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'I am in my honeymoon phase again'

By MOHNISH SINGH
Last updated on: September 24, 2022 07:20 IST
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'I was told so often by people, "Please leave your brains at home".'
'And I would say, "I only have myself to offer. I can't dance like Madhuri Dixit or Shilpa Shetty. I can only come and act."'

IMAGE: Pooja Bhatt in Chup: Revenge of the Artist. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pooja Bhatt/Instagram

Pooja Bhatt has a lot to say.

From the film folk who have influenced her to how she handled her acting career to her latest film, Chup: Revenge Of The Artist.

In the second segment of a multi-part interview, she tells Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh, "I was not eye candy in the '90s, but I am happy to say that I am a brain candy in Chup."

What do you play in Chup: Revenge of the Artist?

My character in the film is a...

See, I refused to be eye candy in the '90s.

The maximum eye candy I was in Sadak, perhaps, but it was not technically eye-candy, you know.

Earlier, when I would ask my director about my role in the film, he would be like, 'Are you asking me about the role? He is the hero and these are three songs.'

But I would ask again, 'What's my role?'

Then they would be like, 'Pooja Bhatt ka dimaag kharab hai. Role puchti hai.'

I was told so often by people, 'Please leave your brains at home.'

And I would say, 'I only have myself to offer. I can't dance like Madhuri Dixit or Shilpa Shetty. I can only come and act. So what am I doing?'

That was looked upon as an attitude.

My father had nothing to do with it. He was never a part of my decision-making.

J P Dutta would call me and narrate to me without me having to ask for it.

R Balki today, after so many years, tells me, 'Pooja, read the script and then decide.'

He trusts me with a script without even knowing whether I am going to do it or not.

That's the kind of people you want to attach yourself to.

I was not eye candy in the '90s, but I am happy to say that I am a brain candy in Chup. That's how I would describe myself in the film.

 

IMAGE: Sunny Deol and Pooja Bhatt in Chup: Revenge of the Artist. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pooja Bhatt/Instagram

There is a dialogue in Chup where your character says 'you critics are a murderer'. How much does that mean to you?

I did the movie so that I would say that line.

No, see, to be fair, I think the media has been very generous to me.

If I had any issues, any growing pains, because we grew up in this business, we have grown up with the media, and in those days, you never had breaking news every day.

The magazine would come out at the end of the month.

My fight was never about what you said about me or my work.

My fight used to be that if you agree with me privately when we are talking, then why is your headline different?

Why are you saying how wild Pooja Bhatt is? What is wild about me?

I am 20 years old. I have a boyfriend. My parents know I have a boyfriend.

Why should I hide it from the audience?

Nowadays, people live freely. At that time, Manisha (Koirala) and I used to face the maximum brickbats because we were the only two who said what we were behind the camera and in front of it.

There were no two personas because we didn't know how to be like that.

My issue always used to be on that level: Why have you reported something without checking with me?

I loved Twitter initially because I felt at least I could put what I say with every comma and exclamation mark. At least pick that up and use it.

But when I look back then, I remember the Hindi press had given glowing reviews to Sadak, but the English media, especially Khalid (Mohamed, then the movie critic for The Times Of India newspaper), had said, 'Oh, it's too violent, there is too much blood, what is this Maharani character, it's so downmarket.'

Terms like 'upmarket' and 'downmarket' were used a lot during those times.

Then the film was chosen for the National Panorama and he (Khalid Mohamed) had to come to the sets of Tadipaar -- we were shooting in Kamalistan Studio (north west Mumbai) -- to interview us about how we felt about Sadak being chosen for the National Panorama.

It must have been awkward for him.

Khalid gave bad reviews to Zakhm too, but he was always very kind to me.

My point was that if you don't like my work, why would I hate you, yaar?

Give me constructive criticism and I will try and better myself. But if you come there and try to control me by first giving me praise and then denying me praise, I am not playing that game.

I think I began to deal with bad reviews in that sense when I became a film-maker.

But when I was an actor in Bombay Begums after 21 years, I was amazed by the amount of acceptance and love I got from across the board.

I was like, 'Wow! Thank you.'

So there was a lot of gratitude for both the good and the bad. You can't have the good and not have the bad.

Why talk about the critics? Your toughest fight is always with your loved ones.

When I did Paap, there was a song called Mann Ki Lagan in the voice of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. People said no one would accept it, but it became a humongous hit.

'Why are you taking John Abraham in Jism? Why? Take somebody else.'

Bhattsaab said, 'No, we only want John for this role,' and then a star was born.

So the thing is, whatever they say will not work, works, and whatever they say will work, does not work because the references are old.

That's my limited understanding.

At this point of time, I am in my honeymoon phase again.

Earlier, I did not know what was happening to me. At the age of 17, you start acting, and by 18-and-a-half, you are a star.

By the age of 21, you've been told that your star has changed...

By 24, you are written off.

You come back at 48, and are told, 'She is back.'

There are four seasons of our fame: 'Oh, she's got potential! Oh, she has arrived! Oh, she is over! Oh, she is back!'

So right now, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I want to work with people who enhance me not only as an actor, but also in my perspective.

Shooting is not an easy job.

Putting up with someone for 20 or 40 days is not an easy thing, so why should we put up with you if our mindsets don't match?

I want to do work with people who see me differently, and cast me as a unique character.

Balki has cast Sunny in a powerful role, but you see a new Sunny Deol.

Dulquer Salmaan plays a part that he has never played before.

Shreya (Dhanwanthary), because she has something that is so non-filmi about her, that's what her character is.

And me, who comes with my sense of understanding of life, but it's a new me.

I am totally different from what I was in Bombay Begums.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Pooja Bhatt/Instagram

What was your response when R Balki offered you this film?

Shruti Mahajan is the casting director who had suggested my name for Bombay Begums.

When she called for Chup, I was at my farm in Kalote (in rural Maharashtra).

She called me and said, 'Pooja, there is something interesting.'

I said, 'Shruti, you will never set me down on a part that's not interesting.'

She continued, 'And the film-maker is R Balki.'

'Fantastic, where do I sign?' I asked.

I like the way Balki's mind works.

I love his sense of aesthetics.

I have been a production designer myself, and he is somebody who has got a refined perspective in that sense and doesn't take himself too seriously.

I spoke to him on a Zoom call because COVID was happening at that time.

He said, 'Pooja, this film has got Sunny Deol, Dulquer Salmaan, and Shreya Dhanwanthary.'

I said, 'Wow. This is an interesting group of actors.'

He then told me the title and I loved it.

He mailed me the script without me signing it on the dotted line. People don't do that.

So I started reading the script and I loved it.

So for me, it's always the idea that draws me. Then, of course, the person who is making that idea come to life. The bonus is the co-stars.

I am not in a phase where I have to count my lines in the script and see my screen time.

People are still caught in that world.

It doesn't matter what my screen space is, how many songs are there, or whom I am pitted against.

It was a great experience because there was no masterpiece complex with R Balki.

Just come, do it, and go. Easy and effortless.

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MOHNISH SINGH