Lights Camera Anushka!
Anormal day in her life is often packed with dubbing dates, promotion appearances, shooting routines and brand endorsements. In between the whirligig that makes up her working schedule, Anushka Sharma, who is on a roll this year, is scheduled to meet us on a Sunday in late October, having just flown in from an outdoor location.
Our cover photographer, Avinash Gowariker’s studio in Bandra, which is our appointed meeting point, is in a quiet area, located in a by-lane of the suburb. My first glimpse of the star (who is doing her second cover with Verve) sitting on a chair, surrounded by the team – an actor who is seen mostly with her hair flowing loose, in Indian outfits – is a tight close-up of her face. Her eyes are being lined with black; her hair is tied back firmly. Her face is still and the make-up almost stark. Greetings exchanged, I settle down to take in the magic of her transformation, leaving our conversation for later on.
The androgynous effect is a look that I have never seen her sport before on screen. For the 24-year-old star has largely assayed roles of a traditional or bindaas girl – in Patiala suits or jeans and T-shirts. This time though for Verve, she is open to experiment, donning our stylist’s vision that takes her into fashion’s current trend of structured cuts and silhouettes. When she walks out finally into the spotlit area of the shoot, she has slipped effortlessly into the role we have created for her.
I had watched her movies with interest – right from her dream debut in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, her cartwheel of a performance in Band Baaja Baraat to her roles in Patiala House and Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl. Through her hard work – and sheer focus – as those who know her well will emphasise, the girl, who had not perhaps got her due credit with her debut performance, was finally on a roll. And her latest movie, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, from the banner that launched her on the road to stardom, Yash Raj Films – and the many films in her kitty – is ample evidence of the adage, ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’
Leaning against the red brick wall, Sharma cradles the camera that we have given her with ease – you could say the comfort level with the apparatus is a result of her having played a journalist for a TV channel in her latest release! It is a movie that has brought her back full circle to co-star with her debut hero, Shah Rukh Khan. She says, with a fond smile, “As everyone knows, SRK is lovely, gracious and funny. He is so entertaining that time flies when you’re with him. I never thought I would get to work with him again, that too in a film directed by Yash Chopra!”
“I was not at all star-struck”
Sharma can still recall the first time she met Shah Rukh Khan. “On that day he was in his loud Suri outfit. I have an army background, had started working at 15 and had travelled abroad for work, so I treated the movie like any other job. I’m glad that I was not at all star-struck by him when I met him, otherwise I would not have been able to act. It’s only when I started interacting with him and got to know what an interesting, amazing, intelligent person he is, that I became in awe of him.”
This year, Sharma has bought a new home in Mumbai and that is a big high for her. “The house that I lived in was not big enough for all four of us,” she says. “Initially my brother and I lived there and my mother would visit us. But now we can all live together comfortably. It is a beautiful place so that puts me in a great space.”
“We don’t celebrate many things”
As the New Year looms large on our calendars and we are all getting into the celebratory spirit of the season, I ask her if she remembers the first ‘blast’ she ever had as a child.
Candidly she admits, “It was my birthday. I don’t remember my first birthday but I can distinctly remember the day I turned three. I had a fever, there were all these kids at home, I was really irritated. They were jumping around and having fun and I couldn’t do that because I was sick. When I see those videos – of me cutting cake – it is the first time I remember seeing so many people together and laughing. That’s my first memory of a celebration.”
She and her family believe in underplaying everything. “We don’t really celebrate many things,” she says. “Birthdays, anniversaries and festivals are all low key. I think it has to do with the fact that all of us have not really lived together. My father was posted somewhere, my mother and I lived together and my brother was in the merchant navy, so he kept coming and going. But whenever my father was back and my brother would be there, I remember we all used to go out and that felt like a celebration, the literal sense of celebration.”
“If I am late, I start to palpitate”
A major influence in her life is her father. “I’m not as proud of being an actor as I am about being an army kid,” states the star-daughter. “It’s a very noble profession. It’s such a selfless job and you are literally signing your life off from the age of 19-20. What the army teaches you is adjustment. Every two years you’re moving cities, and if not cities, you are shifting houses. So just when you have gotten used to your room, bed and cupboard, suddenly you are off again. Constantly adapting to change is something I have acquired and it has helped me today because I move around so much. I don’t feel like I belong to any city, yet I have lived everywhere.”
The discipline she inculcated from her upbringing stands her in good stead in an industry that is notorious for its tardy schedules. Smiling at my comment, Sharma remarks, “I can never be late. If I am late, I start palpitating. In my profession, it’s very difficult to keep track of time because there are so many other people involved too. It’s not just my job where I am going to an office and leaving at five to reach somewhere at six. You are working as a team everywhere. So if I am late, I start panicking. But, I think I have done a fairly good job so far.”
“I am a little reserved”
She misses having fun with her gang of friends now that she has turned into a celebrity who is spotted the minute she steps out into the public arena. “I loved going to the club with my friends and swimming. After that we would go to the restaurant and have chicken lollipops, wafers and drink whatever we wanted to,” she grins.
Earlier, though she had mentioned that like her father she tends to be a little reserved, on screen she comes across as a livewire, a girl whose temperament verges on the tomboyish. Sharma admits with a laugh, “From my body language, the way I dress or even the conversations I have, I am definitely not typically feminine. Also, if I speak a lot, it is when I am nervous. When I am very comfortable in someone’s presence, I don’t have to speak. On screen, I convert my nervous energy into a performance. I would be happy to not talk, be calm around the people I know. I am very carefree and that comes across as being vivacious.”
“I didn’t enjoy walking the ramp so much”
Her tryst with the world of glamour was triggered by a chicken pox brochure. Inspired by the girl who ‘starred’ in it, the grain was planted in her head. “I began to watch many ads,” Sharma says. “I watched films only when I went to Dehradun with the family for summer vacations. I was not influenced by the movies but I always knew that I wanted to be a model. The girl in the brochure was the one who does not get chicken pox, because she had taken the vaccination. She was the happy child and was famous in our colony and school. I wanted people to see my picture and I wanted to be famous. I was 11 when I thought about being a model and I used to give interviews to myself.”
Her long legs slip carefully into a pair of high-heeled sandals – she is almost tottering in her attempt to stand for she has twisted her ankle a few days earlier. Once she has sat down on the high chair, she recalls the first time she faced the camera for a photoshoot, a big moment for her. Her voice reflecting its magic, she says, “I did not sleep the previous night, because I was so excited. I was dying for someone to do my make-up and go in front of the camera. It was a very good shoot. At that time, if I had been nervous, or hadn’t liked it I would not have tried to go on. But since it was a good experience, it made me want to continue.”
Soon an acting career beckoned and her modelling took a back seat. As we sit in the green room, she looks at me via the reflection in the mirror and as the make-up man reverts to her usual look, Sharma says, “I don’t think I enjoyed walking the ramp so much. There is only that much that you can do – walk to the end of the ramp, pose and come back. I could not understand sometimes when the choreographer would say, ‘Don’t have any expression on your face!’ I used to be expressive every time I walked down the ramp. Doing ads was what I liked, although I did not know that I liked acting till I auditioned for the first time.”
“I get bored if I am trapped”
Five films old, Sharma feels the most important factor in choosing a movie is the director. She believes, “At the end of the day, cinema is a director’s medium. It’s his vision that you finally see. I feel really happy and excited that I have films with such different directors right now – Yash Chopra, Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap. There is a stark difference in the way they work and in the movies they make. The fact that they thought of taking me in their projects makes me feel that I can be such a versatile actor. I get very bored with monotonous roles and would feel trapped if I were to always do a Shruti Kakkar.”
Shruti Kakkar – the girl who gave Sharma a vivacious presence on screen. Yet, Sharma insists, “In real life, I have something that is a part of every character I play. And when I am preparing for a film, I start behaving like the character I am playing. It’s not something that I do consciously; it just happens. For example, when I started shooting for Yashji’s film, I became more boyish. While doing Band Baaja Baarat, I spoke with that particular accent. You don’t realise when you start contributing to the character and you also start living it. I don’t believe that I need to go and stay somewhere to be a certain character for I do not understand method acting at all.”
“We are always scrutinised and judged”
Four years down the road, success has brought with it her share of the limelight. On her as yet short journey in Tinseltown, Sharma says, “Success makes you more confident. All of us are very self-conscious because we are always scrutinised and judged. You’re always trying to look confident or be confident. Success changes all this. It gives you a guarantee; it says listen you are doing well, carry on. Yes, it gets you more money, more fame but I don’t think it contributes to your life as much as this. Success is the cue that takes you ahead. It brings confidence and acceptance. It gives you a tremendous confidence to do the kind of roles you want to do. After my first film, I was not an overnight star, even though my film was a huge film. Sonakshi (Sinha), Deepika (Padukone), Ranbir (Kapoor), Ranveer (Singh) turned into overnight stars after their first films. I was not on the cover of every magazine, nor were people saying that I was the next big thing; I was not signing 20 endorsements. But I had that inner confidence and faith in myself. Today, I am in a place where I can do all these roles.” Her forthcoming projects with Vishal Bhardwaj, Raj Kumar Hirani and more offer her ample diversity on the screen.
Ask her what is the best part of being an actor and she ripostes quickly: “The duration between ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’ is the best time to be an actor. Our profession does not need anyone to tell you if what you did was good or wrong because we are dealing in emotions. But I think I miss the freedom. As a kid, I always thought that when I would be famous I could say what I wanted to say and speak my mind. But I don’t think that is possible. Even if you say something with the right intention, it can be moulded to mean the worst thing that has come out of your mouth. I have to be very careful about what I say. For I have no inner censor, no inner monologue. Words just spill out.”
She could do without the rumours though, but that is the nature of the beast in the business of films. She laughs when I ask her how she copes with the link-ups and associations with her co-stars: “I am a regular 24-year-old girl. I try to do things as normally as possible. If I am seen walking with a colleague, watching a movie or going out for a meal, people jump to conclusions. People can’t accept that we can have a normal, decent friendship. It has to be something exaggerated. I’m not saying they are always wrong. But you always read it as fiction.”
“It’s a bit scary”
The peripherals of being a star spill over from reel into real life. There is a constant feeling of being watched. “Since I come from a non-filmi background, it is a bit scary. I have to be careful. If I am going for a movie, it would be strange if I went dressed up, looking like a cartoon and had people staring at me.”
Sharma has tried hard not to let success turn her head. Her aim is to be as normal as possible for, as she says, “If you get sucked into this you end up thinking that everything begins and ends with you. There are people around you who will make you feel that way and not make you feel that way when you are not successful. I have a sense of reality and that is maintained only if I get out of my comfort zone. I don’t think that just because I am an actor, I should be travelling only in a car or that I should look beautiful all the time or talk in a certain way. I don’t think today’s actors are like that. We are quite real. Nobody is trying to follow any norm.”
“What if I were a guy?”
The business of the evening having been leisurely done with, we are poring over the images that Avinash Gowariker has captured. The androgynous look sits well on her slim frame. So, what if she had been a guy? She replies, with nary a thought, “It’s sad that women are judged a lot more than men. So, if I were a man, I would not be judged as much. If I were a guy for two years, I would only drink beer and be a debauched human being and hopefully if I was good looking I would have a lot of pretty girls to go out with. And yet, I say, it is a good time for an actress. Things are changing. They are still not what I want to be, but hopefully we are all getting there.”
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