Are you happy with the headway you've made in two years?
I feel I've just begun. I know I won't be given that many chances because I don't come from a filmy khandaan. I've a much shorter time to prove myself. Everyone wants to be on the top. So do I. But for me it's more for the love of acting. I'm learning on the job. I'm trying to figure out what kind of an actress I am. I never did any film thinking it would be a blockbuster. I just looked at how much of challenge each film would be as an actress.
"Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost" or "Bardasht", they taught me what I can and cannot do. Now I know what kind of cinema I want to do. If you look back, at the actresses of the past like Nutan, Sridevi or Madhuri, people just kept coming back to see their films. They had such a long shelf-life. Today trends are changing so fast. Everyone clamoured to see "Julie". But no one wanted to see "Sheesha". Suddenly the skin thing is no longer in. I'm watching and learning. I think my career starts this year. I've become picky. This year, I've signed only one film "Dosti" with Bobby Deol.
Dosti also has Kareena?
Yeah. She plays a more Indian character while I'm more Westernised. On the other hand, in "No Entry", I'm out and out Indian. A loud Punjabi wife like Tabu in "Biwi No.1". Then, in Soham Shah's "Kaal", I'm paired opposite Vivek (Oberoi). Actually, Ajay Devgan has the role in "Kaal" that people will talk about.
Were you happy about your last release "Jurm"?
After "Andaaz", it was my first full-length role where I'm not just there for effect. It wasn't easy for me to play Bobby Deol's wife. Director Vikram Bhatt's female protagonists are never uni-dimensional. There's always an element of mystery to them. I liked portraying an enigma. My character has a past tense, and a present imperfect. She gets murdered. I am there throughout....unlike Vikram Bhatt's "Elaan", which had little of me. But it was always meant to be a slick actioner. The focus wasn't on the performances. "Jurm" was a performance-oriented film. All of us - Bobby, Gul Panag, Milind Soman and me - had a lot of scope to make an impact.
You and Priyanka Chopra have a parallel career. Do you think she made better choices?
At the end of the day, everyone has her own priorities. I've known her since she became Miss India. I look at her and admire her today. Right along, she knew she wanted to be at the top. I'm very ambitious too. But I'm a different person. I've never had anyone to guide me in Bollywood. I'm extremely self-willed. Priyanka's priorities are different. But they've worked for her. There's truly no malice between us. We're both doing what we believe in.
At the same time, both of you are eligible for identical projects?
True. There're very few good projects for heroines. And for sure each one of us has the right to fight to get the best roles. Everyone wants to be successful. Still, I wouldn't say I wish I had done Priayanka's role in "Aitraaz". But I'd love to work with Abbas-Mustan.
But it's a dream role. You don't have any of those?
I agree. Some of my career decisions are disastrous. "Insan" was a big mistake and I'm sorry for doing it. I stepped into it with eyes wide open and still fell on my face. I had struck a rapport with Raj Kumar Santoshi after my item song ("Aisa jadoo") in "Khakee". I did "Insan" purely because Raj was the producer. And there were Ajay Devgan and Akshay Kumar...so I wasn't wrong in expecting a certain calibre. But things went terribly wrong. Lots of changes, and all the girls got a raw deal. The saddest part is, people who believe in me felt let down. I couldn't deal with that. But like I said, I had no knowledge of how the industry operates.
Do you think there has been unnecessary body exposure as far you're concerned?
I'd agree with that. In the industry, intelligence can be a disadvantage. Sometimes you just need to turn the intelligence level off and kind of go with the flow. From "Andaaz" onwards, people have been talking about my skimpy clothes, etc. But I've been Miss Universe. I'm 5 foot 7 inches tall. I can look good in a skirt or jeans. I'm comfortable with all kinds of clothes.
But I'm talking about lack of clothes.
I know. There was this whole trend whereby skin is in. After two years in Bollywood I feel women are used here as show pieces. Today, I know how far I can go without being made to look vulgar on screen. I wouldn't wear a bikini. I don't want to do the skin thing any more. I squirm when I see how some of my scenes were shot. Now I need to be more assertive about these things.
Your one abiding passion?
You mean besides my man Kelly Dorji? Shoes. I own hundreds of them. Everywhere I go I somehow manage to leave a pair in the hotel as my calling card. In fact I carry so many of them I lose count. For a three-day shoot I'm known to take as many as fifteen pairs of shoes. Hopefully I won't grow old and be known as a little old lady who collects shoes.