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How Delhi Belly leading ladies got lucky

Last updated on: June 30, 2011 18:00 IST

How Delhi Belly leading ladies got lucky


Aseem Chhabra in New York

Shenaz Treasury and Poorna Jagannathan do not share any screen space in the upcoming film Delhi Belly (directed by Abhinay Deo and produced by Aamir Khan), but they have developed a close personal and working friendship in New York City. 

Shenaz has lived on and off in New York, and now has a re-occurring role as Rama Patel in the long-running ABC soap opera One Life to Live.  She recently made a brief trip to Las Vegas with her soap co-stars for the Daytime Emmy Awards show. Poorna meanwhile is busy with her theater, film and television projects in New York and Los Angeles. 

Last week before they left for India, the two sat down with Aseem Chhabra to talk about Delhi Belly and how luck played a part in their getting roles in Bollywood.

Shenaz, you have done a few films in India and you were also an MTV VJ, but how did you get the role in Delhi Belly?

Shenaz: I was walking down Pali Hill in Bandra. I had just come back from Thailand, where I had shot a show for MTV.  I believe Kiran Rao or someone from her office saw me on the street and they called me to audition for Dhobi Ghat.

Someone actually saw you walking on the street and called you?

Poorna: But that's what always happens to Shenaz. I am like hello and hello calling people, Shenaz just shows up and gets the parts!

Shenaz: I guess it is luck (they both laugh).

They knew you though right?

Shenaz: They knew me since I had been on MTV for years. I was a celebrity, but not a rich one (she laughs loudly).  I was the celebrity who always flew the economy class.

Image: Imran Khan and Poorna Jagannathan in Delhi Belly


Shenaz: I didn't even know which role I was auditioning for

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You were called to audition for the role of Shai, played in Dhobi Ghat by Monica Dogra?

Shenaz: Yes! I didn't even know what they were auditioning me for. They just gave me a piece of paper to read. After the audition, apparently Kiran called Aamir and said 'I have found Sonia (the character Shenaz plays in Delhi Belly).' Apparently they had tested a lot and hadn't found the right girl. I got another call from Aamir Khan Productions, and this time I read for the part of Sonia.

Poorna, how were you cast in the film?

Poorna: I was in India for a wedding...

Shenaz: See even you were in India for a wedding. She keeps telling me I am lucky.

Poorna: Actually I was at an America India Foundation gala in San Francisco and was playing black jack with elite Indians.  And I won the game. The prize was two tickets to India

Shenaz: Wow talk about luck.

Poorna: While in India, my friend (costume designer) Arjun Bhasin was making a blouse for me for the wedding and he said 'Let me set up an audition for you."  He called up Jim Furgele (one of the producers of Delhi Belly). I walk in there next day and my (New York actor) friend Samrat Chakrabarti was sitting in there.

Shenaz: See all this luck Poorna

Poorna: Samrat and I are best friends and we have acted many times together, so we asked the casting director if we could audition together.

You had no idea Samrat was in India?

Poorna: I had no idea. This was before Facebook.

Shenaz:  This was 2008. Facebook was there!

Poorna: We have this great chemistry and it was the fake humping scene from the film. And this guy was making tea. He came in with a tray of tea and he got all flustered. After that I had more auditions. They wanted a girl from India, and not an NRI.  I auditioned with Aamir and the director, Abhinay.

Image: Imran Khan and Poorna Jagannathan in Delhi Belly

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Poorna: I don't have a Bollywood body

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You do not have any scenes together, so how did you become friends?

Poorna: During the workshop, and also through (Indian American actor) Aasif Mandvi.

Shenaz: I came to New York before we started shooting. Aasif is my friend and when I told him I am doing this film, his response was 'Oh my friend Poorna is also in this film. I am going to call her right now.'

Poorna, you had never done a film in India.  Why is that? 

Poorna: I guess I was scared of being rejected. I once had a meeting with Mani Ratnam and he sat there starting at me as if I had three heads with this look 'Are you joking. Why are you here?'

I so don't look the Bollywood type, I don't have a Bollywood body and you do know there is a Bollywood body. I am not very comfortable speaking in Hindi and I can't speak Tamil. And also earlier I did not relate to the movies coming out of India.This is a Bollywood film in some ways, but it is in English. So I think it is tailor made. But also lately there are films coming out of India, like Dhobi Ghat, that make me think that I want to be a part of them. 

What was your experience working in India?

Poorna: Aamir Khan Productions is really a good company. But it's just India though. You stretch your arm and there's the cup of tea.

Shenaz: I have worked for films where they ask you to be at the shoot at 7 am and there is no one to open the make-up van. Here they were there two minutes before 7 am.

Your shoot would start at 7 am?

Shenaz: One day my call time was three o'clock.

What scene was that?

Shenaz: That's the scene when I am in the bathroom and talking on the phone with Vladimir (Dragunsky, played by Danish actor Kim Bodnia).

Oh yes, I realized in that scene that Sonia is on the toilet and I thought, how come she is not passing gas (a running joke in Delhi Belly)?

Shenaz: (laughs) Sonia doesn't pass gas (and laughs hysterically). She only applies powder and perfume.

Image: Shenaz Treasury and Imran Khan in Delhi Belly

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Shenaz: Aamir came to the workshop and the reading

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Why was the call at 3 am, when the scene was shot indoors?

Shenaz: The call time was 3 in the morning. We eventually shot it at 11.30 or 12 noon.

Poorna: But it was a very professional group. Everyone who works for the company is the best in the industry.

Was Delhi Belly shot before Dhobi Ghat?

Shenaz: No this was shot about the same time.

Poorna: In fact I met Monica while we were shooting and became good friends.

Were Aamir and Kiran on the set at all?

Poorna: No, they didn't come to the shoot.

Shenaz: But Aamir came to the workshop and the reading. He gave his input and he was noticing everyone acting. He was fully there. He's really interested in people. I really like that.

Was there improvisational work at the workshop or did you go through the script?

Shenaz: It was really going through the script and how we interacted with each other. It was for seven days and it was fun.

Shenaz, your VJ work was in English but all your other acting work in India has been in Hindi. How was it was different acting in English? It is actually good that

Shenaz:: that I could speak in English (laughs)

No I meant that there are other Bollywood actors who speak English fluently, but they become very stiff while acting in English in front of the camera.

Shenaz:  That's why we were cast.

Image: Poorna Jagannathan and Shenaz Treasury

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Shenaz: Imran represents the youth of today

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What about Vir?  He's been in a number of films, although this is the first time he left an impression on me.

Shenaz: He's actually very serious in person, but he's been a stand-up comedian and is very funny in the film. Imran is also very serious and reserved. 

I think Imran really played quite a different role from his recent films.

Poorna: Yes, he's believable in the role.

Shenaz: And he represents the youth of today.

Was it a difficult shoot with all the running around and things falling?

Poorna: A few times there was this real element of danger.  mran is so popular and he's a huge star. Once all these young girls surrounded his trailer in Delhi. One time when he was giving me a lift, and I met him on the road, there were all these people running after him. He drove up to me and very briefly slowed and yelled 'Get in, get in.' I jumped into the moving car and he said 'Sorry, we can't stop, we can't stop.'

Shenaz: I just remembered this crazy story. When we were in the workshop, we were working with fake phones.  Suddenly there was a nail and the director took my own phone and started hitting the nail. I was shocked. I didn't know what to say. He thought my phone was fake, but he was hitting the nail with a real phone.  Later he said 'Oh my God, I am sorry.  Why didn't you stop me?' And I said 'I tried, but you didn't stop (laughs).'

When we started shooting, one day I had to be at the shoot at 6 am and of course I didn't buy a new phone, I don't know why. And of course my alarm didn't ring and the phone was on silent mode. They tried calling me but then they finally turned up at my home to see why I wasn't at the shoot.

Image: Imran Khan and Poorna Jagannathan in Delhi Belly

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