"Hindi films are where I see myself after this serial ends, which like all serials, must some day," grinned the actress who plays the mousy, though not mindless secretary, in the soap "Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin".
The identity of Jassi is a secret as she carries her brace-toothed, thickly bespectacled image even outside the idiot box, though she is widely speculated to be former model Mona Singh.
At the moment, she is contractually bound to the makers of the serial that tops television ratings, Sony TV, for one and a half more years during which she is barred from accepting new projects.
"There are offers but, one, I cannot accept them by contract and, two, I only want to take up something that is completely different from this role. Will my new roles be glamorous? I certainly hope so."
The serial, initially a huge gamble for Sony TV, has paid rich dividends, drawing audiences away from the phenomenally popular family weepies of rival Rupert Murdoch's Star TV.
"There was a need for a serial like Jassi, I think," reasoned the actress.
"TV soaps were either about the very glamorous or the domesticated wife - where was the space for a modern young woman, who might not be very cool per se but has lots of dreams and ideas."
Critics suggest when the serial ends, the actress would have lost prime acting years living the life of a character.
"I don't think so," said Jassi, "I think I would in some ways always be known as Jassi since not many people know who I am in real life. I would be accepted in whatever role I do well. The baggage of Jassi would end with the serial. Since no one knows who the actress is, there would be no association."
In many ways, though, Jassi has become her life. "I spend more time with my screen parents than my real parents, so a lot of times they are there for me just the way my real parents would be.
"Also, the character is a lot like me - from a middle class home, a little unsure, a little confused but with lots of dreams."
At the moment, her prime consideration is to push up ratings, which have fallen in recent weeks. "I would really like a writing push. That would be nice, otherwise it tends to slack a bit.
"Daily soap means there must be daily drama."
Do you think the curiosity "Fida" has generated is good for the film?
I'm not very sure. People went to see "Ishq Vishq" with no expectations. I hope they don't go the other way this time. I wish they wouldn't preempt the film. What's in the audiences' minds may not be what I've in mind.
This film has been very difficult to promote. It took us a while to log on to the catch-line about two love stories that don't have a perfect ending. Hats off to my producers Tips to pull it off! They knew exactly what to show and what to withhold. And they promoted the film for just two months rather than allowing it to go on and on.
I wasn't directly involved with the promos. Unlike "Ishq Vishq" where I had a lot of time, this time I was really rushed. We completed "Fida" in a record time. We completed the film in eight months. I prepared the first draft of the script on Aug 19, 2003. It's releasing Aug 20. The advantage of working till the last moment is I don't have the time to get nervous about the film's outcome.
Your two films seem very different.
Oh you can say that again! Fortunately, I didn't allow myself to be bogged down by so-called responsibilities of projecting Shahid well in his post-debut film, or ensuring that Shahid and Kareena looked good together. I just did what I had set out to. However I can't deny that the market reality has changed for me. During "Ishq Vishq", they were very charitable. Now I'm under a microscope. I'm sure all filmmakers have to go through that in their second film.
"Fida" looks a lot like Abbas-Mustan kind of cinema...
Yes, that's exactly what I wanted to do. After "Ishq Vishq", I wanted to make a film like Abbas-Mustan. I even got their writer Lalit Mahajan. I think I've made a film that I can smile about. The sound quality is what I'm really proud of. You must see the film once and then go back and just hear it.
Are you kidding?
No I'm serious. I feel the audience will find "Fida" to be different from the other releases of the season by virtue of the genre. Just like "Ishq Vishq" was a campus thriller after a long time, "Fida" will be a thriller after a long time.
What about "Murder"?
That was six months back. Please! "Fida" is not an erotic thriller like "Murder". It's a romantic thriller.
So what's Kareena doing with Fardeen in a bathtub
There's no eroticism in the film. The bath shows the comfort level between them. It's supposed to establish the rapport between them. They aren't giving hot-hot looks to each other. Fardeen and Kareena were actually in the tub for a long time... You can tell by the way their fingers are soused. They're very clean. So "Fida" is a very clean erotic thriller.
"Fida" looks quite erotic in comparison with "Ishq Vishq".
Does it? The one thing that I can tell you about "Fida" is it doesn't have any humour at all. There's not a single joke.
Isn't that dangerous?
Let's see. "Fida" is all about going into dangerous territories. "Ishq Vishq" was very character-driven. "Fida" is story-driven. It's very very fast paced and ends in under two hours, in spite of the songs. "Ishq Vishq" was designed as a musical.
Do songs have a place in thrillers? I don't know... In "Fida", I had to work on the songs. The audience expects to see songs and we had no problem accommodating the music. I think the audience would be sorely disappointed if we didn't have songs in a Shahid-Kareena-Fardeen film. My mission is to entertain. And entertainment doesn't stop when the songs come on.
Kareena seems to be cast as a femme fatale?
I'd have loved to play her role in "Fida". There're so many variations to her character. In the morning she was screaming, in the afternoon she was laughing and in the night she was singing. She, along with her co-stars, gave her best to the film. The fact that we shot in just 75 days kept their interests alive. When a film drags on, the stars lose interest.
Everyone wants to see what Kareena and Shahid look like together.
Let me clarify, we cast them together before their off screen relationship. I don't think audiences come to a film to see particular combinations of stars. They either like the promos and come in or they don't. At the end of the day, no one invests two to three hours of his life to a film just to see how two people look together. I think audiences would want to see what I've done with Shahid after "Ishq Vishq".
If Kareena is with Shahid, she's also with Fardeen. I think the trio look good in a package. But I'd say 60 percent of the audience would come on the basis of the promos. After seeing them I'd want to see "Fida".
Thank God. What about the suspense element?
It isn't the suspense but the journey to the end that will keep the audience enthralled. For example, in the promo, we see Shahid singing and then crying with a gun. What happened in the journey?
Has Shahid evolved?
100 percent! During the release of "Ishq Vishq", I had said Shahid was here to stay regardless of how the film fared. I'd say the same about "Fida".
How do you assess your journey from "Ishq Vishq" to "Fida"?
See, I made my first film after 18 years of ads. There's a lot of plots bottled up inside me. I've lots of cards close to my chest. In "Ishq Vishq", I showed one. That was me having fun. In "Fida", I show another card. That's me the technician. I'll start growing as a filmmaker after I've a body of work. Right now I'm showing what's inside me.