‘I’M NO GOODY two-shoes’
Bollywood star Prachi Desai wants to step out of the shadow of her TV character and shock her fans by playing an evil role, discovers Shreeja Raveendranathan
This is the moment everyone has been waiting half an hour for. Finally the curtains open and the bride steps out. Dressed in a spectacular deep green velvet top matched with a peach lehenga – an ornate skirt – laden with intricate embroidery, and sporting a pink shawl, Bollywood actress Prachi Desai smiles.
“Wow, she looks absolutely divine,” says a woman at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai ballroom, capturing the star on her smartphone. “It’s the kind of dress I would really like my daughter to have for her wedding.”
But Prachi, 25, is not a bride, at least not right now. The young star is modelling the designs created by her best friend, Neeta Lulla, designer to top Bollywood stars including Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, at the Bridal Mantra 2014.
“I absolutely love what I’m wearing today,” says Prachi after coming off the runway. “It’s a really different, yet traditional outfit and unlike regular Indian bridal wear, it’s what Neeta and I wanted – the dress should stand out
but the bride, the person wearing it, shouldn’t be lost.”
When Prachi is not busy with movies or being the face of beauty products such as Neutrogena in India, she relishes the role of show stopper for Neeta.
“I think her creations are really ethereal, and they make you feel special – like a princess! And that’s what every girl’s dream is, right? To look and feel like a princess on her wedding day.”
Weddings are events that are close to this beautiful actor’s heart – on the big screen at least.
“Oh, I’ve done the bride thing in movies several times,” she says.
“With movies what happens is that there are schedules; there’s the dress that’s pre-decided and there are multiple takes to do. By the end of it all you’re just tired and feel the least ‘bridelike’. All I can think of is going home and sleeping. But with this I had so much involvement choosing what kind of a look I’d like. And here I am.”
Prachi became a household name in India thanks to her lead role in the hugely popular Kasamh Se, a family drama that aired on television from 2006 to 2009.
The show enjoyed top ratings for more than two years when Prachi was playing the lead role and she became incredibly popular. What makes her achievement stand out from others of her ilk is the fact that she has few godfathers in TV or film, a factor so crucial in the success of many a star son and daughter in Bollywood today.
“Whatever I’ve done in TV is very special to me,” she says. “In the industry, everything works for you by luck. I think it is tougher for us outsiders as it is with great difficulty that we get any chances and opportunities.’’
Born in Surat, Gujarat, Prachi went to school in Panchgani, a small hill station in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.
“Even as a student, I used to win several prizes for acting and dance,” she smiles. “In fact, contemporary dance is my passion and I’ve been practising it since I was in school.”
So it was no surprise when she danced away with the crown in Jhalak
Dikhhla Jaa 2 – the reality dance show – in 2007. Prachi and her choreographer, Deepak, won the trophy and cash prize of Rs5 million (Dh296,000) in a nailbiting contest, beating finalists Sandhya Mridul and Jay Bhanushali.
“That was a huge achievement and I did get noticed,” says Prachi. Realising that there was a career to be made in entertainment, Prachi, who was also keen on acting and eager to get a foothold in the entertainment industry, dashed off her profile pictures to Ekta Kapoor, head of Balaji Productions, an extremely powerful name in India’s entertainment industry.
Ekta, who has produced several popular soaps including Hum Paanch and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, recognised potential in the then 19-year-old and cast her in Kasamh Se. Her character, Bani, was so powerful and mesmerising that Prachi went on to win several awards for best TV actress including the Indian Telly Award and the Sansui Television award.
From television it was but a short step to the big screen and two years later, at the age of 21, Prachi won a role in Rock On!! alongside celebrated actor and director Farhan Akhtar (of Bhaag Milkha
Bhaag fame). The movie went on to gain cult status and won several awards for the male cast and a best female debut nomination for the Filmfare awards for Prachi.
While Rock On!! thrust Prachi into the limelight, it also earned her the dubious label of “one-film wonder” – because the next movie she did was the extremely forgettable Life Partner, which bombed at the box office.
“I suddenly realised that I didn’t have anybody to promote me,” she says. “I had to not only ensure that I had enough work to keep me busy but that work was meaningful and worthwhile and it was giving me an opportunity to showcase my talent.”
It was a worrying time when critics were scoffing at her decision to risk her successful career on television for one in movies that was uncertain and riddled with obstacles.
Fortunately for Prachi, she managed to shake off the label with two very different but extremely successful films – Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai opposite Ajay Devgan and Bol Bachchan starring Abhishek Bachchan.
The former is a dramatised biopic of an underworld don and Prachi played the role of a gangster’s girl with conviction, compelling critics to finally sit up and take notice of her talent. Almost on the heels of this came Bol
Bachchan, an out-and-out commercial blockbuster that got her entry into the extremely niche ‘100 crore (1 billion) club’. Prachi played the role of the hero’s
playful sister. “Bol Bachchan came to me at a time when I was in much need of that kind of commercial success, which not only gave my popularity a much required boost, but my self-confidence as well,” says Prachi. “So it is a very special film for me.
“I know I am capable of doing better and I deserve better but I have no sense of remorse because I take pride in what I’ve managed to achieve in the little time that I’ve been in the industry.”
The industry Prachi is referring to is Bollywood. And she is trying hard to steer away from the long shadow that her stint in television is casting on how she is perceived there – as Miss Goody Two-Shoes – and the kind of roles that she’s offered.
“I dislike being stereotyped into roles that are nothing but an extension of my image on TV – a good girl who went on to be a good wife. So all I’m trying to do now is opt for roles that project me as the kind of person I am in real life – free-spirited and strong willed.” This also explains why she accepted
I, Me Aur Main (I, me and mine) opposite established actors John Abraham and Chitrangada Singh.
“This was one role that was completely effortless as the character that I played was closest to the kind of person I am in real life – bohemian in many ways and one who likes to spread joy,” says Prachi. However, the movie did not do as expected at the box office.
Does this pursuit to portray strongwilled women on screen mean that her fans will never see her in typical potboilers where female leads are little more than arm candy for the male lead?
“Oh, I love such films. In fact I feel it is quite a relief to do such films,” she says. “It is all hassle-free. You just go there, relax, sit, enjoy, say a few lines, do dance numbers and look good. It is a fabulous thing to do.”
Prachi, who is a picture of poise and elegance, says the price of fame and success has affected her. “I am not myself anymore; I am so conscious about everything,” she says. “I have to do things in a certain way because all eyes are on me.”
So, how far does she think Bollywood has been an influence on opulent, extravagant wedding attire and expensive bridal trousseaus?
“Oh, so much,” she says. “Think of all our popular songs, if not a heroine’s wedding then you’ll have to see the heroine’s best friend’s wedding because every heroine has to dance at a wedding. The wedding ceremonies are so popular because both in Bollywood and real life people enjoy it so much.
“Movies have a big influence, which is a good thing as they experiment with the wedding looks. You don’t see typically red outfits or red sarees anymore. You see so much more happening and that’s really exciting.”
And what is her dream wedding dress going to be? “Trust me, I want to do 30 more such dress-ups like this before I actually get married,” she laughs. “It was so much fun. I just think that we’re really lucky that we get to do this – walk the ramp, dress up in movies – because you get to make it special for yourself so many times, not just once!
“You never know, probably my wedding day will end up being the most simple thing ever but right now I’m just having fun. I’ve always imagined myself on my wedding day wearing white! I don’t know why, but I love white and because as Indians you just can’t wear plain white for your wedding I think it will be white and gold. Very light but extremely attractive. That’s how I imagine my outfit.”
While Prachi is clear about her marriage attire, her on-screen outfits have often raised eyebrows for being revealing but the star brushes this off, saying it’s all part of showbiz.
“I would think something is bad only if my conscience doesn’t approve of it,” she says.
Prachi, a regular visitor to Dubai to promote her films as well as to holiday, says she is amazed with what the city has to offer. “It’s an amazing city and has everything you can want. The best thing about Dubai, I feel, is its people – they’re so warm and loving and always really nice. There are so many Indians here it almost feels like a second home.”
So is there a role she is waiting to do? “I’d love to play a totally evil, negative character,” she says.
“Why? Because everyone needs to reinvent themselves and shock the audience a bit every now and then.”
Prachi models a stuning Neeta Lulla creation in Dubai, feeling like a princess
Sisters in style: Hazel Keech, Chitrangada and Prachi at Lakme FashionWeek
I, Me Aur Mein With Chitrangada Singh and John Abraham was effortless, says Prachi
Prachi says I, Me Aur Main felt close to her real-life character, which is bohemian
With Abhihek Bachchan in Bol Bachchan, which was a very special film for Prachi