‘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

Friday - - Personality -

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

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