Thursday night-Friday morning, as a heavy rain lashed Mumbai, Preity Zinta slipped out, taking a flight to London and from there to places she did not want to disclose... where she had “shoots to complete, ad films to make, business meetings to attend, and a couple of other things bunched together”.
She won’t be back till October, but said she was excited to get out, I did not blame her. Since Preity’s disastrous outing at the IPL in South Africa, where I don’t know which was her greater loss – cricket or love, the press had been on her case. “I don’t deny the fact that I’m single,” she had told me then. “I’ve not spoken about my personal life and I won’t do it now. I’d rather be the bechari than the bitch!” I did not ask about Ness Wadia, instead, I asked if men hit on her again. “Sure,” Preity had replied with her dimpled smile, “all the time, but the press hits on me as well!” Then, with some josh, “But I’m the same person, with the same values, just because I’m single it does not mean I’m breaking marriages. Don’t link me with every Tom, Dick and Harry.”
Now we spoke again as she completed last minute chores, the clock throwing silent minutes into the night, taking her closer to departure time. She had spent the last three weeks in Mumbai working on Main Aur Mrs Khanna (yes, it’s Kareena Kapoor’s film, but with Preity), there’s a little bit of dubbing left, and the film is being readied for Diwali. Her other film Har Pal, with the unfortunate rape accused Shiney Ahuja, will hopefully be released by the end of the year. She has two new films on hand, but has been reading more scripts, and is also working on a cricket show for television. “It’s called Behind The Seam and is going to be a look through my eyes at cricket in South Africa. Yes, I’ve restricted myself to the IPL, but the show’s much more than that. I’m producing it. What do you mean who’s idea is it? Mine, why! My idea of cricket was different before the IPL. I thought, you held the bat, threw the ball, got applauded if you hit a six, cursed if you got out! Besides the crazy cricket fan, that’s what everyone sees. So I’ve taken people behind the scenes, where the hard work and the heartache takes place, yes, yes, I’m in it, the camera follows me everywhere in South Africa. Except into my personal life... you won’t find it even here!”
She has been making brave statements about next year’s IPL, about how she’ll be there, because she’s not just financially involved with her team, but also emotionally attached to the business of cricket now. “That’s how I am, that’s my personality, if I’m not attached, I cannot be passionate about what I’m doing,” she had said. But there are many more runs to be scored in international cricket, records to be broken, before the IPL gets down to business again. And even if she is not into cricket then, Preity Zinta will always be an actress, so come in Bollywood! “I’m going to pull out a lot of surprises,” she promised. “This year, the films that will release will release, but now I’m excited because my career is going exactly the place I want it to go. I’ve always wanted to go in different directions and grow.
That’s why I ventured into cricket. And as an actor, I’m my own factory, I’m looking at doing films that add value to my body of work. Like The Last Lear, Heaven On Earth, Heroes... I feel so good I did them, they’re away from commercial cinema and take lesser time to make, and yet they take me to another horizon.”
But now she wants to get back to commercial cinema, she wants to be the actress that people would like to see. “Farah Khan was shooting me the other day and I had on this robe with a sexy thing underneath. I refused to take it off. Farah asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And I replied, ‘Punjab Cricket Board kya sochenga?’ So, I’m looking at being the quintessential Preity Zinta again, but with an edge,” she said. I didn’t want her to lose her flight, but I had a question to ask: was she happy, finally? “As much as I can, I’m enjoying every moment of my life,” Preity replied.
“People can say what they want, the press can say what it wants, I’m not going to give five interviews to clarify... the fans judge me by the way I perform. Now I’m in my own space. I’m like a jack-in-the-box. When I’m in, I’m down. But once I’m out, I’m out!”
On a balmy Sunday afternoon, 23-year-old Jeet Dasgupta tears down a life-size poster of tennis pro Sania Mirza from his bedroom wall.
He scoffs, “Sania post her engagement isn’t a hot male fantasy. Soon, she’ll be talking kids.” In the pleasure playground of idol worship, betrothed female celebs enjoy second class citizenship. An online poll on timesofIndia.com recently revealed that 58 per cent of readers felt that marriage would mark a fall in B-town queen Kareena Kapoor’s star rating. A reader from Qatar declared, “Saying ‘yes’ will kill her image.”
Is it the fear of losing popularity that pressurises female icons to shy away from matrimony? Bebo, who’s been spotted with a colossal solitaire of late, dispels engagement rumours, “Am I crazy to get married now when so many wonderful things are happening to my career? It can wait for two years.”
In the fragile world of glamour, why are rules different for the sexes? Adman Prahlad Kakkar says, “Once hitched, the brand value of a female star falls. She’s no longer available as the subject of vicarious popular imagination. In India, marriage is associated with morality, so fans can’t handle a married woman gyrating in a bikini.”
An industry source says, “Rani Mukherji was the No 1 heroine after Hum Tum and Black. But, she turned herself into an exclusive Yashraj property, by secretly marrying producer Aditya Chopra. Today her career’s scripted by him.”
The original ‘It’ girl of the ‘90s, Pooja Bedi recalls how her ex-husband wanted her to quit films post marriage. “Being in the industry involves gruelling outdoor schedules, scandalous gossip, alleged link-ups and controversies. Non-star partners are intimidated,” says Bedi.
Former model Walusha Robinson recalls, “Offers stopped as soon as I had my first child. Though I was only 20, suddenly, I was being doled out commercials that saw me playing either a mother or a wife.”
Besides viewer voyeurism, director Madhur Bhandarkar points out, “The lifespan of an actress is short-lived. In a male-dominated industry, it takes at least three to four years to break through. Once an actress tastes success, it’s hard to resist the glamour bug, which is why most heroines talk marriage after they’ve crossed their prime or delay marriage if they’re young and seeing someone. Ironically, married heroes like Aamir or SRK are considered cool, but once a Priyanka Chopra marries, she may be offered the role of a bhabhi.” He adds, “Most distributors, including corporate houses feel casting married actresses is risky as they’re uncomfortable kissing onscreen, wearing a bikini or engaging in a love-making scene.”
B-town’s biggest female brand icon — Aishwarya turned down the lead in the gay spoof Dostana saying the role was “too sexy for her married image.”
Kakkar says, “Youth sells! A married woman often carries with her the baggage of age.” No wonder then that 20-something newcomers like Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor and Genelia D’Souza are nudging out 30-plus heroines from films and brand endorsements. Priyanka was heard saying, “No one in this industry is indispensable. Someone takes over from somebody.”
Actress Perizad Zorabian admits, “Married heroines tend to choose less risqué roles as there’s a chance of offending their extended family. And, once you have children you have to compromise.” Perhaps this explains the self-imposed hiatus that stars like Jaya Bachchan, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol and Karishma Kapoor took, before being lured by the arc lights again. But ‘comebacks’ too are risky. Madhur says, “Audiences can’t accept the physical changes in their female icons.”
Karisma Kapoor however dismisses the notion about actresses not getting good roles after marriage as a mere myth. “Does anybody in Hollywood ask Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, who make one film in five years, whether they’re coming back? Sharmila Tagore delivered some of her biggest hits after her children were born,” she retorts.
Actress Ayesha Takia, who recently tied the knot asks, “If our married actors can be treated professionally, why can’t actresses be treated as professionally?”
Ram Gopal Varma says he has cut out a smoking scene from a song in his upcoming "Agyaat" for television after the censor board objected to it. The filmmaker also stressed the movie is a thriller and not a horror flick as people are perceiving it to be from the promos.
"We have altered the song because the censor board thinks it is not viable for audiences of TV, which is a mass medium, though the big screen version might carry it in accordance with the certification of the film. The DVD version will however carry the scene without any doubt," Varma told IANS on phone from Mumbai.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had asked the director to re-edit the music track "Jai Shri Shambhu" as it encourages substance abuse. The track shows leading lady Priyanka Kothari puffing a 'chillum' (pipe) while she sings "Dum Maro, yeh hai Sahara".
This is not the first time Varma has been associated with controversies.
He first sparked one when he visited the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, one of the sites of the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, with then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his actor son Riteish. Protesters thought he was collecting material for a film on the tragedy - something the director has denied.
He was again in the news when the censor board refused to clear another of his forthcoming films "Rann" unless he removed a song "Jana gana mana rann" - a take-off on the national anthem, which he refused to remove.
Asked if the controversies were coincidental or a publicity gimmick, Varma said: "I take a subject matter which is very hard hitting and obviously many people have problems with that and raise their voice against it.
"I just do my job and shoot whatever I think is right for the film and they do theirs in pointing out whatever they think is not right for the masses."
Coming back to "Agyaat", Varma said its promos might be spooky, but it does not belong to the horror genre.
"People are perceiving that 'Agyaat' is a horror film. I would like to make a point here that it's not a scary film. It's an adventure thriller," he clarified.
Produced by Varma and Ronnie Screwvala, "Agyaat" is about a film unit on a shoot in a dense forest and then crew members start getting killed one by one under mysterious circumstances by an invisible creature.
"Hollywood has made thousands of such films about people stuck somewhere and getting killed under unknown reasons. I thought what if this time people don't see what is killing them...the idea was to compel them to use their own imagination as a weapon, which is more lethal," the filmmaker said.
Releasing on August 7, "Agyaat" has an ensemble cast and includes Telugu actor Nitin Reddy.
The promos of the film suggest stark resemblances to Arnold Schwarzenegger-starrer sci-fi action horror "Predator", which showed a special task force being hunted down by an extra-terrestrial life form in the jungles of Central America.
Asked if inspration for "Agyaat" came from the 1987 movie, Varma said: "It's not only from 'Predator' but also from other such films like 'The Blair Witch Project', 'Anaconda', 'Alien' and 'The Thing'. In fact what sets 'Agyaat' apart is that you don't see what's killing you, which makes it even more adventurous."
Shot mostly in the Sigiriya jungles of Sri Lanka and the Athirapally forests in Kerala, the film's location was crucial for Varma, considering the invisibility of the creature.
"As the basic point was not to show the creature at all, the location had to make up for most of it. And among all the jungles I've been to in my life, Sigiriya is the most scary of them all where the bulk of the film is shot.
"My excitement was also to shoot a jungle, as it has been never done before, which I achieved with the background score, special effects and camera movements," he explained.
Varma's future projects include "Rakta Charitra" and a three-dimensional film.
Actor Sonu Sood recently shot for a song in Bangkok for Puri Jagannath’s movie which will be a tribute to Michael Jackson. It was an extensive shoot spanning 5 days on different locations in Bangkok.
"It was a great feeling to shoot for this song which is a tribute to Michael Jackson. It reminded me of my childhood days when we used to go out to buy his albums and dance to them and practice his moonwalk moves. This song was shot for Puri Jagannath's movie and it will be very special to me always... a little thank you to Michael Jackson from my side," says Sonu.
The actor plays a mafia don in this movie. It will be interesting to see a don put on the dancing shoes and do the “Thriller”.
Deepika says film fascinates her for three reasons
Since the release of "Om Shanti Om", Deepika Padukone has been seen in two more films - "Bachna Ae Haseeno" and "Chandni Chowk To China". But the leggie beauty insists that if at all there is a special movie after her debut vehicle, it has to be "Love Aaj Kal".
"I'm aware of the huge expectations that audiences have from 'Love Aaj Kal'. Personally speaking though, the film is beyond expectations for me. I would rather call it a very special film," Deepika told IANS on telephone.
"We all have worked so hard on it, whether director Imtiaz Ali, Saif (Ali Khan) or myself, and we have become really attached to it," said Deepika who is currently in London shooting for Sajid Khan's "Housefull" where she is paired opposite Akshay Kumar.
"Love Aaj Kal" is releasing on July 31 and she is excited about the film since it is as real as it gets.
"This is why I said that after 'Om Shanti Om' if there is a film that has been really special, it is 'Love Aaj Kal'. I can state three reasons why 'Love Aaj Kal' really fascinates me.
"First, the film's storyline is such that any common man can relate to it. It's so real and, as you watch the film, you would feel that so many instances shown in it have happened to you too in real life.
"Second, the film has a universal appeal. Whether it's the younger or the older generation, all will be able to identify with the proceedings. Imtiaz has a knack for keeping things basic and very simple, something that the world saw in 'Jab We Met' and 'Socha Na Tha'. His trademark touch is prevalent in 'Love Aaj Kal' too."
The third reason for Deepika to be really ecstatic after shooting for "Love Aaj Kal" is the dialogues that promise to be as natural as they get.
"Dialogues are such that they are more of conversational variety rather than sounding scripted. Imtiaz wanted all of us to perform rather than plain and simple mug up our dialogues and rattle them down. Yes, there was a dialogue sheet given, but it was mainly for reference," she said.
It was this freedom factor that really impressed Deepika. "There was nothing cast on stone and we actors were given a free hand to mouth dialogues that came naturally to them and suited the film's situation most. I guess this was one aspect that really made me open up a lot more during the film's shoot."
With Rishi Kapoor and Rahul Khanna in pivotal roles and Neetu Singh making a guest appearance, "Love Aaj Kal" is Saif's first home production with Pritam Chakaraborty's music already topping the charts.