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Girl on the go!

Is actress Koel Mullick switching careers' Is she swapping her stilettos for the unfettered freedom of bare feet, the designer duds for elaborate Odissi finery, and the on-screen antics for the thrill of dancing before a live audience' “Not at all,” the twenty-something beauty reassures us about her half-hour Odissi recital at Gyan Manch recently. “It was a one-off performance and I was persuaded to do it by my cousin, sitarist Indrajit Roy Chowdhury.”

Fans ' and there are plenty ' of the honey-eyed actress will be relieved. Because ever since Koel became a part of the Tollywood frat pack in 2003 with the hit film, Nater Guru, the actress has been steadily climbing the local celeb charts. In 2004, she starred in Devipaksha, Shudhu Tumi, Badshah and Bandhan. While the first two swan-dived on the big screen, Badshah and Bandhan more than made up, with the latter going on to become a major money-earner.

Last year, Koel made her mark in Shubha Drishti, Manik, Juddha and Chorey Chorey Mastuto Bhai. But it was Juddha, in which she held her own against veterans Mithun Chakraborty and Debasree Roy, and Jeet, that had Tollywood junkies lining up for a look. The film recorded an unprecedented initial collection of Rs 1.2 crore in the first week itself.

No surprises then that in a short span of three years, Koel Mullick has become one of the most visible pretty faces in the Bengali film industry today. The petite stunner seems to be in all the right places, and in all the right movies (well almost, if you overlook the few duds along the way). And boy, is she pleased with the way her career is shaping up! “As a child growing up, I never harboured any dreams of being an actress. Mine was a simple plan ' study hard, get married and be a good mother. But look at me now. Fate had something else in store for me and I’m riding the wave as best I can,” she says with an impish grin.

If most of Koel’s films thus far have seen her playing the teen queen or the ardent lover, her soon-to-be-released movie, MLA Phatakeshto sees her cast in a different mould altogether. In the film, which also stars Mithun Chakraborty and Debasree Roy, Koel takes on the character of a hard-nosed reporter and for a change, she will not be doing the two-step to any Tollywood tune. “I play a pivotal role as I help Mithunda’s character ' who is essentially a loafer ' to become an MLA,” she says.

A young woman of many facets, Koel’s childlike spontaneity reveals itself when she speaks about her favourite character thus far ' that of the bride in Shubha Drishti. “Ever since a young girl, I loved copying my mother. I’d watch her wear the shaka and pola and wish I could too. So since Shubha Drishti was the first film where I played a married woman, all decked up in a lal Benarasi, I enjoyed myself thoroughly,” she laughs. But Koel is quick to add another favourite to her list ' the reporter she plays in MLA Phatakeshto. “It’s a serious film and for once, I don’t have any romantic inclinations towards anyone. It’s quite refreshing really,” she says.

Wouldn’t a go at the big, beautiful world of Bollywood be even more so' “Well, if something great comes my way, I’ll definitely give it a shot. But I need to get good vibes from the project,” says Koel emphatically. Last year, she almost did make it to Mumbai when she was all set to star in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Family with Amitabh Bachchan and Aryeman Ramsay, son of producer Keshu Ramsay. But things didn’t quite work out when Koel’s character was dropped from the script. Any hard feelings' “None whatsoever. I have nothing to feel bad about. It’s not like my role was given to another actress,” she declares with the wave of a well-manicured hand.

It’s with this same matter-of-fact attitude that Koel discusses her most recent film, Hero, released early this year. The movie, in which she shares screen space with Jeet, hasn’t really set off fireworks at the box-office, but Koel maintains that it isn’t quite the bomb everyone is making it out to be. “Hero hasn’t really failed. The producers are making up their money and it will yet turn in a profit. True, it’s not going to be a runaway hit, but then again, I can’t really expect every single film of mine to create a sensation,” she nods sagely.

She did create a sensation of sorts with her first film Nater Guru. Director Haranath Chakraborty remembers the first few days of shooting: “Of course, there were teething problems. Both Jeet and Koel were newcomers, so that initial awkwardness was only to be expected. Also, Koel couldn’t put out of her head the fact that she was veteran actor Ranjit Mullick’s daughter. I remember my screenwriter, Monatosh Chakraborty and I sitting down with her and explaining that she had to let go. On the sets she was no longer a Mullick but an artiste striving to get into the skin of a character. It is to her credit that Koel took everything we taught her and performed the way she did.”

Nater Guru, which also starred Ranjit Mullick was a major hit and the lead pair of Koel and Jeet has since then become a romantic regular. The two have done a good six to seven films together. Could audiences ever overdose on them' “I don’t think so,” says Koel. “After doing so many films together, we enjoy a great comfort level with each other and it shows on screen. I know how he’s going to react and respond in a scene and vice versa. You can’t deny that we share great chemistry onscreen,” she says.

But more than her co-star, what matters to Koel when it comes to signing a film is the character, the script and the director. “Being conscious of over-exposure, I’m rather picky when it comes to choosing a film. Now it just so happens that the ones I sign are those that have Jeet at the helm too,” she says.

This year though, Jeet apart, Koel is striking up a new romantic on-screen alliance with Anubhav, an actor who has been doing pretty well in Orissa thus far. While two to three films with him are in the offing, the very first is a Sujit Guha yet-untitled project, shooting for which has just started.

With so much going for her, there’s no telling where Koel could end up. While it’s true that others have walked down a similar path and disappeared from the spotlight all too quickly, with Koel’s good looks, unmistakable charm and, most importantly, her blossoming acting skills, we’re ready to bet the bank on her longevity.

As Chakraborty puts it, “Today Koel is at a good place in her career and I’m extremely proud that she started off her career with me. She is articulate, has a strong acting ability and star appeal.” Clearly industry insiders have worked it out. And we have too. From being the bubbly girl next door, from being the pampered daughter of a well-known Calcutta family, Miss Mullick is definitely going places ' and all on her own steam!

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