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Poonam Dhillon: Act II

April 2005
Poonam Dhillon: Act II

Star struck in Atlanta

She shot to household fame in the early ?80s thanks to the super hit Noorie in which she played the title role. This superstar of yester-years is back in showbiz taking on the challenge of theater. Khabar caught up with her recently when she was in here for the award winning play Perfect Husband. We found out that Poonam Dhillon in Act II is a far cry from a love struck valley girl?


It all started for this incredibly attractive 16-year old Chandigarh girl when she won the Miss India title in 1977. Before she knew it, she was catapulted into the glitzy world of Bollywood. "It just fell into my lap," she admitted, while also acknowledging that she "didn't know the ?ABC's' of acting or film shooting per se."

To her good fortune, her debut film was the golden-jubilee Amitabh Bachchan starrer, Trishul, in which she had a relatively minor role. But thanks to her fresh-as-a-dew-drop innocent looks and the catchy song, "Gapoochee gapoochee gum gum.." she was instantly noticed.

Then on, though, "I learnt quickly on the job and kept up with demands of competition." One can certainly glimpse such a competency in this intelligent and well read entertainer who is also on the verge of becoming a published writer. What's more, Dhillon has none of the airs or attitudes that showbiz personalities are notorious for. When I reached the Comfort Inn Suites for this interview, Poonam was in the middle of a casual yet focused rehearsal in the caf� lounge. Interrupting that, she greeted me warmly and also offered a cup of coffee while I waited for her to wrap up.

While stardom may have fallen into her lap, it had to be her intellect and commitment that sustained it through ever increasing heights. Only that can explain her passionate performance in Noorie, the film that defined her career. Even though this was one of her earlier films (1979), her performance would suggest a seasoned actor.

Over the years, Poonam has worked with a number of well-known producers, directors and actors. When nudged to name a few, she said, "I'd include Bharati Raja and Umesh Mehra, with whom I fought and argued a lot, and actors such as Kamal Hassan and Rishi Kapoor, who are both so natural and spontaneous."������

Besides acting, Poonam was also a trendsetting innovator! "If I had implemented all my ideas, I would be a business tycoon today." She was one of the first to conceptualize and invest in a mobile make-up van. "Initially when I started it, naysayers in the industry doubted its success." Commenting on just one advantage of such mobile vans, she said, "Actors are changing on the roadside all the time and often have a dire need to use the bathroom if they are on the road morning to night." Today mobile make-up vans that have various emergency facilities, is an integral part of the traveling team.

Intrigued by her sharp perspectives, I was curious what she thought of Bollywood now compared to her days. "Everything changes with time. Progression is simply inevitable. Today the revenue-generating global audience is much more critical. Overseas viewers are crucial to the financial success of our films. India's awakening to the global markets and the industry's success at franchising film marketing makes it possible for non-English films to compete even at the Oscar's, or for Bollywood actors to be sought internationally. To add to it, the new entrepreneurial generation is more professional to an extent, and internationally focused, in that the films today are not just love stories of the dance-gana types, since the themes have improved considerably. Correspondingly, the actors have matured to accept challenging roles such as the one of Rani Mukherjee in Veer-Zara, where she plays an unromantic and unglamorous, but vital character. The same could be said about her role in Black."

So why the plunge into theater? "One thing I am clear about is that my time for my children will not suffer under any circumstances. They are my priority. Working in television (which she had been experimenting with in recent years), according to Poonam, "is not a 9 to 5 job. She recounted about how there were times when she would leave home at eight in the morning and not come home till 10:30 at night. "It is dependent on so many variables: outdoor locations, climate, readiness and other non-predictable factors." Her commitment to her children was also the reason she had been dodging film offers.

Though, now that her publicity-shy daughter and son are in school, she has taken on some TV serials. As far as films go, she is only interested in characters that are "deeper than the teeny-boppers running around trees."

Coming back to the topic of theater, she says, "Last year I received a lot of offers for plays and I said to myself, why not? It boils down to the viability of the project. It has to be financially rewarding and worth everyone's time and devotion. Moreover people have gotten tired of the filmy shows and hence the market for good plays has become very supportive. Acting in plays involves a very different style in that there are no retakes and there is no script prompting one to prevent mistakes.

Commenting on her seamless debut in theater, Poonam talks fondly about Perfect Husband, "We have done about 25 successful shows with a very gratifying response. The play has earned an award and has generated continuous momentum. The response for the first show itself was amazing. The audience (for that show) included artists, friends and critics such as Shatrughan Sinha, Jaya Bachan and Ramesh Sippy. Their encouragement was forceful, even when they could have been very upfront with me (if they had thought she was not up to par)."

Motivated by the learning experiences of a broken marriage of her own, Poonam is also currently in the thick of writing a book on relationships from an Indian perspective. Why, in these times, do marriages fail and what are the expectations? What do women want and what do men want in predominantly arranged marriages? These are some of the themes she touches upon in the book. "Most issues that can cause a marriage to fail are so trivial and it just takes the two involved to sort things out and become happy."

Perhaps, then, it is more than just a coincidence, that her first play is called "Perfect Husband"! Speaking of which, Atlanta failed to take up this offering by YK Enterprises, the promoter responsible for bringing this wonderfully entertaining play. In spite of a track record of entertaining plays brought to Atlanta by this promoter, the prospective audience failed to recognize a gem, judging from the modest turnout at the Georgia World Congress Center. This was a bitingly satirical and hilarious play.

Those few of us who came, were richly rewarded. If Poonam Dhillon as the painfully unrequited lover, Noorie, was a heartthrob, the seasoned one in search of a "perfect husband" wins you over in an even more substantial way.

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