The Big Story

Bol­ly­wood star Jac­que­line Fer­nan­dez on what it takes to make it big.

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

A t 5.30pm on a cool De­cem­ber day, barely a few peo­ple were milling around the en­trance of the brand new four-storey Meena Jew­ellers’ store in Deira Gold Souq in Dubai. A few paused to peer inside, cu­ri­ous to know why a red car­pet had been laid out­side and glit­ter­ing strobe lights and flashy red, green and blue spot­lights had been set up to light up the store’s fa­cade.

Fif­teen min­utes later, a small crowd be­gan de­vel­op­ing out­side the store. “It seems Bol­ly­wood star Jac­que­line Fer­nan­dez is ar­riv­ing in a few min­utes,” said Javed Khan, a 30-some­thing Pak­istani gen­tle­man who, with his wife, was shop­ping in the area. “We saw her in Kick, with Sal­man. Hope we’ll be able to see her in real life now.”

As min­utes ticked by, the store and its bright lights be­gan at­tract­ing more and more peo­ple and by 6pm, the road lead­ing into the Gold Souq was packed with ea­ger fans.

Traf­fic had vir­tu­ally come to a stand­still in the area. “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it in time. I’m stuck in traf­fic lead­ing to the Gold Souq,” said our pho­tog­ra­pher Den­nis Mal­lari over the phone.

From the van­tage point on the fourth floor of the store, a long line of cars and trucks could be seen snaking all the way from the en­trance to the souq right up to the store front. The traf­fic could barely inch its way through crowds that had now spilled on to the nar­row sin­gle lane road.

The sched­uled time of 6pm passed, the star hadn’t ap­peared, yet the crowd con­tin­ued to swell. At 7.30pm there was still no sight of the star. “Re­ally sorry,” apol­o­gised the PR per­son. “She’s go­ing to be here any mo­ment. Ap­par­ently her limo is strug­gling to make it through the traf­fic.” Fi­nally, at 8.10pm, a white stretch li­mou­sine ap­peared at the bend of the road, trig­ger­ing a loud “yaay” from the crowd. Tak­ing around 10 min­utes to make its way through the crowds, the car was mobbed the mo­ment it pulled up out­side the store.

Step­ping out of the car, Jac­que­line, dressed in a black short skirt, a deep pur­ple blouse and a smart black jacket, waved out to the crowds as hun­dreds of mo­bile phones flick­ered.

Flash­ing a toothy smile to her fans, she posed for a few pic­tures out­side be­fore a bunch of heav­ily bi­ceped men chap­er­oned her into the store. As quickly as it con­gre­gated, the crowd be­gan melt­ing away into the night.

After the cus­tom­ary cut­ting of the red rib­bon, Jac­que­line was all smiles as she walked around the store ad­mir­ing the jew­ellery. “It’s great to be here, in Dubai, the city of gold,” she grinned, her di­a­mond neck­lace catch­ing the store’s bright lights.

The 29-year-old star is clearly rid­ing high in Bol­ly­wood. Her last two Hindi movies – Race 2 with John Abra­ham and Saif Ali Khan, and the most re­cent, Kick, which has Sal­man Khan in the lead – were phe­nom­e­nal top grossers.

“Yes, 2014 has been a great year,” ad­mits the 1.7m tall Sri Lankan beauty who was crowned Miss Sri Lanka Uni­verse in 2006, set­tling down for the

‘Flash­ing a toothy smile she posed for pic­tures be­fore a bunch of bi­ceped men es­corted her inside’

in­ter­view. “I’ve been quite busy... which is a great thing. I’m en­joy­ing ev­ery minute of my life.”

Act­ing in films was “truly one of my wildest fan­tasies,” says Jac­que­line, who was born and raised in Sri Lanka and later in Bahrain where her fam­ily – par­ents, a sis­ter and two brothers – are still based.

She ad­mits she never ex­pected that one day she would be act­ing with “some of the top stars in Bol­ly­wood.

“I deeply de­sired it but felt it would only re­main a dream. It goes to show that the uni­verse al­ways con­spires to give you what your heart re­ally wants,” she says.

Her mother, Kim, a home­maker, per­haps guessed her daugh­ter was des­tined for star­dom “be­cause it was she who named me after Jac­que­line Onas­sis Kennedy,” says the star.

A grad­u­ate in mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion from Syd­ney Univer­sity, Aus­tralia, Jac­que­line be­gan her ca­reer as a tele­vi­sion news re­porter in Sri Lanka in 2005, be­fore she was spot­ted by an ad­ver­tis­ing agency in the cap­i­tal Colombo and of­fered a mod­el­ling as­sign­ment.

The next year, she was crowned Miss Sri Lanka Uni­verse, get­ting a chance to rep­re­sent the is­land na­tion at the Miss Uni­verse pageant in Los An­ge­les.

“It all hap­pened so quickly that I felt I was liv­ing a fairy-tale life,” says Jac­que­line. Although she re­turned from LA empty handed, a few pleas­ant sur­prises were in store for her in Sri Lanka: in 2007, she ap­peared in a com­mer­cial mu­sic video for the popular lo­cal band Bathiya and San­thush.

More mod­el­ling as­sign­ments came her way, be­fore she was spot­ted in 2009 by a tal­ent hunter while shoot­ing a com­mer­cial in Mumbai, In­dia. She au­di­tioned and although she did not know the lan­guage – Hindi – she landed a dream Bol­ly­wood de­but role – in Aladin – with none other than the big­gest star in In­dia’s tinsel town – Amitabh Bachchan. “I think I was just so lucky to get the role. I got it within a month of land­ing in Mumbai.

“To share a frame with a legend like Amitabh Bachchan was more than I could have ever asked for,” she says.

Although the movie bombed at the box of­fice and Jac­que­line’s act­ing was panned by crit­ics, her good looks got her sev­eral col­umn cen­time­tres in tabloids and film jour­nals.

The next year, 2010, wasn’t too dif­fer­ent. She landed for­get­table roles in for­get­table movies – as an alien in search of love in Riteish Desh­mukh’s rom­com Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai (I don’t know where she’s come from) and a cameo in Sa­jid Khan’s House­full 2.

“It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult when your films don’t do well,” says the star. “Ev­ery­thing kind of changes that week­end. And it be­comes dif­fi­cult when you start get­ting bad reviews, bad press. I guess those were some of the low points of my ca­reer.” So does crit­i­cism af­fect her? “It af­fects any­one. But I guess you get used to it and learn how to take it in your stride.” Then she flashes a smile: “In some ways crit­i­cism can help you. It helps you to stay grounded. As ac­tors, I feel it is im­por­tant for us to be able to take crit­i­cism and move on in life.” And move on she did. Star­ring in

Race 2 in 2013 and shar­ing screen space with a multi-star cast of Saif Ali Khan, John Abra­ham, Anil Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Amisha Pa­tel, Jac­que­line man­aged to hold her own. Although crit­ics panned the movie, Race 2 was a box-of­fice hit and Jac­que­line man­aged to gain a toe­hold on the slip­pery lad­der of Bol­ly­wood suc­cess.

“But it was Kick that truly changed my life,” says the star. Play­ing Shaina, a be­spec­ta­cled stu­dent of psy­chi­a­try, Jac­que­line pit­ted her tal­ents op­po­site Sal­man Khan in the movie that went on to break box-of­fice records.

On its open­ing day, the movie raked in over Rs260 mil­lion (Dh15 mil­lion), mak­ing it the sec­ond-high­est non­hol­i­day open­ing grosser be­hind Aamir Khan’s Dhoom 3. “It was the best thing that could have hap­pened in my life and ca­reer,” says the leggy ac­tor.

Although Sal­man car­ried the movie through on his broad shoul­ders, Jac­que­line earned plau­dits for be­ing able to match him on screen. “Be­ing with Sal­man was just amaz­ing. He’s a dream to work with. And the movie did phe­nom­e­nally well, so we’re all happy,” she smiles. “I’d al­ways dreamed of act­ing with Sal­man and then to bag the role op­po­site him was just un­be­liev­able.”

She still re­mem­bers the first day’s shoot: “I was ner­vous and scared, to be hon­est. The mo­ment he walked on to the set, the en­tire en­ergy there changed. There was a cer­tain pos­i­tive buzz around him.

“He is so calm and help­ful dur­ing the shoot… it was a plea­sure work­ing with him. I have to thank my lucky stars to have had this star in my life.”

The pretty ac­tor soon had more rea­sons to be happy. Im­me­di­ately after

Kick hit the screens, Sal­man tweeted

‘I’d al­ways dreamed of act­ing with Sal­man... To bag a role op­po­site him was just un­be­liev­able’

Jac­que­line won plau­dits in Kick along­side Sal­man Khan

Jac­que­line per­formed dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional In­dian Film Academy awards show in Ma­cau

Jac­que­line was crowned Miss Sri Lanka Uni­verse in 2006

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