'The reason I have lasted so long is because I love my work very much.'
A "roller coaster". That's how Shilpa Shetty Kundra described her journey in the film industry. And it is a journey, she said, that has had its fair share of highs and lows.
The 46 year old, who has primarily worked in Hindi films, made her acting debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in the 1993 thriller Baazigar.
"You feel scared when you are on a high and even more scared when you are going down.
"It is a roller coaster; you have to enjoy the ride. The highs, lows are part of life. I live in the moment and that has been my attitude always; it has been positive," Shilpa said at the trailer launch of her film, Nikamma.
The actor said she is grateful to her audiences for walking with her on her 29-year-long journey in cinema.
"For the 30 years that is about to happen next year, I feel a lot of gratitude and happiness. I am thankful to my audience; they have always supported me, whether my films came or not. When I was working in TV, they have shown so much love and faith," she said.
"I don't know how people have tolerated me. People were far more forgiving then. The audience today is smart, so you have to work a lot. The reason I have lasted so long is because I love my work very much.
Shilpa's last theatrical release film was director Anil Sharma's Apne in 2007. She followed this up with special appearances in Dostana (2008) and Dishkiyaoon (2014), which she co-produced.
Even though she had signed Nikamma first, her return to films came with the comedy Hungama 2, which released on OTT last year.
During her time away from the big screen, the actor has been seen as a judge on reality shows like Super Dancer and India's Got Talent 9.
Shilpa credited Nikamma Director Sabbir Khan for ending her "14-year-long sabbatical" from the movies.
"I am thankful to Sabbir Khan and Sony Pictures; Sabbir more because you ended my sabbatical. The credit goes to him as the script was so great that I couldn't say no. To leave my babies at home and get out on the sets... it takes amazing content to lure me," she said.
"I was very rusty and he took care of me. It is the first film I said yes to after my long sabbatical and he gave me the confidence that I could do justice to Avni (her character in the film). She is not a superhero as people might perceive from the trailer; she is powerful character."
She also thanked producers Sony Pictures Films India and Sabbir Khan Films for choosing a theatrical release when they could gone the OTT route.
Recalling her first ever shot in the movies -- with Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar -- Shilpa said she was extremely nervous while facing the camera.
"My first shot was in the park with Shah Rukh Khan before the song, Kitabe bahut si. I would quickly say my lines and finish it off and not face the camera. Shah Rukh would then tell me to look at the camera, as that is our audience, and say the lines.
"I was very nervous then. After 64 films, I am still nervous. I think till the time you have this feeling, you are alive; else it will be like you do not enjoy the process."
Asked about the low phase in her personal life after her businessman husband Raj Kundra was arrested by the Mumbai police last year in a case related to pornographic films, Shilpa said she would rather talk about new beginnings.
Kundra is now out on bail.
"I don't think this is about me or my life. If it was pertinent to the movie, I would have answered that question. Talking about going through a difficult phase, yes, we have been through difficult phases in our lives," she said, sidestepping the question on her personal life.
The pandemic, she said, has been difficult for a lot of people in the industry and for their film as well.
"Abhimanyu Dassani has waited for two years, Sabbir sir who has made the film, Shirley Setia, who is debuting with this movie, and for me who is making a comeback in a theatre after 14 years... So let's focus on the good.
"I always say this, like you saw my avatar in the movie rising above her circumstances and playing a superwoman, I think we all have played this very strong character in our real lives. Many of us don't talk about it. We have all been very, very strong and we have braved the storm and I think it is time to celebrate newer beginnings and more positiveness," she said.
Nikamma is set to release on June 17.