She went missing from Bollywood after her debut debacle with Mohenjo Daro, but Pooja Hegde has found a firm footing in the Telugu film industry where she’s bagged three projects with Jr NTR, Mahesh Babu and Prabhas as co-stars. Of these, Aravindha Sametha released on October 11 to favourable reviews. Cue for t2 to catch up with Pooja who’s now set to return to the Bolly screen with Housefull 4.
Classic and smart casuals. I’m very moody and it all depends on my mood. I’m either red-carpet ready or I look like a homeless person — that’s me.
Abu Jani, Anamika Khanna, Gaurav Gupta and Manish Malhotra.
Shorts, T-shirt and sneakers. The styling of Aravindha in Aravindha Sametha kind of reflects who I am as a person. It’s very me.
A current fashion trend you won’t be caught dead in…
The wiggly eyebrows trend. That ain’t happening!
A vintage fashion trend you wish makes a comeback…
Right now, I’m all about the vintage fashion trend. I’ve bought a bunch of ’70s-style sunglasses and wide-length pants. I love the retro vibe.
A celebrity whose wardrobe you want to steal…
Gigi Hadid’s. It has the coolest stuff ever.
Rings and sunglasses. I have around 35 pairs of sunglasses!
Most expensive fashion buy…
I keep pushing myself every year. I’d buy a shoe and think, “Did I just spend Rs 50,000 on a pair of shoes?” and then go ahead and buy a bag that’s a lot more expensive than the shoe. I shock myself every year. So far, my Gucci bag is the most expensive one. Oh, and my BMW car was expensive!
Favourite travel destinations…
London and Bali.
A travel destination that’s best for shopping…
London, hands down.
Memorable travel memory…
My first solo trip, in Istanbul. It was a beautiful city to explore. I have fond memories from that trip.
I do pilates and callisthenics on alternate days. I work out six days a week, 45 minutes to an hour daily.
Daily skincare routine…
I’m very lazy when it comes to this. I’m shooting every single day, so now I have started to apply a hydrating mask on my face to soothe my skin.
Pooja Hegde with Jr NTR in Aravindha Sametha (Agencies)
Your latest Telugu release Aravindha Sametha opposite Jr NTR is doing well. How does it feel?
It did really well and I’m over the moon! My birthday was on October 13 and it feels like a birthday gift to me. It has been great. People are sending me messages and loving my performance in the film. It’s the first time I have dubbed myself and lent my voice in Telugu. It’s not a language I’m really familiar with. I had so many lines and it took a lot of time and effort. Dubbing is a very important aspect of one’s performance. I didn’t want it to seem like I was struggling, so it took longer than usual.
Did you have a Telugu teacher for this?
Not really… between the assistant directors, the dubbing technicians and myself, we sort of managed. And we did it well, I’d say. What’s surprising is, people have even liked my voice. When you talk you don’t really think about your own voice but people have asked, “Who’s the dubbing artiste?” which I think is a very big compliment. The fact that people thought it’s a professional dubbing artiste!
You’re also shooting for two more films simultaneously — Maharshi with Mahesh Babu, and Telugu director Radha Krishna Kumar’s untitled Hindi-Tamil-Telugu project with Prabhas. How has it been working with two big stars of the south?
It’s been crazy and I’m blessed. Prabhas is a very humble and nice person. I’m just so new that I’m just sitting on set and absorbing and learning from all these people… be it Mahesh or Prabhas or Akshay Kumar. Mahesh should direct soon… I think he’ll be a very good director. His inputs are something I’m listening to and implementing.
In Hindi, you have Housefull 4, which is a big franchise.
It’s a very new genre for me. I haven’t done comedy. It’s a very funny script and you will get to see a side of me different from the one in Mohenjo Daro. A young, fun side of mine. It can’t go wrong because it’s a very successful franchise to be a part of.
How is it working with Akshay Kumar?
Akshay sir does comedy so well that just sitting there and watching him improvise is an experience. I’m a sponge and I’m absorbing as much film into my blood as I can.
And how is it shuttling from one place to another shooting for three-four big films simultaneously?
It’s crazy! I’ve not gone home in Mumbai in a long time. Sometimes I’ve had to do a 10- to 12-hour drive in order to finish a shoot.... But it’s amazing. This is how I always want my life to be. I love that I’m doing four films at a time, that I’m on four different sets and playing different characters. It’s good to be busy, especially when you’re enjoying a film. I really enjoyed playing Aravindha in Aravindha Sametha.
I think when you understand the girl you’re playing, it’s easier to draw inspiration from your life. I create a back story for her, it helps me get into the character more easily. I used to get into that headspace whenever I was on flights. That is also when I catch up on sleep. It’s like riding a cycle… once I’m on set and get into the outfit, I’m that character again. It’s like, “Yes, I know this girl. I got it.” (Laughs)
What made you shift to regional cinema after debuting in Bollywood?
Honestly, it’s the love that I’m getting from there. People want to see me. Some of the films they’re making are amazing… the scripts are so good. Why just stick to one industry when you can rule them all? I’ve always looked at myself as an Indian artiste, why stay confined to one particular language? I think the barriers are slowly going away. People are developing a liking for regional cinema. I want to rule all the industries and become a superstar in all of them.
Did you always want to be an actress while growing up?
Well, no. I didn’t even think this was an option. I come from a very academically-driven family. My brother’s a doctor, my mother has a master’s in law, my dad is a lawyer and has done his MBA. I don’t come from a filmi family. Yes, we used to go watch films but I never thought that I had that option. I was also a tomboy — I have short hair in all my childhood pictures, bushy thick eyebrows and braces. I never wore heels. I think the first time I wore heels was when I competed in the Miss India 2009 competition. I always wore sneakers. I was a very shy and quiet child in school.
But now that you’re an actress, how does your family react to it?
They love it. They’re very supportive and have always said, “Do whatever you want”. Whenever they used to ask me what I wanted to be, I never had an answer. I wanted to be many things and I couldn’t stick to just one thing. I kind of drifted and somehow landed up on a film set because of destiny. Then I knew, this is what I wanted to do. Miss India happened by accident, then I did a scooter advertisement with Ranbir Kapoor… Ashutosh Gowariker’s wife Sunita Gowariker saw me in that ad and asked me to come for the audition. That’s how I got Mohenjo Daro. It’s been a journey.
Who was your favourite actor while growing up?
I had the biggest crush on Hrithik Roshan! I remember Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai coming out and I went ‘Oh my God!’ I also remember going for the premiere of Koi... Mil Gaya and I was so upset that I couldn’t take a picture with Hrithik Roshan. I sometimes want to go back to that little, upset girl and tell her, “Don’t worry. One day you’ll have an entire movie with him.”
Was it very surreal when you acted opposite Hrithik in Mohenjo Daro?
No, actually it was very normal. I don’t know how to explain it but Hrithik is very chill. I was not star-struck. When I met him, my first thought was, “Oh, he looks exactly like how he looks on screen!”
Mohenjo Daro didn’t do well. Looking back, what do you feel?
Whether a film will do well or not is really not in my hands. Each film has its destiny. If it did well, it would’ve given me something more. For a debutante who’s not from the industry and doesn’t have any godfather… when your debut film doesn’t do well, it kind of sets you back a bit. But people appreciated me in the film and thought I had good screen presence. It’s in the past now and I’ve moved on. There’s lot more of me to come.
Have you made any close friends in the industry yet?
Not really. They’re all colleagues. My 4am friends are still my school friends. The friendships that you make in school are the best because then you don’t make friends for a particular reason.