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    There're no shortcuts in 'Naina': Urmila

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Saturday, May 21, 2005
    "Naina" comes under her classification of "superior cinema" and doesn''t have a single careless shot, says an enthusiastic Urmila Matondkar about her recently released thriller.

    Urmila, who has essayed intense, different roles in "Bhoot" and "Ek Hasina Thi", says "Naina" offered her a chance to play a part that no actress had done on the Indian screen.

    Though the film finds itself in controversy with ophthalmologists saying that it would mislead people about eye donation, Urmila is most upbeat about it. "In fact, if I wasn''t in this film, it would look like any Hollywood film."

    In this interview with IANS, Urmila also talks at length about Pankaj Parasher''s "Benaras" in which she is part of an ensemble cast with Dimple Kapadia and Ashmit Patel. Describing it as a spiritual film, she says she is "happy to be part of a cast no matter how vast".

    Also coming up is "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" by Assamese director Jahnu Baruah, another different experience. Then there is the possibility of yet another film with Ram Gopal Varma for which scripts are being worked on.

    Excerpts:

    You seem to be very charged about "Naina"?

    Yes, I feel it's one of the most challenging roles written for an actress. In fact I'd go as far as to say this is something that no actress on the Indian screen has done. Just like "Bhoot", which was the only supernatural thriller with no special effects.

    To play someone who gets her eyesight back after years of blindness isn't easy. I had to attend acting workshops, meet specialists who told me about how a girl in this situation would react. "Naina" isn't the simple story of a girl who can't see, and then can see. The character's entire reflexes and instincts had to undergo a change after she begins to see. I spoke to the doctors about how a girl would react if she had to see herself for the first time after years.

    Sounds like a really tough task.

    I had to open up a new world for my character. There are sights and experiences that we take for granted. Playing Naina I had to unlearn the comforts of the familiar without overdoing it. The simplest of visuals and gestures are an ordeal for someone who regains vision. And believe me, the character coming to terms with the loss of blindness isn't even one-tenth of the script. From there she goes into a completely harrowing experience that could destroy anyone's sanity. This was a tremendously challenging character.

    Again you've worked with a new director.

    I enjoy working with new directors. When Shripal Morakhia met me to narrate "Naina", I could see tremendous clarity in his vision. He had the entire film in his mind, and he was viewing it over and over again long before he put it on camera. My entire character is of this vulnerable childlike girl who's suddenly confronted by a horrific reality and then comes to the conclusion that it's her destiny to fulfil whatever she has to... all these intricate details were narrated to me during our first meeting. I was very impressed.

    Shripal wanted a minimalist look for my character. I don't have a single glamorous trapping on screen. The director was so clear about his ideas I just had to out his thoughts before the camera. I had to bring my character from abject darkness to this big bustling world of noise and hyper-activity.

    Does "Naina" live up to the levels of intensity and excellence you've created in "Pinjar", "Bhoot" and "Ek Hasina Thi"?

    I'd think so. "Naina" comes under my classification of superior cinema. It was a pleasure working with people who haven't compromised at all. There isn't a single shot in the film that has been done carelessly. Unfortunately, in our country, horror films are treated rather carelessly. There was a beautiful underwater sequence that we first shot in India, and then when it wasn't conveying the required mood we re-shot it in London. Incidentally, I had to swim when I can't do so to save my life. There're scenes shot in the underground railway of London that are of international calibre. There're no shortcuts in Naina. In fact if I wasn't in this film, it would look like any Hollywood film.

    You've just shot in Varanasi for a film called "Benaras".

    Yeah, ask me about it. Shooting this film with an ensemble cast that included everyone from Dimple Kapadia to Ashmit Patel in a city I had never visited before was a thoroughly fascinating experience. I can't describe what Varanasi does to a visitor. For me, to experience the sights and sounds of any new city is a pleasure. But this time I felt it to be a thoroughly unique experience. Director Pankaj Parasher has made a spiritual film. But he has treated the theme in a very mainstream way with songs etc. I've never done a film like this.

    But in "Benaras" with so many people in the cast would you be as pivotal to the plot as you are to "Naina"?

    I don't think being pivotal to the plot is such an issue for me. If in "Pinjar", "Ek Hasina Thi", "Bhoot" or "Naina" I had the author-backed role, I was also happy sharing the female lead with Sridevi in "Judaai". In "Benaras" everyone is important to the plot. As long as I've an interesting role to play I am happy to be part of a cast, no matter how vast. The variety of roles that's coming my way makes me wonder if I need to complain that actresses get a raw deal in this country.

    What else do you have on the anvil?

    I've just shot for "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" with Assamese director Jahnu Baruah. It's definitely going to be a very different experience for me. In terms of genre, theme and backdrop, all my three releases this year are totally different.

    More awards nominations?

    I don't think of awards at all. But yes, I'm proud of my nominations for "Ek Hasina Thi". It was a role that I worked really hard on. I think it was one of the most interesting thrillers in recent times.

    And now you're supposed to be doing another film with Ram Gopal Varma?

    I might be doing another film for Mr Varma. There're scripts being worked on. If a section of the media wants to make a national issue of something as routine as an actress working with a filmmaker, what can I say? It's extremely flattering!

    So why don't you give them real news?

    Yeah tonight I'll go to the discotheque and bash up someone.


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