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The Rediff Interview/Lara Dutta

'I don't want to be a one film wonder'

Subhash K Jha | August 23, 2003

Lara Dutta, Abhishek Bachchan in Mumbai Se...Former Miss Universe Lara Dutta dived successfully into the Hindi film industry with Andaaz, which was a big hit.

Of course, a lot of the credit went to the excessive skin show in the film, which co-starred Akshay Kumar and Priyanka Chopra. In the process, Lara the actress got lost somewhere.

Her second release, Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost, opposite Abhishek Bachchan, hit the marquee yesterday. As the rustic belle Kesar, she has undergone a successful change of image. Lara, who looks stunning in the ethnic clothes she has donned for the film, has made people sit up and notice her yet again.

She talks to Subhash K Jha about her Bollywood experience.

Your debut Andaaz clicked. Now comes Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost...

[laughs nervously] That's what makes me jittery. Andaaz gave me a firm footing in the industry. I would not be honest if I said I knew it would do well. In today's times, one doesn't know what works. But I had a blast working in the film. I have been extremely cautious in selecting my films. Some people cannot understand why I insist on knowing about my role in a film before signing it. Thank God, things are changing now. It is no longer shocking for an actress to ask for a script.

People were shocked by the extensive skin display in Andaaz.

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I don't think there was a lot of that in my character. I did not do anything that had not been done before. The makers of Andaaz wanted to cash in on Miss Universe and Miss World, that's me and Priyanka Chopra, being cast together. Both of us came from an 'out-there' field like modelling and we were comfortable with our bodies. We knew what we were doing and wearing. No compromises were pushed on us.

I can only speak for myself and say I was very comfortable with whatever I wore in Andaaz. I wore what today's college girls wear. The only song where there was extra glamour was Rabba ishq na hove.

I was not deliberately trying to be hot and provocative. I was confident I would not look vulgar. And I didn't. I'm sure [producer] Suneel Darshan and [director] Raj Kanwar were smart enough to blend traditional values with what today's audience likes to see. That's what brought the audiences in.

Did the success of Andaaz put an added responsibility on you?

For starters, it made everyone aware I was serious about my film career. A successful debut does put a great burden on the debutante. I don't want to be a one film wonder. I have become very cautious about what I sign. I'm not in this business to make hay while the sun shines.

Lara Dutta in Mumbai Se...In Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost, I am poles apart from Andaaz. And, if I may say so, a lot better. My character KC [aka Kesar] in Mumbai Se... is more vibrant, much more like a woman of the earth. But, in hindsight, I am glad I was introduced in Andaaz. That was a typical commercial set-up where I got to learn a lot. Having learnt the ropes of conventional acting, it was easier for me to work in a set-up where the crew was closer to me in age and sensibility. I am fortunate to have gone through the whole gamut of acting in my first two films.

Did you have a tough time getting into the rustic groove in Mumbai Se...?

The fact that we shot on location in Jaisalmer really helped me to get into character. There was a lot of time to absorb the local colours and flavours. It did take me a while to get adjusted. I remember on the first day, I sat down on the sets and my director, Apoorva Lakhia, said, "Hello? This isn't Fifth Avenue!" Apoorva was very helpful when it came to  getting me into character.

After working with Akshay Kumar, what was it like to work with Abhishek Bachchan?

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Write your own review of MSAMD!

I call him a little brat! But he is an amazing co-star. Fresh off the sets of Andaaz and Akshay Kumar and straight into Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost and Abhishek was quite a jump. It took Abhishek and me a while to get to know each other. We were like two school children while our director was the headmaster. Abhishek and I are outspoken. Once he accepts you as a friend, he opens up. I think we have worked well together in Mumbai Se... We were constantly playing off one another, so there was a lot of improvisation in our performances.

Tell us about your other films.

There's a Venus film Yuddh, directed by Vikram Bhatt. I'm paired with John Abraham. It's an action film. I will be part of the action sequences. I'm looking forward to doing my own fights!

Even in Mumbai Se... you see me doing a bit of Lara Croft in the climax. I'm doing another action film, Madhur Bhandarkar's Aan. I play Akshay Kumar's fiancée. Then, I have Dharmesh Darshan's next film for Venus, where I co-star with Akshay and Priyanka again. I also have a Tamil film, directed by Maharajan.

Are you and Priyanka Chopra vying for the same kind of roles after Andaaz?

I don't think so. We are very different actresses. She has different aspirations. I want to build a base for myself as an actress so that, tomorrow, a filmmaker will have the confidence to cast me in a role like Nargis' in Mother India. I don't want to burn myself out. I don't want to be seen in every second film. I don't want the audience to say, 'Oh no, she's in this one too.'

Roles of substance aren't easy to come by for actresses in Bollywood.

Lara Dutta, Abhishek Bachchan in Mumbai Se...No, they are not. It is very hard to find the right balance between being a woman of substance and a sex symbol. I want to play the entire gamut. Dharmesh Darshan's next film is a very young one. It's an intelligent script with subtle humour. What I like about Hindi films is the vibrancy. I'm getting feelers from big camps. I'd like to fit in everywhere.

Are you happy with your career?

I'm very happy. My plate is full. But I'm not overreacting. There are very few scripts like Mumbai Se... that make me sit up and listen.

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