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    I won't think of myself as a misfit: Nandana Sen

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Thursday, March 10, 2005
    When she came to Mumbai, she wanted to work with Mani Ratnam, Ram Gopal Varma and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. And Nandana Sen, who is also Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen''s daughter, has already worked with two and that''s without trying, she says modestly.

    The girl who made her presence felt with a cameo as Rani Mukherjee''s "normal" sister in "Black" is treading new ground for a girl from a family of acclaimed intellectuals. If her father is the globally renowned Amartya Sen, her mother Nabanita Dev Sen is a professor and a Padma Shri winner, Nandana says proudly.

    Besides Sanjay Bhansali''s critically acclaimed "Black", Nandana also has Ram Gopal Varma''s "My Wife''s Murder". That leaves only Mani Ratnam in her wish list, says the actress.

    "I''m extremely shy. (Though) I know I''m in a business where I can''t afford to be shy," says the young, pretty Nandana, who has travelled the world over, but feels her heart has found base in Mumbai.

    In this interview with IANS, Nabanita speaks at length about friends, fears, family, Bollywood and ''Bengali-isms''.

    Excerpts from the interview:

    How has "Black" changed your life?

    People ask me why I did a supporting role. I'm baffled by the question. I'm so happy I did "Black". So many people have connected with my character. It's such an emotional experience!

    I'm just thankful to be part of such an exceptional film. And "Black" is my first full-fledged mainstream film in Mumbai.

    Earlier, I hadn't really made a permanent move to this city. I kept working out of Italy, the US and Canada, quite a bit of theatre in New York. I came to Mumbai to do a play called "30 Days In September".

    Are you a misfit in Bollywood?

    It doesn't really matter where I come from. What matters is how I connect with audiences.

    I'm not from a film family, not from Mumbai, didn't know anyone here. I didn't know how to go about making a career in Bollywood. But I was determined to do what came naturally to me.

    You know I did a whole bunch of ads as I waited for my career to take off in Bollywood. Doing those ads allowed me the financial freedom to say no to films that didn't enthuse me.

    Was it also to stay visible?

    There're various ways of doing films in this country. Many actors think that unless there's a genuine reason to say no to an offer, you must do it. I go the other way.

    I say yes only when there's a really good reason to do it. My first few films had to be the kind that would get noticed. That limits my work. Still, I won't think of myself as a misfit. I've lived and fitted in all over the world.

    Was "Black" chosen as your launching pad in Bollywood?

    No, actually I first signed Ram Gopal Varma's "My Wife's Murder". They had seen and liked me in a wacky ad. It was a great role.

    And let's not even go into Goutam Ghose's "Gudiya" which I did years back when I was in Kolkata from Boston for my summer holidays. I never saw it as my proper debut.

    I went back to the US and did "Seducing Maria". It got me lots of notice abroad, though not in India.

    How did you connect with Ram Gopal Varma?

    When I came to Mumbai I was sure there were three directors I wanted to work with: Mani Ratnam, Ram Gopal Varma and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I've already worked with two of them. That's without really trying.

    I'm extremely shy. (Though) I know I'm in a business where I can't afford to be shy. My shyness can be misconstrued for arrogance. I couldn't let it be known what I wanted to do with my career.

    How did "Black" happen?

    I was called to audition - and that was it. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is unquestionably sheer brilliance. He's such a visionary. What makes him such a great director is that he knows how to get the best out of all his actors.

    At the same time, he puts a lot of trust in them and lets them interpret characters in their own way.

    I haven't had too much experience. I did a lot of research to play my role of jealous sister. I discovered that in a family with a disabled child, the other children are neglected and emotionally bereft.

    Personally, I share a very comfortable relationship with my own sister. I'm very close to her. But I could understand my character's emotional anxieties as a sibling. Every 16-year-old goes through the feeling of being a misfit.

    So when will you do a full masala film?

    Mani Shankar's "Tango Charlie" is a full-on masala film. I'm Ajay Devgan's love interest and I have a love song. I wish I had a dance number though. I love to dance. But the film is about the guys.

    Besides "Black" and "Tango Charlie", I did two US films last year. One is called "Over The Mountain" directed by Joseph Castelo where I play an American of Islamic origins drawn to her Muslim roots, but horrified by the fanaticism. The film is very topical and set post 9/11.

    The other film is "It's A Match". This one is set in an Indian community in the suburbs of Los Angeles and is directed by Ajmal Ahmed. All my roles are extremely different from one another.

    The roles you get abroad are of Asian characters?

    Not necessarily. I'm asked to play Asian, Middle Eastern, Brazilian and Italian characters.

    Right now, I'm focussed on my career in Mumbai. I love Mumbai and its seaside feeling. I've decided to stay put in Mumbai. I wanted to come back home to work since I had spent so much of my growing years outside. I worked in the US and missed out on the best projects in India.

    Does it get lonely in Mumbai?

    Am I lonely? Not really. I love being on my own. I've excellent friends. My name means "the one who brings joy". But my friends think that's an anomaly. I tease them all the time.

    Were you comfortable working with Rani Mukherjee?

    Absolutely. Rani was very warm and friendly. She's an amazing actress. I learnt a lot from working with her and Sanjay.

    In fact, it was a whole gang of Bengalis on the sets. Rani's mom would cook for us frequently. Besides, there was costume designer Sabyasachi. Bachchan is practically half Bengali and Sanjay Bhansali is very clued into the Bengali culture.

    So how Bengali are you?

    As Bengali as it gets! Seriously, I never know what I am! I've travelled since my childhood. So I do have a global perspective. But I still am very Bengali. I spent my adolescent years in Santiniketan singing Rabindra Sangeet, reciting Tagore and learning Manipuri dance.

    What does your father Amartya Sen think of your Bollywood aspirations?

    Both my parents are celebrities in their own right. If my dad is a Nobel laureate, my mom is a professor, a writer and a Padma Shri winner. So, I'm not new to attention.

    My time is divided among India, Britain and the US. This Christmas all of us collected together in Santiniketan with my grandmother.

    Then recently, my mother was in Hyderabad for a conference, while I was dubbing for "Tango Charlie". Now, I'm off to New York for another commitment. So we keep running into each other.
    Like the bird she is named after, does Koel Purie talk!

    Chirpy, sharp and in her own words, "bindaas", Koel is a new kind of experience for Hindi cinema. Not quite a square in a circle, but still individualistic enough to stand out among the Rais and Sherawats, Koel gives a riveting performance as a burnt-out TV writer in Vinta Nanda's "White Noise".

    Her effervescence, and even her intonation, echoes Preity Zinta.

    "Really?" Koel cooed delightedly during an interview. "I've met her. Liked her immensely. I love Tabu too. If she hadn't let go of 'White Noise', I wouldn't have been in it.
    "I want to send Tabu a bouquet of roses for giving me such a career-making role so early in my life.

    "It's a complex character. But when I was offered the role, my first reaction was, 'God! This sounds so easy!' The dialogues seemed to be the way I speak and the characters were people I knew.

    "When Tabu walked out of 'White Noise', Vinta Nanda was looking at every possible actress. Soni Razdan who's directing me in 'Nazar' recommended my name to Vinta, who's her best friend. Soni had seen me in a play in London, and thought I was a really good actress.

    "When I read the script, it seemed so close to home! Like Gauri, I was going through an emotional crisis when I played her. That helped."
    Koel feels lucky to have done "White Noise" so early in her career.

    "When Vinta saw me, she intuitively felt I was right for the part. Maybe she felt my inner tumoil at that time. When I was playing the role of Gauri, I was undergoing my own trauma. That should've made the role tougher. Instead every day of shooting was a process of cleansing and therapeutic. I used my character to exercise myself of my demons.

    "If I hadn't let it all out, I'd have slumped as a person. Is it amazingly lucky for an actor."

    After "Everybody Says I'm Fine" and "White Noise", the unusual seems to be the usual for Koel.
    "I think it does. And it doesn't seem unusual to me. By playing such characters I feel I'm just doing what comes naturally to me. It's only when people point it out to me that I realize how rare such characters are to Hindi cinema."

    "I play wounded characters in both 'Everybody Says I'm Fine' and 'White Noise', though I'm far more mature in 'White Noise'. I play a much older person than I am."

    Koel was also seen in the British film "Dirty War", a HBO production.

    "It was a very controversial subject about terrorism in England. I played a Muslim FBI agent....But it isn't as if I HAVE to play a color-specific character. In the TV serial 'Holy City', I played a generic character."
    Right now, Koel is focusing on mainstream Indian commercial cinema.

    Would she be able to pull off the running around trees?

    "I may not. But at least I've to try. I never want to take the easy way out. Besides, I think this is a great time to be in Indian cinema. There's so much going on.

    "Look at the two mainstream Hindi heroines on top. Both Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta are completely unconventional. Preity doesn't look or act like the coy heroine.
    "And Rani is someone you wouldn't give a second look in person. But she just lights up the screen with her persona. I think this is the best time for an unconventional actress because performance-driven films are getting their due."

    She's very happy with her controversial Pakistani co-star Meera in "Nazar".

    "A fun person and easy to work with."

    Koel is also gung-ho about her "Nazar" director.
    "Soni Razdan and I have been on stage together. We've shared the same dressing room. I respect her tremendously."

    Koel is convinced she can carry off mainstream roles.

    "If I don't believe in myself how can I expect others to believe in me? I may have been thoroughly unconventional in my first two films. But in 'Nazar', where I play a cop, I'm all there.

    "After that, I'm in an out-and-out comedy 'Dil Deke Dekho' where I'm the only female character among a whole lot of men."
    She says she's looking forward to doing comedy.

    "Though I've done humorous parts on stage, my roles on screen have so far been pretty grim. So I look forward to 'Dil Deke Dekho'."

    In-between Koel also starred in "American Daylight" produced by Bobby Bedi.

    "The whole film is set in a help centre. I play a middleclass girl named Sujata who turns to Sue at work and falls in love over the phone with a multi-millionaire from the US."

    On the personal front, Rahul Bose and Koel were a pair earlier.

    "That was a bit of a comfort and a problem both. He was hugely helpful about building my confidence on the sets. One could always speak one's mind openly. I was never hesitant about doing whatever seemed right.

    "The downside of being good friends is you cannot hide your irritation after 12 hours of non-stop work. One of our best scenes of shared warmth was done on a day when we weren't even talking to each other."
    Koel had no problems working with a man with whom she once shared a closeness.

    "No. In fact we met during work while we were shooting the travel show 'The Great Escape'. And when Rahul directed me in 'Everybody Says I'm Fine', the comfort level between us was great.

    "We continue to be very good friends. We hate and love one another. It all balances out finally."

    Is she happy with Rahul's supporting role in White Noise?

    "My character is pivotal, yes. But my character wouldn't work with Rahul. He comes in like a glass of water. If my character just continued to rave and rant non-stop, who would want to bear with her neurosis?"

    As for her 'Nazar' co-star Ashmit Patel she describes him as "sweet focussed and hard-working".
    Koel is only a year into her career "and I'm earning more and more....I'm definitely doing Vinta Nanda's next. We can't do without one another. We don't peep into one another's lives and yet we're so close.

    "We're both extremely loud, fiery and passionate. And we don't listen to each other when we're talking. Everyone thinks we're fighting, but we aren't. She knew I was hurting during 'White Noise'. She never probed, just understood my pain and shared it silently."

    Koel pauses for breath. It's the morning after the Delhi premiere of "Everybody Says I'm Fine".

    "Mein Dilli ki ladki hoon. Meri Hindi bahut achchi hai. People don't know because they've only seen me in English-language films."

    She loves also Mumbai, because in Mumbai they let you do what you want.

    "In Delhi, they take interest in everything you do. In just nine months I've made a circle of very good friends in Mumbai."

    That was quite a flash marriage?

    No! We had been seeing one another for almost five years. The wedding was to happen any time this year. But his family wanted it immediately. He has a really busy time ahead and wanted to get married before his new crop of movies started. But I am not complaining. It turned out beautifully for me, touchwood.

    How was the wedding?

    A very, very private affair. There were only 25 people. We had decided on the date, Feb 10 - we didn't want a clichéd Valentine's Day marriage - one month ago. We wanted it really small and private. Mahesh wanted it that way.

    Why were you so secretive about your relationship Mahesh Babu?

    Not secretive. It's just that you need to be sure it will happen. Anything could go wrong until the last minute. You could end up looking embarrassed. I'm a little superstitious about happiness.

    How did you meet him?

    We did a Telugu movie "Vamsi" together. But we began seeing each other about a year after the film. In the past year I've been shuttling between Mumbai and Hyderabad. I had started doing far less work so I could spend time with Mahesh.

    He's really busy and there was no other way I could be with him except to join him in his city. Yeah, I'm completely love struck and I hope I remain this way for the rest of my life.

    How is Mahesh Babu as a person?

    Very, very level headed. Not at all a 'star'. I've been first-hand witness to how real he can be. He's very, very loving, caring and understanding. He believes in family values as strongly as I do. He's very shy. We clicked together because in many ways he's quite like me. And he's very, very good looking.

    So are you.

    Oh, he's far better looking than me. Very boyish and charming. If you like me, you'll love him.

    Love me, love my dog?

    Nooooo! Nothing like that. But he's a far better human being than I am. He's very focussed. His work is his big passion in life.

    Bigger than you?

    That you'll have to ask him. My career doesn't really matter to me that much any longer. I'm quite happy with my life with Mahesh Babu. However, if I get an interesting offer I'm open to it. I never got that one role that would've given me a chance to prove myself. Right now I don't even want to go there (Mumbai).

    So which is home now, Mumbai or Hyderabad?

    Well...I'll be settling down in Hyderabad with my husband. But my parents live in Mumbai. So I'll be travelling to both cities. Mahesh and I are building a home in Hyderabad. And I'm quite looking forward to doing it up, piece by piece. We've an architect to design it. But I'm doing it on my own with Mahesh's inputs.

    That was quite a flash marriage?

    No! We had been seeing one another for almost five years. The wedding was to happen any time this year. But his family wanted it immediately. He has a really busy time ahead and wanted to get married before his new crop of movies started. But I am not complaining. It turned out beautifully for me, touchwood.

    How was the wedding?

    A very, very private affair. There were only 25 people. We had decided on the date, Feb 10 - we didn't want a clichéd Valentine's Day marriage - one month ago. We wanted it really small and private. Mahesh wanted it that way.

    Why were you so secretive about your relationship Mahesh Babu?

    Not secretive. It's just that you need to be sure it will happen. Anything could go wrong until the last minute. You could end up looking embarrassed. I'm a little superstitious about happiness.

    How did you meet him?

    We did a Telugu movie "Vamsi" together. But we began seeing each other about a year after the film. In the past year I've been shuttling between Mumbai and Hyderabad. I had started doing far less work so I could spend time with Mahesh.

    He's really busy and there was no other way I could be with him except to join him in his city. Yeah, I'm completely love struck and I hope I remain this way for the rest of my life.

    How is Mahesh Babu as a person?

    Very, very level headed. Not at all a 'star'. I've been first-hand witness to how real he can be. He's very, very loving, caring and understanding. He believes in family values as strongly as I do. He's very shy. We clicked together because in many ways he's quite like me. And he's very, very good looking.

    So are you.

    Oh, he's far better looking than me. Very boyish and charming. If you like me, you'll love him.

    Love me, love my dog?

    Nooooo! Nothing like that. But he's a far better human being than I am. He's very focussed. His work is his big passion in life.

    So which is home now, Mumbai or Hyderabad?

    Well...I'll be settling down in Hyderabad with my husband. But my parents live in Mumbai. So I'll be travelling to both cities. Mahesh and I are building a home in Hyderabad. And I'm quite looking forward to doing it up, piece by piece. We've an architect to design it. But I'm doing it on my own with Mahesh's inputs.


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