'I've come across fans with my name tattooed on their arms.'
'The craziest fan was this guy who came all the way from Andhra to Mumbai to meet me and slept on the road for a couple of nights before he got what he wanted.'
Pooja Hegde is among the highest paid leading ladies of Telugu cinema, thanks to superhits like Mukunda (2014), Duvvada Jagannadham (2017),Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava (2018), Maharishi (2019), Gaddalakonda Ganesh (2019) and Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020).
In Bollywood, she started with a big project, Ashutosh Gowariker's Mohenjo Daro , opposite Hrithik Roshan.
There's some bigger projects coming up -- Radhe Shyam with Prabhas, Cirkus with Ranveer Singh and Bhaijaan with Salman Khan.
Pooja tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Subhash K Jha, "Having done Mohenjo Daro, which did not do as well as expected, to still have producers coming to me with good Hindi offers is something I'm proud of."
15 million followers on Instagram! How does a girl as young as you handle this kind of success?
I am very grateful for those staggering numbers.
More than anything else, I am aware that what I post can affect 15 million people. So I am very conscious of what I put out there.
I think social media needs to be more responsible and positive. That's why whatever I upload is happy and positive.
There is so much negativity on social media. We need to send out positive messages now more than ever.
What does success mean to you and how do you keep yourself grounded?
That's a very deep question.
What does success mean to me?
I think one of the motivations for me to succeed was to make my own dreams as well as my family's dreams for me, come true.
As for keeping grounded, my parents do a good job of that (laughs).
The value system that they have instilled in me ensures that success doesn't go to my head.
What are the craziest fan encounters you have had so far?
I've come across fans with my name tattooed on their arms.
The craziest fan was this guy who came all the way from Andhra to Mumbai to meet me and slept on the road for a couple of nights before he got what he wanted.
Does this kind of adulation flatter you?
No, it makes me feel bad.
I don't want anyone to go through this kind of pain on my account.
But I am happy they want to meet me.
I am grateful for all the love the fans shower on me.
In Telugu cinema, you are rumoured to be the highest paid actress. Is it true? How did you manage to make yourself so indispensable in a language you didn't know?
I don't want to talk about money.
But yes, I think it is great to be accepted in a language that I didn't know.
I feel I have become a part of Telugu cinema now. I am really grateful for that.
Can you speak fluent Telugu now?
Yes. I dub my own lines.
As soon as I started doing Telugu films, I began learning the language.
I felt this was needed to honour my craft.
To be able to connect with the Telugu audience, it was really imperative to speak the language.
Shabana Azmi once told me that a major part of the performance happens during the dubbing.
Yes, I felt there was a big gap between what my character felt and what she said when someone else dubbed for me.
Dubbing for my own lines in Telugu has helped me get closer to my character and to the audience.
It's great to be treated as one of their own in Andhra Pradesh.
Tell us about Radhe Shyam with Prabhas.
It is a really beautiful film, almost like a fairytale in its look and feel.
I haven't done such an intense mature love story before.
It's very new to me.
I hope that the storyline and the lovers' characters connect with the audience.
Are you happy with the headway you have made in Bollywood?
I feel I'm still a baby in Bollywood.
I have done only two films in Hindi.
I've taken a conscious decision to do selective films.
I will only do the films I really want to do.
I am excited about my forthcoming films -- there is Rohit Shetty's Cirkus with Ranveer Singh and Bhaijaan with Salman Khan.
That sounds impressive.
I think I've a long way to go.
But yeah, having done Mohenjo Daro, which did not do as well as expected, to still have producers coming to me with good Hindi offers is something I'm proud of.
What are your forthcoming films?
I have Most Eligible Bachelor in Telugu.
I have Acharyaa coming up where I am doing a special role.
I have Beast in Tamil.