I’ve always, consistently, had criticism


You’ve been caught up shooting the video
for your single, we believe?
Yes! Trying to make it different, yet cool, and desi – so trying to crack that

All that dissection will happen post release,
kitna Hindustani touch diya Priyanka ne
apne pehle video ko, and all that?
Wohi toh! Mere liye bohot zaroori thaa. Not just because it’s an English album. But without making it a Bollywood song-and-dance sequence, I want the world to see it and say, oh, that’s a cool culture! And what Madonna and all do with the henna and stuff – I want to go away from that too. Because my generation in India, I think, is western enough to use their Indian-ness. I want it to be a cool amalgamation of what India today is…
What is India today?
I’m trying to figure that out too, to myself. I’m not trying to be cerebral about it. I’m just trying to be me, I feel I’m an amalgamation of the west and the east myself because of my upbringing; I studied in America, I studied in India. I’m very desi and I’m very western too. I want to bring in that sensibility. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to, eventually, but dimag mein toh woh hai! I can’t break into Kathak suddenly in an English album. But I’m sure that young people today, like in your office – we are western enough, but we’re Indian enough to want to embrace our culture. My cousin sister’s got a Devanagri tattoo on her hand even though she’s lived her whole life in America. It’s about being proud of where you come from, but being global in the way you think. I’m western enough to have an English album and I’m Indian enough to try to give it a desi touch.

Talking of being you – the public profile of you would have tweaked a little in the past fortnight or so?
That’s true, but the person within is the same. People view me differently at the moment doesn’t mean that I’ve changed, you know what I mean?

The Barfi! role, the In My City single (which is climbing international download charts), the video – a lot of firsts in the work arena, and so far, they’re all clicking?
So far… (laughs) Yes! And it’s scary. To do something that’s completely different from your expected profile is always scary. There will be so many people who’ll be cynical and who’ll say, dekhte hain kaise kar legi. So you have to have the fear of failure to drive you to be the best you can be. And I am not delusional ki main duniya badalne wali hoon ya duniya ka point of view badalne wali hoon, towards India, or towards autism, or anything like that.

In any case, you’re not unused to
people nitpicking about what you do, are you?
Correct! (laughs) I’m one of the few people who’ve always, consistently, had criticism. People find it interesting to nitpick about me… But I guess it comes when you keep trying to do different things. I remember when I took up Barfi!, I was told, everybody is doing the glamorous roles, why are you doing this… But you have to go with your gut. Sometimes it won’t work. But if you don’t go with your gut, how are you being true to the artiste that you are?

Heroine was coming right after Barfi!. Its lead actress was doing the glamorous role – and wasn’t exactly being very warm towards you. Did that get you hassled?
Look, I’m being very honest – my career has never been dependent on other heroines, their successes or failures, or the direction of my contemporaries’ careers. I have always been a different sort of leading lady. I have always done things that weren’t recommended. When I took on Aitraaz everyone told me, vamp ban ke reh jaogi, heroine ke liye koi cast nahi karega. When I did Fashion, everyone told me, actresses do such heroine-oriented roles at the end of their careers, why are you doing it at this age, paagal ho. But it was my gut. And eventually I was one of the youngest actresses ever to win the National Award. Yes, kabhi kabhi galtiyan hoti hain – lekin chance nahi loge toh pata kaise chalega?

Would you equate the chance you took here with, say, what Hrithik risked with Guzaarish?
More than Guzaarish, what he risked with Koi Mil Gaya. And KMG became a hugely successful film which developed a full-fledged franchise! The hero of the film was mentally challenged – that was path-breaking. And that in a commercially entertaining film, not in an art space where you want people to pity the character. You loved the character for the person – and his disability happened to be incidental. And that, I think, is what Barfi! has done. You love the characters for what they are – you don’t pity them for their disadvantages.

When a mainstream actor does a role like this, does it gather more critical attention than when actors from parallel cinema play them?
I don’t think it’s fair to say that. If you look at the films that have made it to the last stage of the Oscars nomination – Mother India, Lagaan – they were not about mainstream actors or art house. Fundamentally, you loved the characters in the film. And it’s not like we made this film so that it gets awards. Hamara confidence Barfi! mein bahut kam thaa – because we knew we were making a difficult film, we knew we were making a different film. But we were clear that we would stand by it, that we were damn proud of it, whatever happens to it commercially.
Barfi! has also been getting some sharp comments about an overdose of inspiration from other movies. I’ve read about that, vaguely, though I’ve been too busy to get into the specifics. See, from what I understand, these are original characters that Anurag sir has created. But eventually, when you come out of any movie, nau ras hote hain aur saat kahaniyaan hai jo hum dikhate hain. Chahe koi film industry ho – German, Telugu, Korean. Action, drama, comedy, love story, whatever. I am not going to be apologetic or defensive about the film. I don’t know exactly what the analysts are saying, but I do know that when people watch it, they come out feeling good. Why should we try to pull that down?

What’s the most memorable feedback
in the past weeks?
I’ve not been in India from the day after the movie released, but I’ve been very clued in to the online space. Not after Fashion and Dostana has my phone rung so much. Never have I got 400 messages in one day, from people I don’t even know. That, for me, was my feedback. Twitter was a big source of my feedback. And my biggest victory was when people with autistic children, or teachers of autistic kids, or the autistic society, when they turned around and said, you couldn’t tell this was a person who was actually not autistic. That was my greatest victory. To have people say that viewers have been able to understand that autism is not a disease. Unki duniya hi alag hai. When I started doing the film, I didn’t realise that that is something that people will take out from the movie.

As in, unlike a Taare Zameen Par’s focus on dyslexia, this isn’t aimed at pitching a social message, right?
Yes, it was not aimed at creating awareness about autism, or about people who are deaf and mute. It’s just a love story – and the characters happen to be this way. She’s not a child. When she walks away, it was because he treated her indifferently. She tried to dress in a sari, she has the emotions of a grown woman – who just happens to think differently.

Does September 2012 leave you a more
confident risk-taker?
I’ve always taken risks. What this has done is make my belief stronger in the fact that it’s OK to go with my instincts. To be what I am – good, bad, ugly – whether people love me, hate me, judge me. There’s this thing that Bruce Springsteen said, it’s really changed my life. “I don’t want to be rich, I don’t want to be famous. I don’t even want to be happy. I just want to be great.” I love that. That is what an artiste is. I want to be known as that – I don’t know if I will be able to, but I want to try, I want to be true to my craft. And that doesn’t come by cerebralizing it. You can’t think and plan it out. You have go with it, be true to you. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But that is the point of being an artiste.