way from her
first oomphy swimsuit appearances in Bombay Dyeing ads and magazine covers. The new improved Lisa Ray isn't accepting any more sexy ads or films, although the offers continue to roll in.
"I'm waiting for Kasoor to release before deciding what to do next. In fact, I haven't even seen my rushes because I don't want to become self-conscious. Let the audience decide about my performance."
Kasoor was also a pleasurable experience because of the Bhatt unit, which Lisa feels was unlike the filmi set-up she had expected. "The whole team was so young, enthusiastic, professional. I felt very comfortable. It was just like an ad shoot."
Lisa is completely guileless about acting. "I used to ask everybody for tips, the cameraman, the unit people, anyone." Finally, it was Vikram Bhatt who steered her expertly through the experience. And she feels that if she is accepted as an actress, it's entirely thanks to him.
But even if the film strikes BO office gold like Vikram Bhatt's earlier Ghulam did, Lisa's adamant on the "no-cleavage-no-oomph" stance. "I'll be glamorous, not sleazy. I'm not going to be like one of these newcomer models-turned-actors who are willing to bare all just to make it in films."
We'll just have to watch and see if she lives up to her words.
And if she doesn't, well, she can always blame the big, bad industry. Is mein Lisa Ray ka kya kasoor?!