Test of character

Test of character
I first met Anushka Sharma a month after the release of her debut film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in 2009. Between then and now, she has slowly and steadily risen up the star ladder, bagging coveted roles with celebrated directors and adored actors.

She has even turned producer, changed high profile boyfriends and continued to live life on her own terms. Another thing that has not changed is the speed with which she speaks!

After living in Bengaluru for several years, Anushka moved to Mumbai in 2007, and the following year landed a plum role opposite Shah Rukh Khan. From modelling to a dream Bollywood debut, only this was not Anushka’s dream. “It would be a dream debut if you dreamt about doing a film,” she said then.

The next time I interview Anushka is during a promotional trip for her latest release Bombay Velvet. We are in the meeting room of a five-star hotel in Goa. Along with her team that includes Ranbir Kapoor, Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap, Anushka too looks tired after a full day of press interactions and a long night of revelry. “It’s great fun,” she says, with a short, sweet smile.

String of hits

The actor is in one of the best phases of her career so far. With the big hit PK last year followed by her maiden production NH10, in which she also starred, and now the release of 1960s-set drama Bombay Velvet followed by Zoya Akhtar’s glossy cruise liner drama Dil Dhadakne Do, Anushka is “satisfied”. She says, “This is what I always wanted to do. When I started my career, I chose the best that came to me. Obviously, the options were not as many as they are now. But I was trying to make the most of it. I have not done as many films as people who came with me or even after me, perhaps. It’s taken me time to get to where I am. Now even if the promotions of two of my films are playing simultaneously, you know they are two different characters in two completely different films. That’s what gives me satisfaction and makes me feel good about myself.”

Since her debut seven years ago, Anushka played the immensely popular Shruti in Band Baaja Baaraat, Akira in Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Bijlee in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. You wonder where the 27-year-old finds the resources to play the characters she is portraying, whether Meera, an urban woman who finds inner strength to take on goons in NH10, or Jaggu, a young journalist who befriends an alien, or Rosie, a jazz singer enmeshed in the underbelly of Bombay culture.

“It comes from my empathy and sympathy for people and their weaknesses and an understanding that everyone is trying their best. It’s a simple thing, but a big thing,” she says, adding, “It’s possible and probable that I may not have experienced the sadness or whatever the characters I am playing are going through. For example, I hope that nobody has to do endure what Rosie goes through. Her teacher abuses her in childhood, which makes her mistrusting of men throughout her life, until she finds some kind of dignity from Johnny. That is quite different from who I am. I could have been judgmental about Rosie because I am someone who is straightforward. I am a free thinker, I do not like being curbed or put down.”

Things get personal

Among the things she values most, foremost are personal relationships and her career, but above and beyond even those is freedom. “Freedom is the most important thing. And in this age of social media and technology, the intrusion of freedom is annoying to me. I don’t enjoy a lot of attention. It makes me uncomfortable actually. While I am on social media, I do find it difficult to tweet too much. I find it difficult to talk about where I am, what I am doing. It’s usually to connect with people about my work or my feelings about something topical. Also, you can influence people and it helps you to put your message and your opinion out there in a direct way, with little room for misinterpretation. But, at the same time, I feel we are losing our sense of freedom and boundaries. People are on their phones all the time even when sitting together.”

Anushka has been at the receiving end of nasty and inelegant taunts and criticism on issues ranging from cosmetic enhancement, and owing to her relationship with cricketer Virat Kohli, to World Cup losses. “Because you are a public personality and you have to maintain a dignity, it does create conflict. Fortunately, we are very similar as people. Fortunately, what people think of me matters very little to me, and that is something that has happened over time. In this period, I have understood what people say is more to do with their own issues. It does not really have anything to do with me. Also, none of the things being said actually have any relevance. When I realised that, it only made me stronger,” she says.

When it comes to choosing scripts, Anushka considers both the script and the director. Not only does she read the scripts herself, but also relies on her brother, Karnesh. “Once we like a script, I look at my role and see if it excites me and whether is it something I have done before — like in Dil Dhadakne Do, where I may not have that kind of screen time but it’s a good film by a great director in which I am playing a character presented in a new way.”

Her intentions and ideology as a producer hinge on the word “different”, something unseen — whether an idea, a story or a concept. She says, “Like NH10, we did it against all odds. It was an A certificate film with a woman in a role like that. It had violence and was unconventional. But we didn’t compromise. And the fact that our conviction worked made us feel more confident. So we want to do films that might seem risky, but I think we have the ability to pull them off.”

After Bombay Velvet, Anushka dives straight into promotions for Dil Dhadakne Do and while a vacation would be nice, she has not decided where she might want to go. “There are so many places to see in the world. I like exploring new places. I could continue to do that for years,” she says. For now, though, she’s content discovering new characters and enjoying the hard-earned freedom to select scripts and roles.

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