In Farhan Akhtar's war drama, the actress plays television reporter Romilla Dutta, covering the 1999 Kargil war.
Lakshya could have been just another big release for the 29 year old. But it turned out to be a lot more. It was an 'experience' in every sense of the word -- emotionally gratifying, physically trying, educational yet enjoyable.
For an actress working in a patriotic film, the setting of her office-cum-living room in Bandra, northwest Mumbai, is just appropriate. It is hard to miss a framed Indian flag and a miniature model of a military aircraft among the customary home décor props.
It is also impossible to ignore Zinta's animated enthusiasm about Lakshya, which hits the marquee on June 18.
In a two-part interview with Deputy Managing Editor Vaihayasi P Daniel and Senior Correspondent Sukanya Verma, the actress discloses why Lakshya is the toughest film of her career.
How tough was Lakshya, in terms of shooting in extreme weather conditions?
I was lucky [laughs]. I am not [playing] a soldier. I was just covering the war, so I had to be in certain places only, logically. I was in Ladakh for 25 days. These guys were there for two-and-half-three months. We were given a few days to acclimatise. It was very well planned and organised. Physically, you are not ready for things like this.
We were supposed to shoot in Ladakh, but the Zoji La Pass was not open. So we shot in the Delhi outdoors instead. It was so hot, I had a heatstroke! I was out for three days and the whole crew was sick. You can't shoot when it is so hot. The conditions are inhuman. The only good thing was that the film went in sequence.
Are you glad you had this experience?
Of course, of course! It [Lakshya] is also a film that deals with the youth of today and their opinions about their country. And their being patriotic. It is very well put [in the film] because patriotism is love for your country, for yourself and for your surroundings.
The good thing about Lakshya was that it wasn't going into just Pakistan bashing and jingoism. It had war as a perspective and was very well put. The army is very authentic. It is a very realistic film.
Essentially, Lakshya is not a war film, right?
It's about a boy's journey. War is a part of it. The film looks at the youth of today. Farhan did Dil Chahta Hai [in 2001]. It was fun but it looked at the youth, their fun side and their mad side. Lakshya is more introspective -- how you are and what you want.
For me, Romilla is very there. She is very together. She is a girl of today. She has a career. She is very sure of what she wants. It is not that she falters. She makes her own mistakes like anybody else. Hrithik's character is completely opposite to hers. Their interaction together is interesting.
He [Hrithik] has performed really well. If you ask me as an actor, wow, what a performance!
Are you happy with your own performance?
For sure. I am happy with it because both of us worked really well together. We have known each other for donkey's years. We have been friends. We have very easy personalities. That is very important. In Koi… Mil Gaya, we played tough roles. He plays a deranged kid and I played the girl who falls in love with him. It can't be love. It has to be compassion and [there is] so much more to it.
Do you identify with the views of the youth in this film?
Totally. I come from an army background. You will always see that army children have a very proud and strong patriotic streak because their father serves in it [the army]. My brother is still serving in the army.
I know how the army is. And you feel good about the way it is depicted in this film. There is a lot of respect [for the army] in this film. When Farhan first came to me with the script, I thought, if I take this film, it is the kind of role you need to do so much research and get to see very little [of that research in the film].
There is a lot that goes into my character in Lakshya. I was really excited because I come from an army background. I read every possible book about this war because I was playing a journalist. I also spoke to a couple of journalists.
Didn't you meet NDTV reporter Barkha Dutt too?
I met everybody. To me, this character is not one person. It is not Barkha Dutt, but it is definitely modelled on her. She was the only woman who went there first when she was covering the war, when the footage was coming in. But the subtext is different.
Do you get along with journalists better now?
Yes. It [working in Lakshya] made me respect journalists. I hate the creepy ones because I get both sides of it. I get the cheesy gossip, which is not true. I have always lived my life very openly. I am proud to do whatever I do. I think I make the right choices, at least for myself.
Besides that, if you just create a story, it irritates me. It doesn't matter to me. But for my family and people who know me, it's a big stress.
Was meeting journalists helpful?
Yes, you just talk. But the whole thing was on a real event. It was a gut-wrenching war. Our soldiers fought so bravely. The weather conditions, the way things were. It actually made me get up and start thinking about things I would never think of -- your country, your surroundings. I went and voted after that! It made me get up and vote because I felt that we are the youth of today. We should make sure we know where this country is going.
Lakshya was a discovery for me. It was the toughest film of my career to shoot. Truly.
Physically, it was the toughest. I can work 25 hours a day. I have that energy. But everything is against you sometimes -- the weather, the terrain. It was tough because I had to do two pages [worth of] dialogues in one take because I was reading the news out live: 'This is happening, and the Indian government said this or Aaj yeh hua hai, woh hua hai,' and have no emotion on film as a character. You are either talking to your mother or the man you love [in other films], the dialogue is in sequence with your life. It is very different from reading news, which is just facts. So I had to rato [memorise] it like a parrot!
Didn't your teeth rattle while reading out the news in that weather?
Exactly! There is this one shot where I have worn so many layers. And this big jacket on top. Everybody in the crew was saying it was looking too bulky. I said, "I don't care, this is a real film and real temperatures and I cannot talk," because it was in sync sound.
How long were you actually in Tanglang La?
That was one early morning from about 5 and came back at night. We had to trek to different places. Then when they did the main fighting sequence the crew went even higher. They put tents out there. I don't know how they shot it. Hats off to them!
Part II: 'I could destroy the whole authenticity of Lakshya by pouting'