In an earlier interview you had said what attracted you to Shanghai the most was a chance to work with Dibakar Banerjee. Was the experience everything you had thought it would be?
It was much more… tortuous and difficult (laughs). But seriously, it was very rewarding and I am very proud to be a part of his most mature script ever. What I learnt the most from working with him was the attention to details. Every single thing — prop, expression or gesture — is so well thought out. Through the film my character is either shouting, crying or hitting someone. Dibakar would give me instructions like ‘I want one tear to roll down your left cheek when you say the third line’! Actors very often don’t pay attention to what their hands are doing. But Dibakar wanted me to hold, say a tea cup, in a certain way or stand with my hands on the hip.
Your look in the film is very interesting…
(Laughs) Interesting is a very sweet word to describe my look. Dibakar called my look vulnerable and awkward. He had seen me in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara where I was very glammed up and Dev D, where I was kind of sexy. He wanted me to be nothing like myself. I had to grow out my eyebrows and chop my hair really short. It was tough to live with that hairstyle. Every morning, I would wake up with my hair standing in all directions. It was very disconcerting to look in the mirror and not recognise myself. Also, people would stare at me because of the haircut so I would automatically start feeling vulnerable and awkward.
Had you read Vassilis Vassilikos’s Z or watched the French film based on the book?
No. I read the book while we were filming so it was very interesting to have the story unfold in two different mediums every day. I was completely blown away by Dibakar’s script. He has always made interesting films [Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Love Sex aur Dhokha] but he has always had an element that is heart-warming or funny. In that sense, Shanghai is a departure for him because it’s a very cold, serious and raw film.
Your character is an Indian girl of mixed parentage who looks like a foreigner, which sounds like you in real life.
Of course. Dibakar tells me that a big part for me playing this character was that he knew I grew up feeling like an outsider. Even though in my head I feel Indian, everyone looks and treats me like a foreigner. People always believe that I don’t understand what is going on around me. I, of course, have learnt to channel the feeling of being an outsider as a joke. But Shalini, my character in the film, just bottles up all the anger and resentment until she can’t contain it anymore and explodes.
What was it like working with Abhay Deol for the third time after Dev D and ZNMD?
Actually we have only one scene together because our stories are different. But it was fun to hang out with him on the sets. Abhay pretends to be all cool and shows that he doesn’t put in much effort before a shoot. That’s not true. He prepares a lot. I would keep making fun of his Tamil accent.
In an interview to t2, Prosenjit has said that you helped him a lot through this film...
Really? I am so flattered. Prosenjit is so humble. Shooting in Latur must have felt so alien to him. He is a superstar in Bengal and no one in Latur knew who he was. Everyone treated him like one of us and he seemed to enjoy that. He was so open to doing workshops and rehearsals. He would have his meals with us. Watching him in front of the camera, of course, was a treat. He is so powerful that it’s tough to take your eyes off him. In the film, my character is in awe of him and it wasn’t tough to ‘act’ that out.
From ZNMD to Shaitan, Shanghai and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the Ayan Mukerji film you are currently shooting, you have successfully straddled the worlds of commercial and off-beat films...
It is not a conscious effort. My standing instruction to my manager is not to tell me who the production house, director or co-stars are when they send me a script. So I judge a script purely on the basis of how I react to it. Obviously, I want all my films whether it is ZNMD, That Girl in Yellow Boots or Shanghai to work at the box office. I am just interested in doing work that pushes the boundaries of commercial cinema. I think someone like Zoya (Akhtar) has managed to tell interesting stories within the commercial framework. I think 2012 has been the year for small films. I have really enjoyed films like Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani and Vicky Donor.
You were in Cannes. What was the highlight of the trip?
Just the fact that I managed to go there was a highlight. I wasn’t supposed to go because I was busy shooting. So, I literally got my tickets at the last minute and went there for a day-and-a-half. It was madness but I am so glad I was there. There was a 10-minute standing ovation at the screening of Gangs of Wasseypur that I think was Anurag’s (Kashyap, Kalki’s husband and the director of Gangs of Wasseypur) proudest moment yet. It was great that I could be there to share that.
Did you meet any interesting people?
Not really. I just didn’t have the time. I did say a quick hello to Kirsten Dunst but she was surrounded by her entourage, so there was no chance of a conversation. I am very shy about approaching stars.
Both Anurag and you have been very busy with your individual movie projects. How have you been able to make time for each other?
We have to fight to make time for each other. We book appointments (laughs). But we are not complaining too much because it keeps the fun and the romance alive. When we meet, we are like teenagers in love. In the last couple of months, apart from the day-and-a-half at Cannes, we spent a day together in early May. He had flown down to Udaipur for our wedding anniversary, where I was shooting for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. He was there only for a day so we locked ourselves up in our room (laughs).
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