Su Khabar, Amisha?
BY Viren Mayani
Dressed in a shimmering bright red and gold ghagra-choli, her hair covered with matching chunni, the beautiful Amisha sat poised on a metal folding chair, even as her make-up team played around with her natural glamour, sticking a false mole on her nose and dabbing excess foundation over her high cheek bones. The glow to her fair skin and her firm, upright posture provided ample evidence that she is regular in her work-outs.
Mrs. Patel, her mother and mentor, had been gracious enough to let me intrude on this session, and Amisha politely gestured me to sit next to her, on another folding chair offered by her assistant. My apologies for having disturbed her early in the morning to confirm our evening's interview were smiled away. That done with, the tape began to roll?.
Let's begin by talking about some of your different roles, ?KNPH', ?Gadar'...
Though I was launched in films with ?Kaho Na Pyaar Hai', even before it was released I had signed for and shot 30 per cent of ?Gadar'. I have done many challenging roles ? in ?Humraaz' for example, I have played a partly negative role, and in ?Gadar' I played a mother of a child in a deglamorised role, something most actresses would not risk doing in just the second film of their career. At a very early stage I also did ?Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar' with a lesser known hero Jimmy Shergil? it wasn't a banner film and was shot by a director who had two flops for a record. The entire burden rested on my shoulders. It was a small budget film but I was ready to take on that challenge. All through my career I have opted to do different roles and different types of cinema and that keeps my spirit going.
Yet no forays into art films?
I did do one called ?Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar' ? it was a crossover between art and commercial cinema. But definitely if the subject interests me I would do more. For me it is not the matter of doing an art film, because I believe that a lot of art goes into a commercial film as well. Call it parallel cinema, because that is the term I prefer.
What led you to tinsel town?
Mainly passion, but it was a hobby that fortunately became a profession... I guess destiny too played a role. And my love for acting proved to be a further attraction. Actually no one in our family had any links with Bollywood before this. They are in careers as diverse as they come: lawyers, doctors, engineers and business; but nobody is from the creative world at all.
The response I am getting today is a significant milestone and provides an example for others ? that even a well educated girl from an affluent background can choose films as a vocation, not only someone for whom it is a last option. I believe that is why a lot of youngsters idolize me. It feels great that I have come in with something different!
Yes, you are highly qualified?
I went to Cathedral High School in Mumbai and was the valedictorian there and then Tufts University (Boston, MA) from where I graduated, cum laude. I was also a Gold Medalist in Economics at the University.
So who or what persuaded you to make this changeover?
I never actively pursued entry into films. My first director Rakesh Roshan had been in school with my father. He had voiced a desire to launch me much before I came to the US to study. We declined at the time. When I came back after completing four years of graduate education, he pursued it yet again. He saw me at a wedding just as I was leaving and he was entering. A glance at me for a few brief seconds and he was convinced that I was the most appropriate choice for his film. He asked me out to lunch with my mom in tow and offered me the role. Within seconds I accepted and my life has completely turned around since.
Any plans to get into theater?
Well I used to do theater, at a very amateur level of course. I even got awards for best actress and best director on stage. But I think returning to that will only come later in life. Yet it is very challenging ? the best artistes in the industry have come from theater and I really respect them a lot. All of them: Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri, Om Puri and the rest. They were from a different era and could handle both at the same time ? today it is very difficult to do so. A lot more is expected from us and we have so much riding on our names. So we have to be very careful over what we choose. For me its cinema, cinema, cinema at the moment.
What about Amisha off-camera?
I read a lot: everything from philosophy to trash. I enjoy books on introspection ? self-improvement books ? and I love Indian authors. I listen to every kind of music ? right from Jagjit Singh to Julio Iglesias ? the entire spectrum. I love music as it is the most universal language and there is something for every mood. I am basically a home bug, but love traveling. I suffer from wanderlust, enjoy visiting new places, interacting with people from different cultures and trying out new cuisines. I am someone who loves to learn all the time. I think that it has really helped me in my profession.
What is your favorite food?
I really love my ?ghar ka khana' because I do not get to eat it a lot of the time, though that was not the case earlier. I love Thai and French food too.
(with a grin) Cook?up a storm, yes, other than that nothing. (more seriously) No, really I don't get a chance to visit the kitchen often as I am usually traveling.
I'd say heroine, my mum. I have taken her life and literally tossed it up. The poor thing has one foot in Mumbai, the other across the world, half her mind with my brother, her heart with her husband, and her body with me. So I have uprooted her and turned her life into a complete mess. For me its OK, it's my profession, but she gets dragged along.
Both my parents are proud of my success, but alongside they also experience a lot of negativity. Whether it is the bad tabloids or negative press, they have had to face the music for me. Along with every hit film of mine, they have had to face the flops as well. I think that is new for them (she smiles).
Success must have affected your relations with school friends?
They are unaffected by my stardom and are all really proud. Earlier they were all against me, as were my parents and my family. But today they are gung-ho ? their whole thing is that if you are happy we are happy. These are my closest friends. I don't give a damn about the rest who had different opinions, because you can't worry about each and every one, you can't really please all. The ones that count are the ones that love you. The rest have a lot of baggage, jealousy whatever ? I guess we all adapt to that.
Someone who is very witty, who would be very caring and loyal and make me feel like I am sixteen. Someone who has strong family values and who is a traditional Indian and modern at the same time.
What projects on the anvil?
Well, there are many films scheduled for release. There is ?Amir' and ?Parvana' both with Ajay Devgan this year. There is ?Hum Ko Tumse Pyaar He' with Bobby Deol and Arjun Rampal next year. There are also some new projects that are in the making that I do not wish to disclose right now. One starts in August itself, a couple of period films, one suspense thriller etc. I have a lot on my platter at the moment.
Tell us about the professional pressures you face.
Today the workplace has become very cutthroat and competitive. Every Friday equations change. There is no loyalty where audiences are concerned, unlike in yesteryears, when stars, be it Dharamji or Vinod Khanna or Amitabh Bachchan, had a huge fan following. Today it takes just one film for the audience to switch loyalty. Nothing is forever. So you have to keep giving them something new in order to get them into the cinema halls.
Also we face the strong impact of TV. Channels that show everything that we can possibly dream about, whether it is ?Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu' or ?Aahat' or anything you know. Murder mysteries to love stories to family dramas, they are all on TV screens. So we have to really create something fantastic to get the audiences to come in. That is why we have such a few hits, hardly two or three in a year. There is nothing new to offer as TV has exhausted it all. It has become so tough for actors ?no one can guarantee an opening. It is very hard!
How do you see the future?
I can be here as long as I want to. Marriage is of course inevitable and is definitely the next phase. I feel also that the industry has matured in that they accept girls once they are married too, and it actually becomes even easier. Hence even if I did opt to tie the knot it will be with the intention of continuing with acting, for sure. I don't think that would deter me in any way. As long as the audience wants me and I am professional and capable of delivering the goods, I don't see a reason why I shouldn't continue. At the same time I have had my shares of ups and downs and I enjoy the transitions. I enjoy change and hate stagnation. If I had to be at the same place all the time I'd get bored. Transition excites me.
No sooner she had finished saying that, she was beckoned. It was time for her second entry and professional that she is, she looked at me with guilt and said, "I can't take a picture with you now ? chalo jaldi they are calling me".
Amisha is indeed a down to earth actress. Meeting her mother was indicative of the great family upbringing she has had and despite all the ?Tuft' in her, this gal was every bit a ?Gujarat nee chori'.
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