She swiftly glides into the five-star coffee shop without any hint of the seasickness that seems to have affected almost all on board the luxury yacht during the Verve shoot. Her lithe frame and smouldering smile exude a certain in-your-face raw sex appeal that makes sure that the former Miss Sri Lanka, Jacqueline Fernandez receives a second glance from everyone around. Born in Bahrain, educated in Australia, a model in Sri Lanka and now celluloid seductress in India, she is truly life’s favoured child. Five minutes into a conversation with her makes you realise that this girl with endless legs is not just a pretty face but a girl on a serious mission – Bollywood. In a span of less than three years, she has performed an item number (Housefull) that became a rage and has one superhit film (Murder 2) in her kitty along with just the right controversies that have kept her in the limelight. A true nomad by heart, she travels back in time to the many countries and continents she has crossed so far in search of her destiny.
I was born in Bahrain to a Sinhalese father and a Malaysian mother. I did most of my education there and grew up in a large family with an older sister and two brothers. My parents had moved to Bahrain after the civil unrest in our home country but my dad made sure that we never forgot our roots by ensuring regular visits to Sri Lanka every year. This helped shape a large part of my personality, as I learnt where I came from and what my origins were. For us, Bahrain was always our second home, and Sri Lanka was the motherland.
Growing up in Bahrain was comfortable, safe and carefree. Both my parents worked so I hung out more with my brothers than my sister. We would play football, jump buildings, climb walls and roam the streets like young ruffians after school. I enjoyed all these adventures but wasn’t a tomboy. I still wore skirts, knew about make-up and had my dolls to play with after I came home.
I was very studious in school. I worked hard partly to please my teachers and partly because I always wanted to be the best, in whatever I was doing. I was very competitive, not because I wanted to prove that I was superior to the others but to make sure that I stood out in whatever I did. I haven’t changed much since. In fact, my brother who was in the same class was notorious for his indiscipline and was always suspended while I was the teacher’s pet.
I always had this childhood fantasy of being a famous film actress in Hollywood. I had never ever thought of Bollywood or India at the time. I started modelling as a teenager and soon realised that this was the only thing I could and wanted to do. For me Hollywood was a far-fetched fantasy but I knew I was made for something creative and unique. This vision took me to Australia where I studied media for a year.
Australia as a country is poles apart from Bahrain. In its own classy way, Australian culture, people and places were so chilled out and laid-back. Bahrain was all about everyone competing with each other with their fancy cars, fashion labels and plush lifestyles, but Australia was relaxed and easy going. This is where I learnt to go slow and relax as I realised that there is more to life than just club-hopping in expensive cars and wearing luxe brands.
This was also the phase in my life where I was actually enjoying what I was studying. Unlike school where one has to mug up everything, I took up law, economics and media and quite liked the process of learning, researching and going to the many libraries. I even got a scholarship but ran out of patience by the end of that year. Looking back, I think I was in too much of a hurry to start my life at that point and decided to take a break and go to Sri Lanka to work in the blossoming television industry. That break hasn’t yet ended!
It was a homecoming of sorts. I knew the place, culture and people so was very confident about my decision of coming back to Sri Lanka. I started assisting my aunt who was an investigative journalist and later went on to work in a few television shows. I was young and confident about achieving anything I wanted to in life. I never regretted not studying further as I knew I could get on in life without a degree.
By then, politically the war situation in Sri Lanka was improving. Things were looking up, and the government decided to bring back the Miss Sri Lanka pageant after many years. There was a lot of hype around the beauty contest and I decided to take part in it. I had grown up in a country where people hardly knew anything about Sri Lanka so when I got an opportunity to represent my country, I grabbed it with open hands. In retrospect, I think destiny has its strange ways because Miss Sri Lanka led me to modelling on a global platform, to India and eventually to Bollywood. My showbiz dream was getting closer and every small step seemed somewhere very deliberate.
I was only 19, when I became Miss Sri Lanka and went for the Miss Universe pageant. It was my first trip to the States and I loved it. I was like a little child in Charlie’s chocolate factory as I stayed back for over two weeks and visited Hollywood, Beverly Hills, every boulevard and restaurant in the vicinity.
This trip was also a revelation as I got the first real taste of the outside world. There was real competition and a flavour of different countries, cultures and languages. This trip changed my life forever by offering me so many opportunities that opened a number of doors for me, one of which led me to India.
I still remember the day I landed. There were so many people everywhere! It was chaotic, crowded and overwhelming. But as I started settling in, I realised that in India something is happening constantly, there is so much drama in everyone’s life that there is never a dull moment. No wonder a lot of people from here go to the bustling cities of London and New York to relax and find some quiet time alone!
India was always welcoming and taught me a lot about life. As a foreigner living on her own, the country gave me enough time and opportunities to learn its language, streets, driving, cooking, along with the complicated ways of tinsel town.
Acting is the right profession for me because I get bored with the same stuff very easily. I regularly need the adventurous thrill of doing something new and unknown, to have excitement and fresh challenges around me.
I was overly confident when I first came here and not even for a second did I think it won’t work for me. An actor’s life is quite turbulent and unpredictable so there was a little doubt sometimes about whether it was the right thing for me. Everyone goes through the phase of self-questioning. I was young, optimistic and raring to go but living on my own in a new country did get to me sometimes.
There was a lot of buzz around my first film Aladin with Amitabh Bachchan and Riteish Deshmukh. A few months later, Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Thi released but it too fizzled out soon. During this time, I got an offer for an item song for Housefull, which I think was a blessing in disguise as it got me noticed and kept me going through those dark struggling days. Then there was a lull and I had almost given up on my celluloid dreams in Mumbai. I was ready to move back to Sri Lanka when, out of the blue, Mukesh Bhatt called and offered me Murder 2.
The movie wasn’t something I conventionally saw myself doing as it was way out of my comfort zone. I asked for a narration and found the story interesting. I decided to go for it and the rest as they say is history. Murder 2 was a huge success and I was immediately signed for a bigger film – Housefull 2 – with John Abraham and Akshay Kumar.
When I signed Aladin I had thought to myself that this would be like a cakewalk, but after coming to India, I realised how difficult the whole movie making business was. There was no time for myself, I was constantly working and learning things in the little breaks I got in between the shoots. It looked very dandy and rosy on the outside but deep down, it was very excruciating. It felt like a 25-hour job at the time.
The initial period was like a reality check. I realised things don’t come on a silver platter all the time. One can easily fail but there is eventually a way out, always.
Life is just as confusing and baffling as it was in the past. Now I am continuously working unlike earlier, but I guess it is human to never be satisfied and to keep on wanting more. After Murder 2, I signed almost everything that came my way and realised that by being greedy I had dug my own grave. But then life is a journey and you learn as you go by from all your successes and failures.
Now newspaper reports of love affairs and fake marriages don’t bother me anymore. Initially I would go through a gamut of emotions – be angry, get upset, worry, and then slowly calm myself down to the extent that after a few days the rumour would become laughable. I know now that such rumours only affect people who read these papers and no one in the industry. The industry is a lot more closed, smaller and interdependent than what most outsiders think. People in the business get first hand information and they know what really transpired in deals between two parties. Honestly, it’s not about friendships and enemies but about who will benefit you and your movie. At the end of the day, it is a business and most businesses are calculative and competitive.
The dark days have taught me that nothing is more dignified than silence. So I choose to respond to such allegations by keeping quiet. I am comfortable in my space right now. I know I am heading the right way and working with people who matter. I have a team I can work with and trust, and am going with the flow. I have Housefull 2 and Race 2 releasing this year. I also have a few offers from Sri Lanka. Even though cinema is quite scarce and low budget there, it’s very artistic, so if I was to do something arty, it would be back there.
I will always have a connection with Mumbai and will keep coming back and forth. At the end of the day I am here for work but my comfort zone lies at home, which is where the heart is – with my family in Sri Lanka.”
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