Not Just Sitting Pretty
It’s pouring pigs and dolphins. Genelia D’Souza is preening for the Verve cover shoot. She’d rather be out scoring on the field. The rain is making her nostalgic about school days. The Beckham freak rues she hasn’t played football in five years. The fame game has left her time for little else.
How did she land up in tinsel town? Quite simply, she’s the Chosen One. Cut to circa 2002. Six pretty bridesmaids at a wedding. One catches the eye of a top ad agency’s managing director. She’s asked to show up at the agency with portfolio pictures the next day. The girl doesn’t have a portfolio. She takes her birthday pictures instead. She bags the Parker commercial starring Big B.
Her 2003 Hindi debut Tujhe Meri Kasam with Riteish Deshmukh turns out to be a non–starter. Then Genelia strikes gold with two Southern hits, Boys and Bomarillu. Bollywood is waiting to re-happen. Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na hits bulls’ eye and marks the actress’ return as B-Town’s new zing thing. “People without godfathers don’t get a second chance. I did. Because I’m God’s favourite child.” she declares between masterstrokes of mascara.
Genelia is on our August cover for some very good reasons. Already a rage in the South after a string of hits, ‘Meow’ (aka Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na’s young protagonist) has the potential to be a youth icon. The perky freshness belies a powerhouse of talent. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else as Jaane Tu’s Aditi; the innocence and intensity she brought to her character shone through. Bomarillu, her Telugu film with Siddharth, did massive business in the US, winning her a FilmFare award for best actress. Today she happily straddles three film industries with no plans of quitting any of them. “I’ll continue to do Southern films. It’s a huge market. Right now it’s great to know people in the South write roles keeping Genelia in mind.”
We also see her as a symbol. Genelia’s personality reflects New India’s changing take on life, love, work and play. Supremely comfortable in her honey skin, she embodies the easy cool of a 20-something India Shining generation which doesn’t need to shout about its Indianness and knows it’s important in the world’s scheme of things. Gen Genelia.
The zeitgeist was perfectly captured by Jaane Tu…, a youth flick that moved away from the self-consciousness of Dil Chahta Hai. No cultivated cool. No fancy haircuts. Just a return to simplicity and a clean new attitude. Genelia tells me the song Jaane Tu… was shot spontaneously at Bandra’s Bandstand with the cast wearing no make-up and dressed just the way they had come out of their homes. “The film was big because it was easy. This whole easiness is something that’s often missed in our films. That’s what worked for Jaane Tu… It became a statement: ‘Be comfortable, be yourself.’”
What does Indianness mean to her in today’s times? “It means using your traditions in a very beautiful way without blocking yourself to anything. My family never made an issue about my joining films. I enjoy being a modern girl. At the same time, I’m not someone who’ll go topless or backless because I have certain values. As Indian women we just can’t take our clothes off and be so blatant.” She underlines the message in her Fanta Apple Go Bite campaign. “Today it’s not like a proposal comes your way and you say, Oh wow. No. I’m as confident about myself as a boy is. I won’t be locked in a cage and be told, ‘Marry this guy’. My parents have brought me up as an individual with a purpose in life. It’s important to be treated as an equal.”
The coming together of the traditional and modern to create a unique new look and stance, is the essence of our shoot. Posing at legendary photographer Ranjit Madhavji’s quaint Hamilton Studio in Mumbai, surrounded by sepia-toned images, Genelia embodies the intersection of the past and the future in a moment that’s very now. She loves the global Indian look we have styled for her, teaming gorgeous evening gowns with traditional jadau jewellery.
Up close and personal, the perkiest thing in town is full of surprises. “Much as I seem to be this livewire, I have this extremely lonely side to me. As much as I’m attached, I’m detached. I’m a very friendly kid but I choose my friends very carefully. I’m very closed. I can’t let people know what I feel. It takes me a lot of time to open up,” she confesses as we bond over our Lavazza cappucinos.
As I discover, Genelia the individual is a study in quirky contrasts. She makes her own decisions yet thinks nothing of taking mom to the sets. She’s loyal and stands up for family and friends. Yet she’s diplomatic. She loves Kenny Rogers; she hates techno. Her two favourite actresses, Neetu Singh and Dimple Kapadia, couldn’t be more different women.
Romeos, beware. She’s strictly no nonsense about matters of the heart. No over-the-top jumping about, please. Her idea of romance is moments. Taking out 10 minutes from her busy schedule to make someone feel special is romantic. Keeping the entire day free is “stupid”. But take heart. The livewire has an emotional side. She still has love letters—including one written in blood by a mad fan—from school. And she refused to let go of the old, torn pillow given her by her godmother till her dog finally ripped it apart.
But life’s too manic for love or soppy emotions right now. The promos of her latest film Life Partner co-starring Fardeen Khan are on air. She plays a mad socialite who changes professions every three months. Later this year she has three more releases, It’s My Life, the Hindi remake of Bomarillu co-starring Harman Baweja, a David Dhawan film with John Abraham and another with Shahid Kapur. She’s also super excited about Southern film Katha, a romantic thriller “with an offbeat touch”.
What roles does she dream about? “For someone like me who never intended to be in films, every frikking role is a dream role.”
Does that include wet-sari sequences? “No, thanks. I’d rather play football.”
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