Preity Zinta: A Woman with Heart and Spunk

It’s official now: Preity Zinta has oodles of heart, and her gutsy attitude is there for all to see. Not all would put their maiden production’s release on hold — that too for over six months — for a director undergoing medical treatment for cancer.

Zinta stood by Prem Raj as he went through his low phase and treatment, preferring to lose money but standing by the man with whom she had started her new journey.This interview was conducted on the eve of her film’s release in 2012, just before things went wrong. Excerpts from it follow.

What would you say if asked whether ‘Ishkq In Paris’ is your comeback?
I would argue with you on the word! C’mon yaar, I was only off films for two years — “Heroes” and “The Last Lear” were released in 2008 and “Videsh”/”Heaven On Earth” in 2009 in India, so you cannot call my film “Ishkq In Paris” a comeback. I am not coming back after 10 or 15 years, and I had not left films. It’s just that at that time I was not getting roles of my liking, so I decided to get into IPL (Indian Premier League) and thought that since it was a new zone, I should learn more about it and concentrate on that.

You are looking younger and fresher.
(Laughs) I am rejuvenated after my break, have lost 10 kilos, and I am very excited. Everything feels new! I did not miss films in this period because I was learning new things. I am now also planning to fulfill my late dad’s wish to start a sports school, which needs three things — time, inclination and financial ability — all of which I have now!

How much of your life is planned?
I never plan! I prefer to flow with the tide. But I am a risk-taker by nature. I never thought that I would become an actor, as I wanted to do criminal psychology. I also wanted to be, since childhood, a truck driver, the prime minister and an air hostess! (Laughs again) When mom saw some hints in my persona and asked me if I wanted to be an actress, I told her, “Never!”

Another kink I have is that I get hell bent on doing anything when people tell me I am not suited for it or advise me, “Yeh mat kar (don’t get into this),” like the IPL business.

But you are a serious person, right?
Yes, I take everything I learn in life seriously. My father once told me, “Never do anything without having pride in it, and pride will only come if you are clean in your approach.” Today, after three IPL seasons, I have a business office in Harvard, the team, the business and my CEO all in place. All this is possible because I am clean. I was shocked when the media, without any basis, hinted at “benami” (fraudulent) transactions and irregularities in it sometime ago. I fought and proved the accusations wrong.

So many of your films, starting with your first release, had other heroines. How did you get along with them?
(With a mock proud gesture) I am the only actress who is friendly with all!

How was your maiden experience as a producer?
I enjoyed the challenges and the hiccups that came my way. Production is very tough, especially if you are also the lead actress. I had to take care, for example, while attending to my responsibilities as a producer, that my makeup was not spoilt for my own shots! I also made it a point to ensure that the entire crew was looked after, and as a policy, I saw to it that they all got to stay in good places and eat good food. My most challenging situation came when a real train in the shoot just cracked to pieces (literally) because of the biting cold in France. It was minus 23 degrees Celsius and the coldest winter in 65 years! Today, I can afford to laugh at the memory, but it was horribly scary then.

How would you slot “Ishkq In Paris?”
I call it a small-budget entertainer and something that will get both respectability and commercial success. It’s a romantic comedy that offers a subtle message — that while life has become fast and the globe has shrunk, we Indians are the same people at heart and want the same basics in life, beginning with love.

Prem Raj has directed just one debacle, “Main Aur Mrs Khanna.” Was not that a bit risky for a first production?
Not at all, I liked his energy. After a flop like that, there is also a stronger drive to come out with a blockbuster. I had done a cameo in that Salman Khan home production and now Salman has done the same in mine. For me as an actor, the first rule of acting is to follow a director blindly once the prior discussions are over. That does not change because I am also the producer.

How was the scriptwriting experience?
It was tough! I was nervous about my work. Though any film is teamwork, we always blame the writer and director if things go wrong. And the characters have to be very sharp. “3 Idiots” was a script in which every character was amazing.

You have been pretty close to Salman, though you have not done too many films together.
Salman is one guy who stood by me through thick and thin, including the worst phase of the legal imbroglios about the alleged underworld connections of our film “Chori Chori Chupke Chupke.” He is a solid friend to have, and I would have looked elsewhere for the cameo only if he had been unable to do it.

What do you have to say about your new leading man Rhehan Malliek, known to the television world as Gaurav Chanana?
Since in the end it is the boy who has to take care of the girl rather than vice-versa, I had to make sure that the newcomer’s role was strong. I liked his motivation and determination. His figure was unsuitable for the role, and I told him so. Within weeks, he returned with a perfect look! By the way, I have co-written the film with Prem.

But wasn’t he needed only because heroes hesitate to sign roles with actresses who turn producers and act in the films, too?
I agree that can be a factor, but for me, the budgeting of the film revolved around dates, which would have depended on a big star’s availability. A big star would have increased the risk factor and curtailed freedom because you cannot disappoint audiences who have expectations from his presence in a film.

One hears that you are also writing a unique book.
Yes, I am writing this compilation as well as expose on all the fake articles written about me. All I am saying is that even if you can’t write the truth and must make up stories, or even concoct interviews that I never gave, don’t write things that upset my mom and make her cry! I cannot forgive that, and in any case, I become a “Durga ka avatar” if someone tries to write lies about me.

What about films?
At 35, I have crossed that stage when I wanted to do intense cinema as a change from the entertaining kind. I did “The Last Lear” and “Videsh” and now want to unwind with a non-intense role and film. One such film is “Ishkq In Paris.” After that, let’s see.

What do you think will be the response in France to your film?
I have a French actress, Isabelle Adjani. She even learned Hindi for her role! I want my film to do well there and expect that it will. France is one of the most difficult countries to shoot in as they are so protective about their heritage, and there are so many permissions to be taken, with a hawk’s eye kept by their authorities. But above all, I want it to succeed in India!

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