‘MY AIM IS TO MAKE GOOD CINEMA’
With yet another blockbuster, Sultan, in her kitty, Anushka Sharma is on a roll. She tells Shreeja Ravindranathan why being a producer is rewarding and how little awards matter
Stocky build, brute strength and Dwayne The Rock Johnson are images that come to mind at the mention of the term wrestler. The delicate beauty of lissom Anushka Sharma is an association as distant as Mars; an antithesis even. Yet, here I am, listening to the Bollywood actress’ spirited voice on the other end of the phone – miles away in Mumbai – animatedly describing the gruelling six-week training she underwent for her role as a female wrestler opposite Salman Khan in the sports drama Sultan where he plays the eponymous wrestler.
‘I told Ali [director Ali Abbas Zafar] not to use a body double even for wide shots because I wanted to do them myself,’ she chatters. ‘I’d learnt the sport well under professional wrestler Jagdish Kaliraman and worked hard on it, looking the part, building a lot of muscle and endurance and learning to speak Haryanvi for this film.’
It’s this almost combative willingness to charge ahead and face every challenge head on – from essaying complex characters to calling out sexism and wage gap in the maledominated film fraternity during a television interview and branching into production when the opportunity knocked on her door – that makes the 28-yearold a Bollywood heavyweight.
If the colossal success of her recent films like PK (the highest-grossing Hindi film of all time, raking in Rs9.9 billion or about Dh541 million) haven’t cemented Anushka’s place atop Bollywood’s pecking order, then the business-like voice of the PR person who answers my call with the friendly caveat of ‘no personal questions and 10 minutes only’ should. Anushka is hot property, and all in just eight years in Tinseltown.
For starters, besides Kareena Kapoor Khan and Katrina Kaif, Anushka is the only millennial actress to share screen space with all the three Khans – she debuted with Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), raked in the moolah and public adulation with Aamir Khan in PK, and completed the trifecta with this year’s most anticipated release, Sultan.
‘If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be working with these three people, I would have thought you mad,’ she quips.
You can’t blame her. It’s not often that a 19-year-old, born in Ayodhya and raised in Bengaluru, with no film connections, about two years of modelling experience and an arts degree from Mount Carmel College bags a dream launch in a big banner production like Yash Raj Films’ Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi where she played the demure Taani and won hearts instantly.
The enormity of the opportunities and the perks of being a Khan’s leading lady isn’t lost on the canny actress even today, as she basks in the success of Sultan. ‘I was very excited to work with Salman,’ she says. ‘He’s been wonderful to me and his spontaneity as an actor helped me so much. Plus, he’s a megastar with a huge, huge fan following and the way people love him, I mean, I can’t even understand that kind of love.
‘I’m glad that because of him my work will reach so many more people.’
Concealed behind her media-friendly mantle of maturity, there’s an inherent simplicity and frankness that break through as her feelings tumble out in fits and bursts during an awed explanation of how surreal the experience of working with her childhood idols is. The exuberance we saw in the chatterbox North Indian characters she essayed in films like Band Baaja Baaraat and Ladies vs Ricky Bahl is still resonant in her voice.
‘Sometimes, I look at them and remember myself as a 15-year-old who grew up watching their films,’ says Anushka. ‘I don’t know... I’m amazed... at the fact that I’m actually working with these guys who’ve stood the test of time for two decades. They teach me so much about work and life.’
And just as quickly the walls come back up as she guardedly validates her decision to act in Sultan as a sound professional choice and not a starry-eyed impulsive decision. ‘I was excited to play Aarfa and had a lot of respect for the story and the film,’ she says.
The stereotypes of the bubbly Punjabi girl and arm candy have been some she has consciously been shedding by playing eclectic and meaty characters, such as free-spirited dancer Farah in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, firebrand journalist Jaggu in PK, and vengeful wife Meera in last year’s
It’s not often that a 19-year-old with no FILM CONNECTIONS, two years of MODELLING experience and an arts degree BAGS a dream LAUNCH and goes on to STAR in huge hits opposite the three Khans