You have always guarded your leisure very fiercely. Why?
I need some time to myself to get centered. It’s about wanting space — what one wants from one’s environment. I am hyperactive — 24×7. But I need time off. I never work on Sundays and if I do I have Mondays off. I am constantly surrounded by people so it’s very important for me to not have anybody around me at times. People say, ‘Work now and enjoy later’. But this is my life and I don’t want to miss out on it now. Yes, I agree most of the time I’ve got to be working but I do feel the need to guard that one portion which is mine. Mentally, you are constantly stressed with your dialogues, your performance etc and, physically, the shooting can be very demanding. We were recently shooting for Lakshya at an altitude of 17,800 ft — so high that we set a world record for the highest crane and are going to be in the Guinness book… It’s hard. You walk 10 metres and take 20 breaths, wearing six layers of clothing. At 12 noon, it is minus five degrees. It’s almost humanly impossible to be there and perform and remember your dialogues.
How much do you still enjoy your work?
I love it. Earlier I had to understand
what I was doing but now I like to do less work and only films that really excite me because now I have started really understanding cinema — that it’s not only about acting but going beyond — it’s about being. That is a huge kick for me.
Do you recall the last time a script really excited you?
Yes, that’s why I refuse the films I refuse and choose the ones I choose. I no longer want to be part of films that are merely generic. The same things, which, when you look at them, irritate you… I like to do characters that are strong even in their weakness, roles which have some dignity and elegance. I still fight with my film-makers when they show domestic violence.
Do you feel that you have some influence over your audiences?
Yes, I do, particularly those who are not educated or privileged. They imitate us all the time… Just today, I had to do a scene where I drive. I made sure I wore my seat belt. Somewhere, that sends a signal that that is the right thing to do. I believe films exercise a huge influence over people. A guy who is eve teasing in a film may appear cute but if the same thing
happens to you in the middle of the night,
you won’t find it cute.
So you feel that actors have a huge social responsibility.
See, there are two ways of looking at this. Either you accept it and deal with it or you pretend that it does not exist. I believe people get influenced by films so do I… Like Arnold Schwarznegger saying in a film ‘Hasta la vista, baby’ or Jack Nicholson telling Helen Hunt — “You make me want to be a better person”. I remember these lines because they affect me in some way… I am an actor here in India, but films from all over the world influence me. Why? Because films are meant to influence you. Otherwise, the whole idea of cinema, of creating something, of putting something in front of audiences would never have worked. Look at our country today. The rape cases. Look at Delhi. Men jumping on women like animals, look at TV — some of the things they show are disgusting. I don’t know why they are not censored. They’ll censor stuff about the government but someone trying to rape a woman for no reason will not be censored. I think these are serious issues.
What upsets you about this profession?
What upsets me is that the heroes get paid more than I do but I have to work harder than them. If it’s a 9 0’clock shift, I have to report at 7 a.m. to do my make up and hair. But the boys walk in at 9! I’m just being silly. What upsets me is an early morning shoot… What upsets me is a production where people don’t know what they are doing. If I’m with a crew which is disorganised, I’d rather leave than be stuck with it.
How much have you learnt about yourself being in films?
Lots. There is so much about myself that I never thought I’d figure out or react to — so many past demons in my head which I’d never have confronted. I have confronted them through my roles. Things that happened to me in life are happening to me in my films now. I think I’m one of those really lucky kids. When my father asked me as a child what I’d want to be, I’d say I wanted to be the PM one day, a nurse another, an air hostess, a truck driver, a married woman. Now I feel some angel up there has said “granted” to me. Now, I can be a rock star, a wife, a doctor, a sexy girl, a spoilt brat — anything.
Which film has touched you the most?
I think my film Kal ho na ho. When I heard the script I almost fell off the chair. It was something very close to my life — my heart has gone into the role. I truly feel very close to the role. I play Naina Katherine Kapoor and Jayaji plays my mother Jenny.
My favourite Indian designer: I really like Manish Malhotra’s stuff.
Designers I dig abroad: I like Valentino and Roberto Cavalli. I like Calvin Klein. He has very straight-lined stuff.
Most of my shopping happens: Abroad. There are very few times I shop here mainly because, here, you are usually on outdoors [an outdoor shoot] or [in the] studios. Where do you have the time to shop? Usually, when you are on a holiday, you shop.
I even shopped at Shoppers’ Stop once: I needed salwar-kameezes for a dance rehearsal. You can’t wear track bottoms and do Indian dance. [Since] I had given all my old salwar-kameezes [away, I needed to buy new ones]. I just randomly shop.
I am not a label person: Whatever I like anywhere, I pick it up.
Fashion to me means: Whatever I feel comfortable in. I like to mix and match. I’ll buy something from the street. I’ll buy something from a fashion house.
Most expensive buy/bite: I had to attend this party instantly and I didn’t have shoes. So I went and bought a pair of shoes worth 1,200 Euro [approximately Rs 67,405]. And let me show you [shows her leg which has two painful-looking shoe bite marks]… it has this bee-like thing across and it dug into my skin and gave me two little lines. And now I have got marks. I look at those shoes and go ‘This is the most expensive bite of my life’ [laughs].
Favorite director outside Bollywood: Outside of Indian cinema, Martin Scorsese is my favorite director. I have no preference for films. You know, in India, we are so busy filming that we have more time to see a lot of movies!
Most vivid memory:
In December 2004, on vacation in Thailand, I narrowly escaped death during the tsunami disaster. In shock, I stopped my filming for eight months. It is both sad and happy memories. Sad because I lost my friends and happy because I almost died and I am still alive.
I was born into a Hindu family in northern India. My father, who was an officer of the Indian Army, died in a car accident when I was thirteen. This tragic event has touched my life. I quickly matured since. As for my mother, she is everything in my life. She gives me happiness, sense of accomplishment. But it is also she who is the source of my feelings of loneliness …
Dates in Preity’s life:
1988 The death of my father. This has profoundly affected my life.
1998 My first role in Dil Se.
2004 I escape death narrowly when the tsunami in Thailand.