You're pitched against Madhubala's 'naach' (dancing) in "Mughal-e-Azam".
And how wonderful is that! I don't think mine and Madhubala's dances are so dissimilar. Both have spirit and soul. They're aesthetically different. But they both have passion and emotion. The intention behind "Naach" is pure.
Why so less work?
I can't do more than one film at a time. It completely occupies my heart and soul. I can't do things I'm not comfortable with. I'm really bad at that. I'd rather be conscious of my weaknesses than my strengths. I may have done just a handful of films so far. But people remember all of them.
"Naach" isn't just an ordinary film about dance and dancing. Every art form is born out of a thought. Then that thought is developed into an individual's expression of art. That's what my dancing does in "Naach". You can't specify my movements. I wanted to attempt my own vocabulary in modern dance.
You apparently trained for six months for the role?
I consider my whole career to be a training ground. I was already a trained dancer. In "Main Madhuri Dixit Ban-na Chahti Hoon" I did all the filmy dancing possible. Now in "Naach" I wanted to create an entirely unique dance idiom.
If my dancing didn't justify my character's philosophy in life it would end up looking fake. I began training without music. What I wanted to do was to get my character Rewa's emotions into dance form without the help of music. In fact two of the dance items were performed first. The music was put in later.
I created my own rhythms through the sounds in my head. While doing so, I realized every movement gave birth to a new emotion. I worked more with dancers than choreographers because dancers go with the mood of a dance while choreographers are more bothered with the aesthetics.
I don't think such a thing has been attempted before.
Uhhhh! not in India. The dances in "Naach" live up to international standards. Even the tap dancing... you know I learnt tap dancing for almost seven years. It was almost as though I had been training for this role all my life.
It's just a coincidence that Rewa expresses herself through dance. She could be a carpenter and would be just as passionate in her expression. She's an idealist, though that's a word which is largely misused nowadays. She believes in what she does. All her expressions are through dance.
We've earlier had films where the actress expresses herself through dance.
I've seen V. Shantaram's "Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje" But I used no references. I created my own idiom. In one song I've combined tap dancing with ghungroos. It's so novel. We need to take dancing back to its roots. Dance isn't about titillation, or wanting to be sexy. A dance discipline can express just about any emotion - I'm getting goose bumps just talking about it. After "Naach" I think I've become a better dancer and human being.
Abhishek Bachchan says you're the finest actor he has worked with.
I don't know if I am the finest. But I'm really committed. And I really identified with Rewa. I don't break into jigs in the middle of the road like Rewa. But I do dance in my home. Rewa is my thought. My dance movements manifest her thought processes.
"Naach" is my only film right now. I've given 100 percent of myself. So it's like a do-or-die situation. I don't have ten more films to back on.
And suppose you fail?
When you're trying to do something different, failure is a proximate possibility. Maybe my films didn't generate hysteria. But they've built up my credibility as an actress. After all my hard work I can't deny I'm disappointed when my films don't work. But then I move on... try something different. If "Naach" does well, it will change the way the industry looks at dancing.
Would you get opportunities like "Main Madhuri" and "Naach" if it wasn't for the support of Ram Gopal Varma's production house?
Absolutely not! Varma Corporation and I share the same philosophy. The worker and his work are inseparable. If it wasn't for a likeminded producer where would I go?
It's such a relief to be able to do the work I want to do. And they've given me that privilege. Other actors seek other kinds of privileges. This is what I wanted. To be able to enjoy the work I do. It worked for both of us.
But aren't you isolated from other banners?
But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. My intention wasn't to be restricted to Varma Corporation. My intention was to do good work. Now I see a pattern has formed in my working style. But working for this banner isn't a raw deal at all.
I've just done one outside film "Khiladi 420". And I don't disregard it. I did it after my first release "Mast" to get away from my girl-next-door image. I didn't want it. For a new young girl to break the effort to stereotype her wasn't easy. But "Khiladi 420" wasn't the right idiom for me. Right after I got "Company". I won't insult the rest of the banners. But Varma Corporation allows you to do the work you believe in.
Are you getting roles outside Varma Corporation?
Yes. But nothing to titillate my senses. I've a film "Gulaal" with Anurag Kashyap. That apart there were no roles to bite into. The preparation for "Naach" was immense. So I had no time for other roles.
How important is the comfort level with your co-star?
Not important at all. There's nothing like off-screen chemistry between me and my co-stars. Whether it was Vivek, Rajpal Yadav or Abhishek, we weren't friends outside the sets. We never interacted outside shooting. But on the sets...boom!
There was phenomenal chemistry... Even with Rajpal Yadav in "Main Madhuri", though the chemistry here wasn't sexual. But with Vivek in "Company" there was a distinctly sexual chemistry. Again with Abhishek there's a tangible chemistry. "Naach" wouldn't work without that. But let me add, the film isn't erotic as people perceive it.
Are you a major film buff?
I wasn't as a child. I was in boarding school... no films. I discovered films in class eight. After that.... oh my God! I loved Rekhaji in "Umrao Jaan". And I loved Smita Patilji. Even if she stood quietly in a frame you couldn't take your eyes off her.
I love the middle-of-the-road actors Sanjeev Kumar, Amol Palekar, Farouq Shaikh. Among recent films I liked "Murder" and "Dhoom" very much. I'd love to work with Anurag Basu and Sanjay Gadhvi. I loved John Abraham and Uday Chopra in "Dhoom". I'd want to be in an action film like "Dhoom".
Why is there such a wall around you?
When I'm doing a film, that role becomes the essence of my life. Everything else is an interference and a distraction. Even a friend calling to say hi is a nuisance when I'm shooting. I've so many ideas running in my head. No point in wasting time in idle chatter. I'm a disaster in frivolous situations. But I think I need to learn to have fun. I'm after all, young.
How do you react to all the rumours about you and Mr. Varma?
(laughs) I enjoy the rumours. Writing that Antara Mali is a good person is boring. That she's in a spicy situation is news. When there's a relationship between two persons only they know the truth. You know the nature of your relationship with the other person. What others say doesn't matter. The media has to have something to talk about.
And as long as you're in the limelight the press will talk about you. As long as I'm not caught saying anything ugly I don't care what they write. But I'd be lying if I said it doesn't affect me. But it's only for a while, and then the hurt is gone.
What about a personal life?
I've made my choice. It's a little difficult for me to focus on my career and yet have friends. I want to give all my energy to my work. I don't go to parties. I'm connected to my audience only through my work. I'm condemned for being hostile. But I respect all my colleagues.
I don't like to be glued to the phone or spend all night at parties. At the end of the day I barely have the energy to hold up my plate of food. After "Naach" I may disappear for one whole year. Who knows?