I believe you made Oprah wear a sari on her talk show?
Yes, I was extremely happy to be on her show. I absolutely admire and adore her. I never thought I'd actually be meeting her... and that too on her show. It's so strange, but prior to our meeting during my visit to the US for the premiere of "Bride & Prejudice", I had some afternoons off and watched Oprah. I thought how wonderful it'd be to be in her show. And within a month I was on her show. She put me in the Woman Of The World section. Her very efficient team did all the spadework within no time. The procedure was meticulous. On the evening of the "Bride & Prejudice" premiere they did a quick interview. The next day I rushed to Chicago to record with Oprah.
And the sari?
Yeah, I thought I'd wear one on the show and had packed two of them in case Oprah too wanted to wear one. As luck would have it, my flight was delayed and I reached minutes before the show went on air. So I had no time to change. The Americans love the garment but have no clue how it's tied. Oprah is very respectful and appreciative of all cultures. She was very curious about the sari. And I helped her put it on, on air. She has sent me an autographed picture saying, "Next time we change the blouse."
Did she ask penetrating questions?
That's her. She's very direct. She asked me about skin-whitening products and the penchant for changing skin tone. I told her how everyone wants to experiment with skin colour, hair, everything... Being on a show like Oprah representing your country is a big responsibility. I answered for myself and not on behalf of the industry.
Even when I was asked by Oprah about Indian women in general I was very careful. Because I live in the metro. The core of India lives in less urban areas. We've so many different faces of Indian women. If we identify the Indian prototype as the woman with large black eyes, long black hair, graceful sari, then I'd like to see myself fit into that prototype.
You've been accused of being coy on questions of sexual mores such as kissing on American television?
Again, I'm very clear I speak for myself. I've never said I'd never kiss, or whatever on screen. I've always maintained I'd cross the bridge when I come to it. Again I'm accused of playing it safe. The truth is I don't know what tomorrow holds. So I can't make a close-ended principle about it.
That image of coyness about our movies exists from long before me. I keep saying in all my interviews abroad that things are changing in our cinema, though very slowly. I do know that the peck has become a familiar sight in our films, and I don't have qualms in saying so. Still, if people think I'm a prude in my pronouncements what can I do?
A part of Bollywood insists you're going to Hollywood?
Every time I'm asked if I intend to go to Hollywood I insist I'd do film there just as I've done two Tamil films ("Iruvar" and "Kandukondeain Kandukondein") and in Bengali ("Chokher Bali"). There's no dearth of tempting offers at home. I've always said I don't wish to speak about assignments until they're finalised. I hope filmmakers notice how respectful I've been to their projects even when things haven't worked out. Many major projects that have gone to other actresses, people don't even know I had been approached for them.
Sorry, talking about what doesn't work out isn't my scene. I'd rather talk about what's happening in my career. Like Raj Santoshi's "Saamna". Raj-ji and I wanted to work together from the time I came to films. The first script he narrated to me was finally made as "Dil Hai Tumhara" by Kundan Shah with Preity Zinta. Then we continued discussing projects. I loved "Lajja" and would've loved to be in it. Again there was a date issue. We eventually decided I'd appear as Sita in the Ramayan episode of "Lajja".
Then he decided not to shoot it. Finally I just had to do "Khakee" as a friend to Raj-ji. He has so many ideas. We almost did the costume drama Prithviraj-Sanyukta. We're now doing "Saamna" which is a very topical subject. It starts in the latter half of the year. So "Saamna" and "Dhoom 2" with Hrithik Roshan will be my next two releases.
You've been chosen for Time magazine's 100 finest young achievers?
Oh, you know about that? People are so busy playing up my so-called boring image. But, yes, I did attend the Time party for the achievers in New York. I flew down for four days, attended the event and also did a photo-session for an American magazine and flew back home.
So how was the Ash Bash in New York?
Ash Bash? Ash-bashing is what's going on constantly over here. Someone asked me why am I politically correct even when people hit out so openly at me. But the truth is I've never been brought up to behave any other way. I can't say anything hurtful about anyone. I just don't believe in saying mean things. I won't feel good doing that. It's strange how being well-behaved is perceived as being too propah and staid. This is the way I am. I'm sorry.
I'm amazed how many people feel good hitting out at me. They're welcome to do it. Earlier they had more leeway to deny their indiscretions in print. But now on television they look pretty ridiculous denying what they say.
As an actress you've just begun to be recognised abroad?
Why now? Even as far back as "Devdas" I was recognised for my acting. Critics abroad gave me very good reviews for "Devdas", "Kuch Na Kaho", "Chokher Bali" and "Raincoat".
Director Andy Tennant told me he had offered you the lead in "Hitch".
Did he? He re-wrote the role. When I first heard the script I too wanted it re-written. But then things didn't work out. You know, a section of the media in India insists I'm pursuing a career abroad when in fact I'm making no effort to get work in Hollywood. No one seems to pay attention to this fact. For some bizarre reason the Bollywood media has accused me of employing a PR agency to get me work abroad. Actually I need a PR agency in Bollywood since I seem to know nothing about how to woo the press here.
What are your international projects?
I've just completed Paul Berges' "Mistress of Spices". It's a very Indian film. It's all about the spices, their scents and significances. It's being readied either for the Sundance or the Toronto film festival. Then there is Jagmohan Mundhra's "Provoked", the true story of a Punjabi woman named Kiranjit Ahluwalia who left India to marry a London-based guy only to be badly abused in the marriage. She finally ends up in prison for murdering her abusive husband.
These aren't routine roles.
But I have never pursued ordinary roles. From the start I've searched for challenges as an actress. That remains unchanged.