Shah Rukh was raving about you in 'Paheli'.
So sweet of him! He told me I've never looked better in my career. I'm extremely happy with "Paheli". The cinematography was outstanding. I believe one particular cinematographer always makes a difference to a heroine's career. Sridevi had W.B. Rao. Madhuri Dixit had Baba Azmi. For me, it's Ravi Chandran all the way. Look at what he has made me look like in "Black" and "Paheli". My family and I were quite stunned by the way I looked. The photography is par excellence. Even Shah Rukh looks so handsome. People will fall in love with his moustachioed look.
Your evolution as an actor continues.
Yes, of course. This year I've gone from (Sanjay Leela Bhansali's)
"Black", to (Shaad Ali's) "Bunty Aur Babli", to (Amol Palekar's) "Paheli". Every time I work with Shah Rukh I feel I have grown a bit as an actor. He constantly motivates me to give my best. Strangely, we've only done one other full-fledged film together - "Chalte Chalte". I met Shah Rukh for the first time in 1997 when we were shooting for "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai". Today we're friends and he continues to inspire me. His dedication and focus have shown me how to conduct my own career.
Who are the other heroes who have influenced you?
Both Shah Rukh and Aamir have taught me a lot. I used to be their fans. I had seen all their movies. Once I had even taken Aamir's photograph. Then I was suddenly facing the camera with him! The way the two looked after me and saw me through my scenes... I can never forget. Their feelings towards me haven't changed even now when I did "Paheli" and "Mangal Pandey" with them. They're very proud of me, as though they're a part of my family, and I part of theirs. Shah Rukh treats me like a child, tells me how to face the camera. A co-star who is concerned about more than himself is really helpful.
In "Paheli" you're in a totally new territory with Shah Rukh.
No, I've never done a rural character or a fantasy before. "Paheli" is a folk tale. It should've been seen in that spirit, not in a realistic way. Even "Bunty Aur Babli" was a fantasy.
How was Amol as a director?
Amol Palekar comes from a different kind of cinema. It was a very interesting experience. Suddenly I was working with a director who didn't tell me I had to hurry a shot. I was working for the second time with a director who's also an actor. It's a different experience altogether. Earlier I had worked with Kamal Haasan in "Hey Ram". That was an outstanding experience. The entire experience of "Paheli" from the director to the theme to the Rajasthan backdrop was very new to me. I loved being dressed traditionally in ghagra-choli. It was so comfortable! I'd love to do more films where I play a totally Indian character. I'll ask Sanjay Leela Bhansali to make a totally Indian film with me.
Will the younger generation have a hard time identifying with the ethnic-folk mood of "Paheli"?
No, the film is very contemporary in thought. For a woman to accept a ghost as her lover. I think the women will love it. Every character is noble and honest... Sadly I've no scenes with Amit uncle. But that one scene he has done is fab.
You already have two hits this year.
I hope my luck holds, not just for my sake but also the producer's whose life depends on the film. After "Paheli" I have "Mangal Pandey".
Shah Rukh called you the hero of "Paheli"?
That's his love for me speaking up. He's the film's hero, and nothing can take away from that. My proudest moment was when he told me no actor including him could've done what I did in "Black". I hope I've lived up to his expectations in "Paheli".