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Verve People
September 15, 2013

Bride Unbound

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographed by Abhay Singh. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani and Nirali Mehta. Assisted by Shirin Salwan. Make-up and Hair by Daniel Bauer, Artist Factory India. Location courtesy: ITC Grand Central, Mumbai.

Childhood crushes and unrequited affections. Reel romances and real loves. Formal marriages and live-in relationships. On the eve of her second Hindi film release, Ileana D’Cruz gets up front and personal in a chatathon with Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena, showing a degree of maturity beyond her years when she speaks candidly about a love that liberates and what makes for true commitment between a woman and her Mr Right

I am on the terrace of a central Mumbai five-star where we have spent the larger part of the day. I watch as Ileana D’Cruz in bridal finery settles down delicately amidst the voluminous folds of the designer garment she is wearing, her hair and smile perfectly in place – the picture of a dreamy-eyed bride gearing up for D-day. And, the actor needs no prodding to slip into the mood, as she continues to romance the camera with effortless ease.

Much, much earlier, Ileana has arrived at the appointed hour at the ITC Grand Central, Mumbai. When we reach the suites on a top floor, she flops down on the bed in one of them, asking for a coffee to get into the groove. Her thin face is classically structured – her sunshiny smile breaking out often and I soon discover that she uses her hands and eyes to supplement her words with felicity. She speaks easily, giving her full concentration to the conversation – but naturally, for she has all the focus of a person born under the sign of Scorpio. Right now, she is on a roll, fulfilling her duties and the mandatory tasks needed to propel the success of her second Hindi film, Phata Poster Nikla Hero, scheduled to hit the silver screen this month.

I rewind just a little to her very first and critically applauded Hindi movie, Barfi!, a touching romance but one in which her reel alter ego Shruti experienced unrequited love. Although Ileana did not get the guy in the end, she did reap a spate of awards for her sensitive performance in the Anurag Basu-directed 2012 release. Ileana observes, “The film made me learn a lot about loving someone. I understood that love is supposed to be selfless. If you genuinely love a person, you just want to see him happy, irrespective of whether he ends up with you or not. That is the lesson I took away from the movie – it felt amazing, almost liberating!”

In Barfi!, from the young girl who was initially attracted to the loveable deaf-mute hero to the mature wife who returned to help him attain his love, Ileana’s character experienced an emotional growth that made her willy-nilly delve into the meaning of the different facets of marital relationships. “Anurag took me there,” she states. “He made me go through layers and layers of the character. And, I kept on asking him so many questions about divorce and separation. For it was true that when the film began I was very simplistic in my head. In fact, I was very averse to the thought of marriage, so getting to know all the nuances, seeing it from different perspectives was an eye-opener. It definitely made me more mature.”

When I ask her about her self-confessed aversion to marriage, she points out that it is probably a function of the times we are living in. Stretching her legs out on the bed, she says carefully, “It’s because the real meaning of marriage is lost nowadays. So that basically made me wonder whether there was any point in getting married. A marriage is all about having respect for each other, loving and trusting one another and being devoted to each other. There’s no real guarantee, there’s no real stamp of permanency when you get married. Why would I want to go through the entire process of getting married, when tomorrow it might be over? I’d rather be in a live-in relationship because I know inside me I would have the same amount of devotion. When I say a live-in relationship, it means you are living in with somebody you’re not officially married to, but you’re as good as married. You are sharing the bills, you are living in the same house; you are doing all the housework together. It is not easy. It opens your eyes to the realities of life, but it’s easier and less messy if you really love the person. It involves commitment and responsibility. For me, commitment is everything; it is something that goes all the way.”

Her second flick Phata Poster… has a different take on love from Barfi!. Telling me to wait and watch, Ileana says, “While Barfi had this innate sensitivity as far as the romance was concerned, Phata Poster… is like a commercial love story. It is almost as if my character is completely in awe of the hero and that is how she falls in love with him. His way of loving her is completely different.”

Not discounting her success, star status, experience and exposure down South, I find it very surprising to find a 20-something pretty girl so cynical about emotions and relations. “I’ll be 27 in November,” she states matter-of-factly. “And though I may be relatively young, in my head I’m definitely a 33 or 34-year-old. I’ve met many people and most of my closest friends are much older than me. One of my closest friends is about 41. I have a different sort of maturity level. It is perhaps the way I have been brought up or maybe it happens when you start working very young. When you are forced to adapt to a certain way of working in a different environment, you really have to grow up and embrace life like an adult.”

It is not as if she is completely devoid of emotions; her heart, as she says, beats to a different tune. “I am a complete romantic,” she admits, “and incredibly sensitive. It worries me because I do have a tendency of getting hurt. When you’re that emotional it’s very easy for someone to affect you. So, perhaps I consciously have my guard up most of the time. I don’t let people in very easily, because once I do, it’s hard for me to let people go.”

Lessons learnt from a personal experience perhaps, but that is something she will not admit to at the moment. I ask her what it takes to let her open up to someone, and after a nano-second pause, she states, “It’s a certain connect. I go a lot with my gut. If I have a certain feeling about somebody then I can let my guard down almost instantly, but sometimes it takes a lot longer.”

By now, we are almost ready to roll into our myriad shots, so to set the romantic mood, I take her back to her childhood and her early dreams. Ileana laughs and remembers, “When I was 16 all I could think about was getting married, having a fairy-tale wedding and riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming. Early on I experienced puppy love and had my heart broken. But it wasn’t really love – it was something that happens when you are classmates, you hold each other’s hands and say you are boyfriend and girlfriend. But life is more complicated than these simple emotions.”

Ileana’s childhood memories are of a normal happy one. She says she could not have had a better start to life. “It’s a shame that kids are not brought up the way I was. I wasn’t spoilt at all. We were four kids and none of us was the favourite. My mom and dad balanced things out well. They had this very unusual marriage and sort of broke some rules to get married. My dad was a Catholic and my mother was a Muslim. So it was honestly very romantic. Every relationship has its ups and downs but it is the way you get out of the lows that really counts. My parents have a solid marriage and I love watching them together.”

As films have often emphasised jodiya (couples) are made in heaven. When I ask her if she believes in divine intervention and if not, how would she realise if she has met Mr Right, she ripostes, “There is some sort of connection; you can call it a dil ki ghanti. You instinctively know when you react to someone. It is not from the way you or he look, but the feeling could come from a simple conversation. I’ve experienced it for sure.”

A statement that naturally pre-empts my next question: ‘Are you in a relationship?’ For with married actresses like Kareena Kapoor and Vidya Balan ruling the roost, actors no longer need hide their marriages fearing a lack of popularity. With the experience born of her years, Ileana replies, “I wouldn’t want to say that because I am a private person. Although honestly I would like to tell the whole world what’s happening in my personal life, the thing is that it is very private. When you start revealing a little bit, everyone wants to know the entire story. And that gets lost out there for ultimately it is a very personal space. Kareena and Vidya are both very desirable women and successful commercial actresses. People have accepted them. As far as I’m concerned, I will get married only when I feel it is right.”

The whole thing hinges on Mr Right. By now we have moved into the hall of the suite and putting her elbows on the dining table, she says, “Initially I had this whole list of qualities regarding whom I wanted in my life. But with age and maturity I realised that I was not looking for a mannequin. You cannot go around with a list in your mind. I want someone who’s real, who sees me for me, not for being the actress that I am because it is true that some men can get influenced by the star status, the whole glamorous part of acting. I’m an incredibly real person. I do my own thing at home, I don’t live with anybody else and I prefer it when people see that for me acting is just a job!”

Though she says she keeps largely to herself, when in need of advice or if she needs to turn to someone to speak about a relationship, it would naturally be her mother. Ileana, like most girls her age, says, “My mother is the first person I speak to. I don’t even need to speak to her because she knows me so well. Mum knows exactly when I want to talk about something. Scorpions are very mysterious people – you cannot draw something out of me if I don’t want to talk about it. I will talk about it in my own time but my mother just knows.”

As she poses and almost pirouettes in the courtyard near the fountain – her long train that is held up gingerly after her prevents the latter – I am tempted to believe that ‘The End’ in the movies and in life’s romances too signifies rosy-hued bliss. Ileana emphasises that the contrary is true: “Happily-ever-after doesn’t work. You may have a relationship or a marriage in which you are in sync with one another and that is a beautiful bond. But there is no real thing as happily-ever-after that would mean there are no more worries or friction. And that does not happen!”

Young and beautiful, with things happening in Bollywood for her, Ileana is sitting pretty. Yet, despite all the accolades and awards that have come her way, she feels that she is still the same insecure girl she was while she was growing up: “I don’t believe that I am exceptional looking. In fact, I am very conscious about my body. I always think this or that should be better. So, I am very insecure, and I like being told that I look good. I like feeling I’m the most beautiful woman to the person I love. So cheating would affect me more than it would someone else. I would ask myself if there was something missing in me. Cheating is totally unacceptable and though I would listen to the other side of the story, it’s something that I can probably forgive but I can’t forget.”

And that is the impression of Ileana I take away from the hours I have spent with her – a child woman; confident, yet still finding her way. A woman who knows her mind and is quietly reaching for the stars. For as she says, “There is a huge difference in how I have been brought up. I have never considered myself very Indian in my thinking because I have always been more Westernised. The two worlds do conflict in a way, but I think I have learned to find a balance.”

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