Big fat wedding ahead?
-I liked how you just threw that in. Good attempt but no Rajeev. When it is time, I’ll know that it is the right time. But I think as an institution, it is extremely important. That’s the way I have been brought up. It is extremely important for me to see myself like that. It is every girl’s dream. I have always followed my instinct and I know that I will feel it when I am ready and when it’s meant to happen.
No, not at all. Because it’s 4th time engaged and 5th time married off, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.
Is it a big milestone for you and the film industry? Do you see it that way?
-I do see it that way. I’d be lying if I didn’t see it that way from the beginning. I feel like it was important for Sanjay Leela Bhansali and myself to go through the experience of working together of finding that solid ground and base to then sort of mount this kind of film, I don’t think Padmavati would have been possible if he and I hadn’t done RamLeela or Bajirao Mastani before. It’s sort of got the relationship going and then I think that gave us the confidence to do this fearlessly.
What is it about Padmavati that has stayed back?
-The spirit and the fearlessness. I think that’s what put into it and that’s what also I have taken from it. I think there are characters say Veronica for example that I do not entirely identify with but in some way there some sort of free spiritedness of those characters that I take back with me. So, there are moments in life where I’m like ‘Oh! There’s that too.’ I may not be that person but it comes out either I remind myself of those moments or I’m in a moment and I’m like ‘Oh! It reminds me of Veronica.’ So either it’s that or I do a Padmavati or I do Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani for example which are extremely relatable character where you’re putting yourself in but you’re also getting something back because it’s something very familiar space and while Padmaavat is sort of period film, I think the spirit is what I identify with and I think it’s so current today and relevant today and I think that’s what made the character it is –so powerful and relatable.
-I have always had sort of that inner voice that always I’m very sure of what I want to do what I don’t want to do and especially when I’m faced with challenges that just makes me even stronger than before. So, whether it’s Padmavati faces in the film or it’s what we went through outside of it all of that sort of just it’s the spirit that sort of came through and we went through with it
What was it like watching all this playout from frontline? (delay in Censor certificate, threats, protest, title change)
.- In different ways. I found it amusing. There were moments when I was angry when I found it amusing when you take it in your stride there were moments when you are asked to keep quiet. We went through all. But all and all the film came out victorious. And it gives you a lot of perspective of a lot of thing. It gives beyond the tangible and you realize so much more about people. It tells you a lot. It was a great life experience to have gone through.
Does it make you cynical how vulnerable film can be?
-It doesn’t make my cynical and I have never had any doubt that films are vulnerable unfortunately. And that’s what we as in industry need to work towards. So it didn’t shock me or surprise me either I wouldn’t say the same volume but to some extent Ramleela also had some sort of turbulence. Bajirao Mastani also had some sort of it. This was just in proportion that none of us expected but it didn’t surprise me.
A lot of people think perhaps the film wouldn’t have done this well had there not been this interest to it (karni sena). Is it the very reductive way of looking at it?
– I don’t know if today we can go back in time and undo what happened. Yes, there are a lot of people who said it did these numbers because what it went through but we went through it there’s no other way of looking at it. So we can’t undo what has happened. I think it was great lesson for a lot of people and it will be interesting to see from now on if anything changes will it continue this way? It’s going to be interesting to see how it unfolds from here?
About Irrfan Khan
-Yes and No. Yes, because he is someone I love and extremely fond of. To be honest it’s been very not reaching out because they have asked for their space. But I guess sitting where I am all I can say is a little prayer every night and hope that all goes well. But at the same time like I said three years ago I realized life is extremely fragile so my whole perspective to life changed after my experience with depression.
On venturing into production
-Yes, there is. I would love to. I want to set up a production house to make sure everyone’s fair dwell, good time and all my paperwork is in place. To have a vision to see it being put together to see it form a life of its own and like a child at some point of time you have to let it go as well so it’s definitely fascinating and very exciting and definitely something I would explore getting into.
Not returning to XXX sequel?
-No, I think when a film has given you so much to just say it doesn’t interest you anymore. But what is important is how the script turns out and that’s what they are working on and developing.
It depends like I would choose any other film. I think it really and always depends on how the script turns out unless I would be very apprehensive to commit to a film that is just an announcement or a franchise for the heck of being a franchise. Having said that if it was say a franchise of three parts or something and the scripts are already in place and you kind of know that part two and three are going to go I‘d be comfortable committing to something like that.
Not signed any film in the West
-I trade slowly in India and the west because when you have tasted chocolate fondant it’s kind of difficult to go back to anything else. Let’s see it’s about finding there are certain energies that have built in and I feel like spending it in a particular type of film and I’m trying to look for that. Sapna Didi was one of those films that’s unfortunately on hold for now that’s the Vishal (Bhardwaj) film. There’s something I feel like I want to do and that’s where I want to spend my energy and I’m looking for that whether it’s here or in the west.
What’s it like when you’re working in the West? Do you have to downsize your ego?
-No, because I think everyone I interacted with understand my body of work here more than the way they view me it’s my approach to my work I could have very easily gone there as this actor from India and maybe thrown that around but I chose not to because I like challenging myself I like to be treated as a newcomer I want to be broken I want to start a fresh it’s a different journey it’s not easy it’s very difficult when you know you have a completely different life halfway across the globe that’s the way I choose for it to be.
-It depends what project who you are talking to who you are meeting but the process is very different you could have won Oscar sometimes but still you have to put yourself on tape we don’t have that process here we don’t have that audition process here. Going for casting meetings and showing them your work it’s a very different way of working there. In fact I have heard stories where certain Oscar winning actors have not been in the running for a particular film and in their own time they audition for a part and send it in and sometimes because maybe the director didn’t see them that way and sometimes they manage to get the part and sometimes they have still been rejected.
Social Media fan following (22.2 million followers)
-I find these numbers hilarious. Do you know people had to explain to me when someone says congratulations you have so many followers I’m like Oh ok is that a big deal I have started understanding that maybe in last one year it made no sense to me to be honest I find a lot of people taking social media very seriously their whole life revolves around social media and I have never understood how to wire myself like that. Maybe somewhere I don’t want to wire myself like that because I want to live in the moment and not think of every moment as a social media moment. But I treat it the same way as I do my interviews or any other interactions which means to be authentic. It’s very important and that’s what I have done and I guess when these numbers are applauded that’s what it the result is of.
Social media Do’s and Don’ts
-I have certain filters. I think the same way I conduct myself in my life and in my interviews. That goes back to the authenticity while a lot of people might call it boring or politically correct there’s a certain way I have been brought up and I respect that and understand that and it’s expected of me if not from anyone else from my parents. I think I continue that same language in my social media communication as well.
You are merely not a celeb you’re a brand… how do you make sure that a brand doesn’t take over.
-Because you have to always remind yourself of where you have come from and why is it that you are where you are. I think it’s very easy to get carried away by the image but I think it’s very important to work on yourself to remind yourself of what are those basic things where you started from or who are those people who have made you who you are who have been a part of your journey. So not to forget your roots. And to surround yourself with people who think the same way.
What is power and impact mean to you and how do you exercise that?
-I think the beneficial footprint that you leave behind in society, the impact that you can leave behind have you managed to touch an influence people’s lives while that is my endeavor always to do that through my films that I do but also through everything you do. And it’s so ironic that just today I read a quote of Pharrell and he said exact same thing which is if you going to do something it has to be meaningful otherwise why waste your energy doing it. I follow the exact same theory. If you’re going to do something it has to mean something to you and the people who watch you and consume what you do.
Has your foundation been able to reduce stigma around mental illness to some extent?
-Yes, in a big way. Sometimes when I see that in just three years of work we have done we surprise ourselves sometimes with the kind of impact we have been able to create and how common it is and how many lives we have been able to impact. There’s not a single day that goes by where at least one person will come up to me that say you have saved my life or thank you for sharing your story because I have been going through exactly the same and I couldn’t understand what I was going through but you articulated everything so well we know what exactly we need to do. Recently, a friend of my parents messaged them and said that your daughters are god sent and the intervention and all of that has changed that person’s life and nothing makes me happier to see that because it’s a burden depression is a burden you feel tired it’s like a lot of weight and life seems meaningless and to see that people see meaning in their life again and to see that people are living again with that feeling of lightness and joy it just makes me so happy.
On gender pay gap
-Partly. But there has to be some other way figuring this out. What else could it be? I don’t think that actor should be charging more and more to bridge the gap I think male actors should be charging lesser to reduce that gap. Not the other way around because you’re burdening the film then. Maybe in the West it’s slightly different (as) I don’t understand that market entirely and I’m not going to pretend like I know. But yes, in India at least, it’s hugely star-driven. So, yes I understand that somewhere those numbers are justified but there has to be some way of figuring the numbers out because it’s really damaging the business. (But) again neither do I understand the business of cinema in our country as well but I do know that something needs to be fixed. I do feel it’s not about women asking for more but male asking for less and I think in all fairness then all producer should make it may be mandatory to give us a backend then because there has to be some incentive for the actors as well. If I’m going to put my blood sweat and tears into a film I’m not happy taking those crore and crore of rupees if the film hasn’t done well but similarly when a film does well you have to incentivize the actors as well for the efforts they have put in. So maybe that’s some model.
How do you look back? Does it feel like the work has paid off?
-I do feel like I have come a long way I do feel I have surprised myself sometimes when I think of myself on my first day on set when I didn’t even know how to memorise lines and say one line properly to in Padmaavat having like two page monologues, just the basics I didn’t even know the basics and for me my film set has been my school my directors and the people I have worked with have been my teachers and that’s just the way I have learnt I have made mistakes none of them I regret because I think they all sort of added to my understanding today of who I am and what I am able to do in front of the camera. It does feel special.