(2003) “I’m not a wannabe”
The green-eyed actor’s television-cum-meeting room screams superstar. Awards line the shelves and photographs-Miss World onwards-adorn the walls. But her animated conversation and trademark giggle belie her status. She breaks her month-long silence with the press to talk to Special Correspondent anupama chopra about Cannes, making movies and walking the middle path.
Q. How did the accident happen on the sets of Khakee?
A. The driver drove into me. It was the last shot of the day and we were watching a rehearsal. Tusshar (Kapoor) and I were sitting at the side of the road and behind us there was a huge cactus. I think there was mud on the road so the jeep could not stop. Only I got hit. But the cactus saved my life. It took me in.
Q. You must have been terrified.
A. The unit lifted the jeep out. That was the scariest. The tyres were barely a centimetre from me. It felt like forever. But I was calm and collected. I kept saying, “It is my legs, it is my legs.” I couldn’t feel below my hips. My skirt was under the tyres and there was blood, but we couldn’t see what had happened to my leg.
Q. How long will it take for the ankle fracture to heal?
A. My doctor says I should be walking in six weeks. I said, ‘Make that five,’ because then I’m leaving for Cannes.
Q. You will be on the Cannes jury with people like Steven Soderbergh and Meg Ryan. Are you preparing for it by becoming more cinema literate?
A. I feel like a student. I regard this as an experience that will educate me. Cinema is an ocean. You can never swim the entire length and breadth of it. As long as the plunge is sincere, you stay afloat and get to your destination.
Q. You will also be there as part of the L’Oreal Dream Team. They are one of the biggest sponsors of the festival. Is there a connection?
A. It is so incredible that it almost seems stage-planned. But these are two completely separate things. L’Oreal has been in talks with me for two years, but I couldn’t handle another endorsement earlier. With me, everything takes time. I may seem slow but I’m surefooted.
Q. Are you the next Bond girl?
A. Frankly, I’m as confused as you are. I do have an agent, William Morris, in Los Angeles and they will look into it after Cannes.
Q. What do you want to do in Hollywood?
A. I’m not an Indian wannabe. I am just looking for some good work. My agents represent Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Emma Thompson and Salma Hayek. I love the kind of work they do.
Q. What was it like being in Hollywood?
A. It took me back to the Miss World and Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar experience. I am starting all over again, which is beautiful. Every day was busy. I met Robert de Niro. Whenever people asked me, ‘Whose fan are you?’ I would say I admire de Niro as an actor. And here I was meeting him. He understood where I was coming from, that I was not a flash in the pan, that I was not frivolous.
Q. Are you looking for work outside Mumbai?
A. Yes, for me doing an English movie is like doing a Bengali or a Tamil film. Language is a medium and as actors we are vagabonds. There are people from France talking to me. I have a script from Spain. I just go with the flow.
Q. So are you Bollywood’s first crossover star?
A. The media gives definitions but I am an actor exploring the world of cinema because it is what I am passionate about. I have never jumped at a name or a rosy announcement but caught on to a filmmaker or a subject. The same rules apply overseas.
Q. Talking about rules, what about the kissing?
A. Well, I really don’t know. Thus far, I’ve said no here.
Q. Isn’t there a cultural difference?
A. Yes, but I’ll play it by ear.
Q. Professionally, you are really going places, but why is your personal life in such a mess?
A. (Laughs) I have stopped asking. I just know there is God. He has strange ways of charting things in my life. I went to Cannes to support Devdas and other things happened. This accident happened. When I look at the bigger picture, I think it is all heading towards a certain destination. What that is, I will discover.
Q. But how do you keep clarity in the middle of this frenzy?
A. I walk the middle path. There is family and there are friends, but my connection is most with God. I thank Him that He has helped me remain connected with myself.