You will complete a decade in Bollywood this year in November. How do you look back at your journey so far?
It’s been a tumultuous 10 years but it’s been an amazing journey. I look back at the journey with gratitude.
Would you like to recall the story of how you came on board for your debut film ‘Rockstar’?
That’s a long story, but the short version is that I was sent an email about an audition. I really believe it was destiny that this happened to me. I wasn’t even living in India and had never been there. From what I heard, Imtiaz saw an ad for a jewelry campaign with me in it, which I had shot while living in Greece. And I assume he got my info from the company and the rest is history. The longer version is way more interesting, but I probably should put that in a book.
Facing the camera for the first time was actually easy for me since I have a modeling background and have done tons of TV commercials before getting into films. Also, Imtiaz Ali really knows how to make his actors feel comfortable in front of the camera. He is an amazing director.
You got along really well with Ranbir Kapoor and even Neetu Kapoor during the film. Tell us something about your bond with them?
To this day, I am grateful to have worked with Ranbir as my first co-star. He is a fantastic actor and easy to work with. Also getting to know his mom was a blessing as she was very sweet to me. It was really comforting to have her in my life at that time as I was all alone in India.
How was it working under Imtiaz Ali’s guidance?
It was a blessing to work with Imtiaz on my first film. He is one of the best directors I have worked with. He really knows how to direct his actors. He has this gift, which allows him to get into your head and help you embody the character. I do not know how he does it but he creates such an intense and real atmosphere for the actors to perform in. His techniques are supportive and that really helped someone like me to be able to perform. I would love to work with him on something again.
How do you look back at the reactions to the film and your performance?
I am sure most people’s reaction to the film was great but I received a bit of negative press. Honestly people loved the film and I have many fans who, to date, tell me how much they loved me as Heer in ‘Rockstar’. It makes me happy to know that I was a part of a film that touched the hearts of many.
Coming from a non-film background, especially from a different country, how difficult was it to fit into the industry? Tell us something about your initial days.
There are so many stories. It was extremely difficult and I faced many obstacles. Thank goodness for my agency who helped me navigate things. Besides intense workshops in Hindi and dance classes and tons of shoots and meetings, there were also times I encountered humans that behave in unprofessional ways. That made it difficult to feel safe at times. It was hard to fit in and I actually don’t think I ever did “fit” in. It was overwhelming, I had to work harder than most because I did not come from a background in film and I came from an entirely different culture. But with all that said I am grateful that I got to experience many amazing things and meet amazing people while in the industry.
Do you have any friends from the industry who you are still in touch with and get together whenever you are in the country?
I keep in touch with Varun (Dhawan), Ileana (D’Cruz) and Huma (Qureshi) but mostly through Instagram. Recently when I was in Texas, I had lunch with Ileana. When Huma was in LA we hiked together and had lunch, too.
A career in the glamour industry, was that a natural choice for you?
Growing up everyone would always say I look like a model and would tell me I should get into modeling and so I did. My main reason was I wanted to travel the world and I knew models got to travel a lot. Modeling didn’t come naturally to me, I had to work at it and learn. People think it’s super easy but it’s not.
Did you ever battle insecurity when you did a two or three-heroine project?
I loved working on Housefull 3 with the girls. I don’t feel insecure working with other women.
A lot that is wrong with the industry has come to the forefront of late, what has kept you away from the industry?
I actually left due to health issues and when I wanted to return to Mumbai and start working again the pandemic hit. As for the things that have been brought to light about the industry, it’s about time.
You have often spoken about your difficult childhood and growing up in public housing projects. How have all those experiences shaped you into who you are today?
A lot of people meet me and are surprised as to how grounded and real I am. I think my childhood is part of why I am this way. I have seen many things in life and have gotten to experience a life with so little, to a life that is so full. Which is why I stay humble and grounded.
Do you miss being on the sets? What do you miss the most about it?
Oh yes I miss it very much! I got to be on sets recently and it made me feel happy and alive. I miss the people. I miss working with new and talented humans. I like the team work and the creativity.
You are quite active on social media where you command a huge fan following. How do you deal with negativity and trolls?
I don’t really give it much attention. There will always be people out there who say negative things. I don’t waste my energy thinking about them.
Your pictures and videos on Instagram with your partner Justin Santos have been exciting for your fans. Are you having the time of your life with him?
We have grown apart but we remain friends.
You recently shared a picture of yourself flaunting your double chin. What are your thoughts about body positivity?
I think body positivity is very important. There isn’t just one body type that is the epitome of health. It is true that many people are so caught up with being perfect or trying to be someone they are not. I think it is important to post natural pics once in a while.
Actors are in the business of beauty so we have a lot of pressure and no matter what anyone says humans are attracted to beautiful things and want to be beautiful. But with that said you really must work on your inner self because no matter what you fix on the outside , if you are still rotten on the inside, people are going to see that. It’s all about energy. Your inner beauty can change the way people see your outer beauty.
You are known for your witty sense of humour. Have you ever got a chance to use your natural talent in some way?
My friends think I’m hilarious. I did try to do stand up once, that was exciting but difficult. I think I did ok for the first time but I didn’t continue with it. Being a comedian is a tough job, so I prefer to just be funny around my friends. Maybe I’ll get lucky and do an American comedy one day where everyone can then see my funny side.
We know you love travelling. What do you love the most about it? Tell us about the places you have explored recently.
I love to travel. I love to explore new cultures and meet people from various places. I think that really opens you up to life and gives you an understanding of different types of people which in turn helps to build tolerance and allows you to have compassion for others no matter how different we are.
This year I went to Negril, Jamaica and traveled through Italy. I took trains from Venice to Bologna, to Florence, to Naples to Amalfi coast to Positano to Capri and then finally Rome! What an experience that was. The food, music, people, scenery, and history was absolutely amazing!
You shared a good relationship with Uday Chopra. However, rumours of your love affair with him did rounds on social media for a long time. How did you deal with it?
Uday and I dated for 5 years and he was the most beautiful human I met in India. I never have said this to the press as people told me to keep my relationship quiet, but I regret that because I should have shouted from the mountain tops that I was with such a beautiful soul. The internet and social media is very fake and the people out there won’t know what the truth is. Most often we idolise certain people who are actually bad behind closed doors.
There has been a surge of new content on OTT and the digital space has given many actors a new lease of life. Do you plan to explore it as well?
Most definitely! I plan to explore that for sure. It’s the new norm now and I love it because so much is being made and giving more actors a chance to shine. I feel like we always see the same people on screen over and over, and even though we love them, it’s great to see new fresh faces with great talent.
From amongst all the actors you have worked with, who did you have the most fun with?
I really enjoyed working with all of my co-actors. But with each person you develop a different type of rapport. I think I had the most fun with Varun Dhawan on set. He’s just really full of energy and positivity and he’s funny so it’s contagious.
Any new actors you would love to work with?
To be honest I don’t have a preference of who I want to work with, I just want to work with good hearted and talented people.
What kind of projects are you looking forward to?
There are many things I am involved with right now. At the forefront is Ilios.co which is a relationship app that matches people based on astrology and I am a co-founder. I’ve been investing in startups so that has been something new and exciting for me as well.
I also just finished a film that was shot in the USA with Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta and an amazing cast. I’m looking forward to working on another film later this year as well. Now that things are opening up again I am looking forward to many more exciting projects.