Queen of hearts
Mallika Sherawat, regarded as India’s ‘post-feminist icon’ for her uninhibited on-screen acts and caustic off-screen comments, is bored of the ‘bold’ tag the media has attributed to her. She wants to be simply regarded as a forthright girl. Rajeev Nair met her in Dubai
Mallika Sherawat doesn’t flaunt her image. At least, she didn’t in Dubai. She was far removed from the glam siren mould that she had projected for herself through her headline grabbing one-liner-heavy interviews and a ready-to-bare attitude.
The Indian actress, who froze the photographers’ attention at the Cannes International Film Festival, appearing alongside Jackie Chan, could have passed for “just another beautiful Indian, perhaps a model,” when she climbed down the 4WD, denim-clad, to open the Popley 22 jewellery showroom in Bur Dubai.
Earlier, she was heard mulling the possibility of hiding herself under a burqa (“It’s a must for me”). She wanted a little anonymity, and perhaps stroll the streets of Dubai, free and unbridled of her celebrity status. There weren’t too many stares thrown at her at the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s lobby, from where she had proceeded to Bur Dubai.
But here, a massive crowd had formed — all eagerly waiting for her arrival. One glance, an autograph, and possibly a handshake, that is all every one wanted. She couldn’t oblige them all, of course.
Dubai must have a special place in Sherawat’s mind. Her acting career was launched here, when she shot for Jeena Sirf Mere Liye in a supporting role while Kareena Kapoor, the film’s heroine, basked in media attention. After all, Sherawat hadn’t become mallika (the queen) then. She was Reema Lamba, a philosophy graduate who aspired to be model and actor. Her ads for an automobile with Shah Rukh Khan landed her the role that was to change her career, for ever. Director Gautam Menon signed her for Khwahish (Desire), which went on to grab headlines for Sherawat’s “17 kisses.” And with the promos highlighting her beachwear, Mallika had arrived. Ready to conquer hearts.
She did it effortlessly with Khwahish. The film was a runaway success and Mallika became the “hot” name in Bollywood. Here was one actress, the industry believed, who could carry a film on her own. So what if hers is a titillating act, aren’t there others too ready to go any length? Why don’t they ensure hits? Mallika proved that audiences still loved to see her when her next film, Murder, became the first certified hit of 2004. It established her in Bollywood, and she became bolder in her comments. More caustic. More bold. More self-indulgent. More at ease about flaunting her body on screen.
Her true triumph came when she was chosen by Jackie Chan to star with him in The Myth. She attended the Cannes International Film Festival to promote the film. Back home, however, her films failed to work the box-office magic. Both her releases this year, Kiss Kiss Ki Kismat and Bach Ke Rehna Re Baba, tanked. And her name hit headlines when an explicit MMS clip surfaced in the media, purportedly featuring her. Later, it was proved that the clip featured her look-alike.
Yes, Sherawat is a survivor: She is learning from her mistakes and moving on. She is looking forward to the Southeast Asian release of The Myth on Sept. 23. She has also signed to do a film for Subhash Ghai titled Shaadi Ke Pehle and another with Ram Gopal Varma.
Excerpts from an interview, in which she was diplomatic, evading controversies, resorting to platitudes, and yet not letting go of that outspokenness that is vintage Mallika Sherawat: And yes, on her table, lies the book she is reading now – Madonna by Andrew Morton.
You made your acting debut in Dubai, shooting for Jeena Sirf Mere Liye. But you were Reema Lambha then. How much have you changed personally and professionally ever since?
I have grown as a person, as an actor. As and when you do more projects you learn better. You make mistakes and work experience always helps you grow and change. So far everything has been very positive and good for me. I feel really blessed. My fans have supported me and to be in the position that I am today, yes, I feel blessed.
How as your Cannes experience?
Fantastic. To go to a foreign country, conquer it and come back… it made me feel very important, very special. Out there I was competing against the best. There was Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruze, Halle Berry…. and there was me.
But do you think the Indian media wasn’t too enthusiastic about your presence compared to Aishwarya Rai who too was in Cannes?
I don’t think so. I didn’t feel any difference. I thought every one was great to me. The media has always supported me, and I want to thank you all for supporting me.
You are perceived as a bold, outspoken lady, who speaks her mind…
Can you believe this? Why are you all obsessed with this word called ‘bold?’
Why? You aren’t…?
I am just forthright. And I am not a hypocrite.
Your recent films haven’t done as well as Murder or Khwahish. How do you take these failures?
I have learnt that you shouldn’t get too exhilarated with success or too depressed with failure. It is part of an actor’s career. Some movies do well, some don’t. Your job is to do your work as an actress to the best of your ability. That is what I have tried to do… I have made mistakes and I have learnt from them. And I have moved on.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Moving away from technique…
In what way?
Not being true to your character and deviating a little bit.
Why does that happen?
It happens because of my own stupidity and negligence and my own inability to not listen to the director.
Could these mistakes have been due to your willingness to expose on-screen, which sort of branded you with a certain image?
Not at all. It was just in certain scenes, where I thought as an actress I should have been more careful and I should have listened to what the director was saying.
How do you expect The Myth to change your career? Do you believe it will make you a truly international star?
It is a very different role. I play an Indian princess. Jackie Chan has shown great faith in me by casting me in the movie and then launching me at Cannes, which is the best platform for any actress internationally. I have great expectations for The Myth, so do Jackie and the entire team. It is a very international mix; there are Koreans, Chinese, a lot of different cultures and races have come together.
Does the fact that you were representing The Myth and not India in the true sense at Cannes affect you?
Why should it? I was launched there internationally. I had gone there to promote my film. I could have been any film, Spanish, Mexican… my job is to promote my film to the best of my ability. That is what I tried to do at Cannes.
You were dragged into the MMS clip controversy recently…
Please, let us not get into that.
And that was it. She stood up to try the burqa, and wearing it over her face, she screamed: “This is fantastic. This is the best thing ever made… the burqa.”