The Cheshire cat smile says it all. With her recent double whammy of back-to-back hits – Band Baaja Baaraat and Patiala House – Anushka Sharma is B-town’s sweetheart du jour and she knows it. Three hits out of four films is a cracking good score and now the lissome lady with the awesome career graph is poised for even bigger things. Looking back at her three-year stint, she holds forth on her Bollywood journey.
I have been a model since I was 15, but I never wanted to be an actor. My modelling company sent my pictures to Yashraj. Aditya Chopra liked them and called me for an audition for Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Being a Bangalore girl I was very reluctant. You hear things about the film industry, like the casting couch, that deter you. But my manager told me to stop taking myself so seriously and go for the audition. When I saw the setup at Yashraj, I was really impressed. It was so principled and correct that it seemed better than modelling to me. And, when I met Adi, any negative notions I had about the industry vanished. One of the reasons I got that role was because I didn’t want it so badly. Tani’s character needed that innocence, that aloofness.
Rites of passage
A commercial actress goes through so many stages. There are all these tests you have to keep passing. Being here itself took a lot of getting used to. I wasn’t anonymous anymore. I couldn’t handle that. I was happy being a model and walking the ramp and being backstage. I liked that whole vibe. I never thought I’d be famous. So that took time. Then came the media. I didn’t know how to answer some of their questions. Now, when I can’t answer a question I just say so. So the industry is vast and the adjustments are many. But today I don’t think there is anything else I’d be happier doing in life.
The air up there
Band Baaja Baaraat got me a lot of respect. People expected nothing from the film. So the fact that it did so well was a huge high. I put everything I had into getting under the skin of my character, Shruti, and it paid off. Those very people who had doubted the film called to congratulate me on my performance. To get that kind of respect at such a young age is a huge thing. Nothing beats that feeling. After BBB my growth is a lot faster. I’m in the happiest phase of my career. I’m coming into my own. People ask me about my success formula. Frankly I don’t have one. I credit myself with the fact that I didn’t get taken over by the pressures that are attached to a newcomer. The kind of accomplishment I feel when a director praises the way I did a scene or when I see the first promo of my new film, is a huge kick.
No joyride this
Everyone struggles but struggle is subjective. I try very hard to be myself and that’s my biggest challenge. An actress is expected to behave in a certain way. But if I lose what I am, I will lose my USP. I will not be able to act after that. When I read newspaper articles demeaning me and making my openness as a person seem like a frivolous thing, it upsets me. But, I have learnt to fight it and move ahead. Right now I am reading Open, Andre Agassi’s autobiography. It’s the most honest book I have read in my life. Agassi shows that even the most famous person in the world struggles – with emotions, relationships, a career. When I made my debut I thought people are going to be really nice to me. I was a big fool to think that. Everybody is waiting to pull you down. There are very few people in the industry like Aditya Chopra, Maneesh Sharma and Jaideep Sahni whom I respect and trust.
The restless spirit
Acting is the right profession for me because I can’t be one person for too long. I like working on a project for five months and then doing something else. That keeps me excited. As an actor you feel like you have lived another person’s life. When I play a girl from Amritsar, I actually live it. I feel the need to keep moving. I can’t stay in a city for too long. I think it has to do with the kind of person I am. I am impatient. I have to have excitement in life all the time. I hate monotony.
Stepping on it
I wasn’t crazy about studies in school but I still wanted to top my class. Competition is healthy. What are you doing in Bollywood if you are not competitive? I’m not envious of anybody. I don’t need to prove anybody is bad to prove that I am good. I don’t think, ‘How did she get that role?’ I am more like, ‘That’s so awesome. I wish I could do that role.’ As for awards, they don’t define my career or my capabilities. I was nominated for best debut and best actress but didn’t win. I don’t want to get into the politics of what goes into giving awards. Nobody gives Katrina Kaif an award but she is the most loved in the nation right now. As an actor that’s the ultimate. At the end of the day I want to be a commercial actress. I want everybody to come and watch my films. And I want to win awards too. I love making my parents proud. Just for that it’s worth it.
Being centred is very important especially in this industry where people make you feel like you are the biggest person in the world. Everything is at your disposal. That’s scary. Right now I’m just trying to hold the wheel really steady. I’m not going left or right. Sometimes the waves are so strong that they push my boat. But I fight hard and come back. I want to be on the middle path. My friends and family help me stay that way. Although I see the pretenses of this industry, I come back home to normal people who talk about normal things. The difference between what I do and where I live is huge. My mum still screams at me because my room is dirty. And my friends still expect me to stand outside a kathiroll-wala and eat with them. I am flaky and can get lost. But they are so much in touch with reality that it keeps me grounded.
My path, my way
When there is so much hype about your first film, a lot of things come your way. I got a lot of flak for the fact that I was not visible enough after Rab Ne…but I took my time to sign films. I don’t sign a film thinking it will be a hit. But I make sure it’s a film I would watch myself. My roles have been distinct and fresh. In Rab Ne… I played a shy Punjabi girl from Amritsar, in Band Baaja Baaraat I was an aggressive go-getter from Delhi and in Patiala House I played an NRI Punjabi girl. My dad’s from UP, my mum’s a Garhwali and I grew up in Bangalore. So I feel proud that I can pull off these North Indian characters so convincingly. People often ask me how I’m so confident and manage to hold my own in a film despite having superstar co-stars like Shah Rukh and Akshay. Maybe I am just a damn good actor because I do get nervous. But when I am playing a character I am totally convinced about it. The conviction comes across as confidence.
The bad side of the industry is that sometimes you start to take things and yourself too seriously. You get lost. But when you step out you realise it’s not real, it’s temporary. Last year I went alone to Ananda for 10 days because at that time just too much was happening in my life. I felt the need to step aside to understand and take in things. When I came back I was okay with whatever was happening. I’m happy I have made a practice of getting away for breaks right from the beginning. I love travelling and taking planes to places. Every place has a vibe and energy. TLC is my favourite channel. I dream of taking off to Greece or Thailand or South of France….
The journey within
I often wonder what kind of a person I am. My problem is that I am constantly changing. But I’m very transparent. You get what you see. I’m not two-faced. I’m a huge dichotomy within myself. I’m very systematic yet extremely disorganised. I love people but sometimes I can’t stand them. I am unpredictable. I am moody. And I am extremely honest. I’ve also figured I get easily influenced. The biggest influence while growing up was my dad. Today it’s Adi. For me he is almost like a father figure. If I can work with the kind of principles he works with, I would think of myself as a success.
Tripping on life
There’s life beyond Bollywood. I love chilling with friends and reading. Cleaning my cupboard keeps me sorted. I listen to a lot of alternate rock — Jack Johnson, Damien Rice, Dido, Norah Jones. I’m a high-street shopper and love Zara, Uniqlo, All Saints. At 22 I don’t need to put myself in designer labels all the time. I like loose clothes. I know there are a lot of rumours about Ranveer (Singh) and me. I have always said he is a friend. Among the actors I have worked with, I am closest to him. We have a relationship outside of work. We hang out, go out for dinners and watch films. But we are poles apart as people. I don’t fight with anyone as much as I fight with him. Strangely life keeps throwing us together all the time, from being in films to performing at award functions. Now we are doing Ladies v/s Ricky Bahl together. I feel very protective about him and I am sure he feels that way about me.
I have a long list of directors I want to work with. I have shared it with my manager but I never name them because I am superstitious. Nelson Mandela once said your journey continues as long as you live. I don’t want to be acting all my life. After a point I want to completely cut off from it and lead a normal life. But this phase of my life is all about being a commercial actress. It will culminate when I have had the satisfaction of working with all the directors I have ever wanted to work with, playing all the roles I ever wanted to and having the most plum projects come my way. Then I will happily step down.