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

Friday - - Celebrity -

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

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