Stardust April 2005

July 21, 2006

COURT MARTIAL: ‘The BBC has voted her as the most popular Indian actress. All over the world, she has a clear lead with 48% of the votes, with Rani Mukherjee coming a far second, polling a 23%. So that settles it then and makes her the undisputed supreme. She is the recipient of the ‘Max Stardust Award’, as the Female Star of the Year. This surely is Preity Zinta’s year. Back from a close shave with the Tsunami, Preity is a changed person. More into clasping the moment than let it go by. I see the enlightened avatar before me as I interview her at her hairdresser’s. In the midst of peroxide blonde and deep chestnut, we discuss, ‘Veer Zaara’ and the flak that came with it. The Tsunami and her close escape, and the man of the moment, Ness Wadia, life and its stresses, while she also bothers about her tresses.

Veer –Zaara’ sounded like the swan song of an actress who has accomplished all. The last bow, pre-retirement. Are there any plans you want to share with us?
Each to his own perception. In my career, I’ve done mad films, I’ve done modern films, I’ve done cool films. I have even played arrogant and bitchy characters. One thing certainly missing from my career was an epic or a classic, and who better to do it than with Mr. Yash Chopra, I have always maintained that I wanted to do films that are different. Each film has to be radically different. This was a period film in a sense that it brought back the early 80s. It’s great if you think it is the kind of film you should retire with because that is the last thought on my mind. I have to re-invent myself with every film. I guess it shows my range if you feel that I can play a character where I start as a young girl and end up as an old lady. The character had to have the old world charm, she could not be your modern day Jane. I remember Yashji telling me that Zaara should be someone he could relate to and not someone Uday would fall for. The next film I’m doing is young, vibrant, and out there. I swear, by the end of the year, you will say, ‘Wow Priety, what a sea change!’.

Actresses really lay stress on maintaining their youthful looks, and somehow, you seemed to be least bothered about the fact that you were sharing the same frame with Rani Mukherjee, who was playing a much younger character in the film. Didn’t you think that would cause damage beyond control?

There is no insecurity in sharing the frame with Rani in the older woman get-up. Instead, it is a moment of triumph for me to be with an actor who is my contemporary. Actually, Rani did get into films before me, and to do a film where I play a character 20 years older than her is amazing. When we were doing the special effects make-up, I would look at myself, and go whoa! They kept insisting that I needed to definitely look older when I am in the same frame as Rani. Today, I think times are changing. The time has gone when you say you don’t want to do something. It’s the time for trying out different things. A star cannot independently stand out and say that this is my USP and this is all I will do. A star has to blend into the story and become a character. I am happy with the way things shaped up, and why not?

Would you try the same experiment all over again?
But I want to do things that are different, why would I do a similar film after this?

There was a certain section of critics who believed that you did not look as ethereal as a Yash Chopra heroine should have looked. This opinion was thumbed down by the people who liked you as you were.

I don’t agree. I felt I looked ethereal enough. You look at the songs like ‘Jaanam, dekh lo’, I felt I have never looked this pretty. Where I am not supposed to look good, like through a rescue operation, I cannot be caught dead looking fresh and made up when I have been suspended from a harness, I’m sorry. Everybody is entitled to their opinions and I respect them, but I do know that when I went to Dubai and London, I met people who had seen the film and thought that I had shown a certain graph. Even when I went for the shows, there were people who refused to accept me in my short dress. I was amazed by the reactions, but the fact also remains that you mostly hear what you want to hear. If I had played Zaara like a modern day girl, I would have fielded brickbats for that. If my director Mr. Yash Chopra, who I have tremendous respect for, has to tell me something through his conviction on the one side, and a million people on the other side, I will follow what he has to say.

When you see a film like ‘Black’ do you go up to a Sanjay Bhansali and say you would like to work in his next film, or do you simply enjoy the film and walk out of the theatre?

I have never in my career or my life, even as a kid, gone and asked for something and said, ‘I want this’, so there is no question of asking Sanjay Bhansali to work with me. I am not that kind of a person. I will not look down on someone who does that, but I believe everyone has a manner individual to them and that is not my style. I enjoyed the film and I think Sanjay Bhansali is extremely talented and gifted as a director, and if he has a script that requires someone like me, he will definitely come to me. I will not do anything unnecessary, I think it’s also insulting the other person’s intelligence. They know what they want; a director visualizes the whole film, not just one role.

One gets a feeling that you have limited yourself to the Chopras and the Johars considering that both your releases this year belong to that stable. Don’t you think that is detrimental to your career, to have an exclusive tag??
am willing to hear out any good script in a professional set-up. I’ll take you into flashback with me. Three years ago, I remember you asking me the same question, but the other way round. ‘You are doing so well, but how come you have no film with the Chopras or Johars?’ So this is a catch 22 situation for me. I have a film with Yashraj and Karan, that is, Dharma films, but I have also signed a film with Sajid Nadiadwala. To me, he is equally important as a producer. I also want to do something different. What you don’t realize is that I did a modern ‘Lakshya’ and an old world ‘Veer Zaara’ in the same year. I should be allowed to try new things. I will falter in places, I will go wrong in places, but I am lucky to be in a place where great scripts are coming my way. I like to work with people who give me good energy. I will not work with people I have a problem with.

You have worked with Saif playing second fiddle right up to ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’, and now he is playing solo hero opposite you in the Yashraj produced, and new director Siddharth directed ‘Salaam Namaste’. Is there a world of a difference?

Saif is still as mad and wacky as ever, from ‘Kya Kehna’ to ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ to ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’. We have only been part of hit projects, our energy is great. This film we are doing now needs both of us, it is not possible to do this film without the two of us. It is so up our street, it is very important that the actors have the same kind of chemistry that is needed for this film.

Do you sense a kind of vindication now that his affair with Rosa is an accepted reality, while you went hoarse denying your relationship in the past?

People have linked me with actors and I have always been staunch about never having to do anything with them. It’s not an uppity statement but it’s very important that you have a comfort zone when you are working. Familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t want a problem in my professional life like that. Most of the actors are married or seeing somebody and I completely respect that. Even if you don’t know her, a woman should respect another woman. Besides, at the end of the day, the producer is paying us very well and we should not try to destroy his happiness.

Rani has always been playing second lead to you. Today, she has emerged as an actress (though, in close to you). Does it make you anxious?

I am very happy for Rani. I think she is a wonderful actor and she is doing well. Good for her. I do not believe in the number game. I think healthy competition is very important in life. It is very important to take our cinema forward. Our generation is doing this, and every time some great work is done, I feel ecstatic because we are moving a step ahead.

Did you not try and lobby for the Shah Rukh Khan’s home production, which Rani finally bagged since you were out of the country the whole time the casting was being done?

I have never lobbied for anything. The only lobbies I know of are those in hotels where I can go to coffee shops when there is no food available anywhere else in the city.

Are you looking to get married and settle down?

That is a big no. This is all media’s perception. It is totally baseless. When I am ready to move into phase three, I will let everybody know. I have never denied anything and I will never do that.

So, what is phase two looking like?

I am very happy.

What is it that would attract you towards Mr. Right; the fact that he is not a hero, the fact that he is good looking, well-spoken, well-read, or that he is loaded?

Are you going to put down all these options? I think, most important to me is that he has integrity, he is intelligent, has a sense of humour, and that we have chemistry.

And does Ness Wadia qualify on all the above- mentioned counts??
I have met Ness very recently. I have only known him for the last two-and-a-half months, so it’s too early to say anything. Ness is wonderful, but that is it. I don’t want to talk too much.

You have been moving in the same social circuits, but you never met him earlier?

Yeah, that is really weird, ‘cause I have lived in Mumbai nine years, and moved in the same social circuits, but have never met him.

Where did you meet him first?

I think I was first introduced to him at Shah Rukh’s birthday party. There was nothing contrived, no one set us up or anything like that. We have just started dating, that is all. Please change the topic.

What is the single biggest achievement you think you’ve had in recent times?

I have had a lot of people coming up to me and saying that Preity could be youthful, mad and crazy, but there was never any ‘thehrav’. Yash uncle told me that he did not want my confidence, but he wanted my inner strength. Here was a woman who a man would just see and say, ‘Sarhad paar ek aisa shaks hain jo aapke liye jaan bhi de sakta hain’.

Is the man in your life likely to say that to you?

There is no sarhad between us, ha! (she laughs), and today, if a guy came up to me and said, ‘I am willing to die for you’, I would say, ‘Then die’, and then, before him, maybe, I would actually die of shock.

To sum it all, there was a lot that happened in the year gone by.

‘Lakshya’ and ‘Veer Zaara’ were very different from each other. I am very happy with the year that went by. God gives you what you deserve, it is we who get greedy and keep wanting more. The year before that, I had two big blockbuster in ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ and ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’. Last year too, I had a blockbuster in ‘Veer Zaara’. So I should not be uttering even the ‘c’ of complaining. I am very happy with my life. I’m glad that though I was in the midst of a bomb blast in Sri Lanka, I came out unscathed. 10 days after the blast, I went to Phuket and came back unhurt from the Tsunami.

I don’t want to look at the past and say this movie and that movie… Those movies are important, some have done well and some haven’t. The way I have always lived in the moment, but now, it is time to look beyond my nose. There were times when I was petty and I would think certain people were terrible because they bitched me out. But there are much higher things to do in life.