India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Cover Story
July 21, 2017

“Even After 11 Years Of Working, I Get The Jitters On The First Day Of A Shoot”

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographed by Aneev Rao. Styling by Surbhi Shukla. Assisted by Ankita Mane. Make-Up and Hair by Elton Fernandez, Inega Model Management

Focusing on making the unreal seem believable on celluloid, Ileana D’Cruz soon developed a passion and penchant for her art

The studio lights have been dimmed and our focus is entirely on the frame and face that get transformed as the team rolls into its act. Her delicate stillness creates beautiful portraits — as she turns and changes angles and expressions. Ileana D’Cruz comes alive before the lens with an ease that is now almost second nature to the girl who is not to the industry born.

A few hours earlier, the star had walked in, a cup of hot coffee in hand, gearing up for the business of the day, a few weeks before the release of her romcom Mubarakan. And this morning, the first look of her next flick of the year Baadshaho has just been unveiled and the Milan Luthria-directed venture shows D’Cruz in a different avatar.

Conversing with her — as I recall from her second cover shoot with Verve and the first time I met her — is rather easy-going. This time too, as I take her back to the roots that have coloured her creativity, time passes quickly, as she talks animatedly and, of course, laughs uninhibitedly as I join the dots in the accidental — and, to a certain extent, reluctant — actress’ artistic journey. It is an interaction that spans both her professional and personal space. As she also talks easily about her relationship with photographer Andrew Kneebone, my mind momentarily goes back to our earlier interaction, where D’Cruz had said that she kept her private life, strictly private.

Over to the actor, in her own words, from a freewheeling chat….

An artless art
“Comparing acting to painting is a good metaphor. For just like you put yourself into your artistic efforts, a part of yourself goes into the roles you assay on screen. Each one is an extension of me, even though acting is also simultaneously kind of like playing dress-up, hiding behind a mask and getting away with it. I am myself and someone else at the same time — seeing the reactions of people to the character I’m rendering is cool.

But, it all depends on who I am portraying. If I am playing a psychopath, I don’t want a lot of ‘me’ coming into it. But, my roles in Barfi! and the forthcoming Baadshaho — to name two films — are where I have put a great deal of myself. I committed to them emotionally, and that makes the performances so much more special.

When we finish shooting, I try not to take my work home, mentally or physically, though I am not one of those people who can switch off and on instantly. For instance, in Barfi!, when I cried, those were not fake tears. I put myself into the situations emotionally to feel the intensity. Even in Baadshaho, I found it hard to disconnect and on the last day of the shoot, had a breakdown of sorts. I didn’t want to let go of my character.

Even though I am not the type to brood at home or let it affect my family, the feelings and characters stay with me for years. I am paranoid and continue to contemplate over what I did and whether it was to the best of my abilities.”

A passion for performing
“I don’t know how I initially made the unreal seem real. Initially, I did it as work. But, an acting instructor once told me that it was not about pretending, but behaving. That has stayed with me. I soon started to get into the situation. But even then, in the early stages, it was something I did without my heart being in it. It was something I was being paid for and had committed to do.

The whole experience took a different turn when I did a film called Jalsa. I was working with a director whom I could speak to and have good conversations with. Otherwise, earlier, I would just sit in a corner and observe people. But I soon began to enjoy the process and then I not only felt that I was earning my buck, but I got a lot of self-satisfaction too. It’s like when you are a kid in school and score a 10/10 and a gold star on a test after a long time. Not only had I done the job, but I’d also felt the appreciation when the director realised that I was more than just a pretty face.

Working in different languages has offered exposure to different forms of film-making and cultures. It was tough as I come from a liberal, westernised family and had to adapt to the local way of working, which was unusual for me. But, it helped me grow and mature. It toughened me up in a way that was good for me in the long run.

From Barfi! to Mubarakan and Baadshaho, different things governed the choice of roles that I have decided to take up. Sometimes I want to be a part of the project, even though my role is not all that big. At other times, I choose something because I am working with a bigger star and I know it will give me a lot of recognition. Or else, the whole thing is a great mix of everything. Barfi!, though it had someone like Anurag Basu directing it and co-stars like Priyanka (Chopra) and Ranbir (Kapoor), was a big risk. It was a different role for me and I didn’t know if it would work. But, at the end of the day, I follow my gut instinct and that generally works for me in my choice of projects.”

Sketching life’s inspirations
“Growing up, I used to sketch a lot. I still do it — though not as much as earlier — and I love it. I want my sketches to be sexy, but I normally do portraits. I primarily draw women. For the life of me, I cannot draw men! I have tried and failed miserably at that.

I think women’s bodies have always been considered works of art. I generally recreate their faces and that in itself depicts a lot. Once, I drew a girl, staring at nothing, with her back facing me and her hair blowing in the wind. That just meant a lot to me at that time.

I draw inspiration from varied sources — real people, or pictures that I see and then make my own, or they could be just figures out of my imagination. It largely depends on my mood. Once, I drew a ballerina. I loved the form that she was creating and how free she looked.

For my sketches, I have always used pencils — I am not very good with colour. I tried drawing with charcoal once but found that it was too difficult for me. I like the beauty of keeping my sketches simple. Right now, if I had to do a sketch, I would draw a woman at the beach — just sitting idle, with her toes in the sand, the wind in her hair and completely relaxed.”

The Goan susegad
“I have the best memories of life in Goa. I moved there when I was 10 and lived there for about six to seven years. It shaped me during my crucial years. It nurtured the carefreeness in me and brought back my love for the sea. I was born in a house by the beach and am attached to the sea even after so many years.

As far as Goan culture is concerned, I love its musical aspect — I used to be a part of the choir and would take part in singing competitions while I was there.

I love the Europeanness of Goa. It reminds me a little of Portugal. Recently, I was in Fiji and there was a village there that took me back to Goa. I love the houses there — they have little chairs in the verandahs where you can sit and watch the world go by. I miss that very much.

Our family has a home there but it is not very old. We have modified it — it has a very open layout, gets lovely breeze and overlooks a field. When I saw the trailer of Dear Zindagi, I noticed it in the frames. Though not traditional, it is very lovely. The older homes were fairly dark on the inside — had lower roofs and smaller windows.

Hailing from a Portuguese background, my grandparents —especially my grandmother — had many paintings in their homes. I remember seeing them in my cousins’ houses. I also remember the swords that were used in the wars. And there were portraits of distinguished gentlemen on the walls — apparently, I come from a fairly renowned background. I don’t know many details, but just the fact that I was exposed to all that at a young age probably got me fascinated with the arts.

When I travel, for me, it is honestly all about the people. I would not like to go to a place I have not been before, if I could not interact with the locals. I love sitting in small cafes and having conversations with anyone there. When I was in Fiji, I chatted a lot with the people there about what the place was actually like. So, even though sometimes language does become an issue, the interaction helps me to imbibe the flavours of the place and understand it well. Every place is beautiful in its own way and these interactions help you to discover it in ways that you will never find in travel books.”

Romancing the lens
“Although shoots are fun and fashionable, for me, the movie camera is the most important. It gives one a high on a different level. Even after 11 years of working, I get the jitters on the first day of a shoot. I love how everything comes alive when the camera is on. I’m a completely different person in front of the camera. And I actually like it when people come up to me and say, ‘You looked so different in that movie, we barely recognised you!’ That is the whole point — it is a movie and is supposed to be different. I love wowing people and surprising them and I hope I can continue to do so.

On the personal front, I am active on Instagram and so share many pictures there. I may not talk about my private life, but I reveal a fair bit.

I try to keep my personal and professional lives separate and have not done shoots with Andrew — even though he has taken random shots of me. But, it is nice to be with someone who is just as creative, if not more. So it is wonderful to see his point of view — about what is beautiful. I like his work because it is very real. It is very different from what I do. Here I have fancy lights, airbrushing and other tricks of the trade. There it is a more real version of me, very refreshing. And it is these myriad differences of expressing oneself that create the magic that art is all about!”

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