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July 13, 1998


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The Second Coming

V S Srinivasan

Clad all in black, she moves reluctantly across the tastefully decorated room of her Bandra residence, watching me all the while from under those plucked-to-shape eyebrows. Still keeping her eyes focused, she sits, crosses her shapely legs, and flashes that unforgettable smile of hers in my general direction.

Priyanka. Click for bigger pic!
I, naturally, am thrilled. It ain't everyday you have such unforgettable smiles coming your way -- unforgettable because, you see, it is this same smile that charmed millions of adults when Priyanka, this lovely lady in black sitting opposite me, was one of the most popular child artistes down South. Baby Pinky, she was called then. Now the smile is on a grown woman's face, a face which doesn't give the owner that tomboyish air which it once did. I can't help smiling back. And I do, in a big way.

"The role in Tasveer," says Priyanka about her vehicle of return to Bollywood, "is very exciting. I play a girl who frequently pub hops and is quite hep."

The actress can easily be remembered for her role in Ek Hi Bhool (rendered famous by the song Raju, o daddy and the more recent Vansh, wherein she was paired opposite Sudesh Berry.

She, introduced as Priyanka opposite Kannada actor Shashi Kumar in Kalla Malla (her first role as heroine too was with the same actor, in Malligehu), doesn't talk much. If you ask her an uncomfortable question, she just shifts a bit and smiles at you, as if to tell you that you ought to know where to draw the line. So I decide to let my eyebrows ask the questions, shooting 'em right into my hairline, trying to work my face into a semblance of quizzicalness. The ploy works, and the lady is out with details, a touch defensively.

"Let me make it more simple for you. I am playing the other woman in the man's life," she says, adding in quite a different tone, "I hope the film does well." She crosses her fingers. And so do I, watching her face closely and praying that the interview goes well.

Unlike many child artistes whose baby fat melts away to leave behind the harder lines of adulthood, Priyanka's face hasn't changed. And yet the effect is very, very different.

"I loved doing Kannada films. Though I am originally from Kerala, I speak Kannada more fluently because of the extensive work I have done there -- 14 films to be precise."

How on earth, I wonder aloud, did she land in the Hindi scene?

The actress is ready with the answer. And takes me back in time, to her good old days of screen-testing. It was then that Pappu Verma's Vansh, well, happened.

Priyanka. Click for bigger pic!
"At the audition I was asked to smoke a cigarette and reel off a few dialogues," she recalls, "I was a little tense because I saw this other girl who was looking gorgeous and with very fair skin. I am a little wheatish and was nervous. But my mom told me not to bother about it. So I gave it my best shot."

"I got the role," she continues, "My mom had already told Pappu Verma that I was doing well in South and asked him to reply immediately about my selection. He liked me immensely and told me that I was on."

Vansh was a runaway hit. And Priyanka was expected to get a lot of offers after it. But that was not to be. She went into oblivion; she was used to the disappearing act. She had tried it out as a child and quite found it to her liking -- after 35-odd films, Baby Pinky had one fine morning decided to play hookey from the movies. Which she did, very successfully, to re-emerge years later as a major Kannada star.

"Things don't always happen the way you want to," she sighs, "I went back to Kannada films (after Vansh)... You see, there was no one to guide me then. I made a lot of wrong decisions. I declined offers that could have helped me make it big. I refused the heroine's role in Khiladi... and the film became a major hit!"

Now Priyanka, with Kannada movies like Urvashi Kalyanam, Banda Nanaganda and Hindi ones including Laksh, Aag Aur Tezaab (double role) under her belt, is more confident, and all set to make her second innings work. Television serials, including Chattan, have given her the mileage she needs.

"But the big screen has its own enchantment. I acted in an Indo-Japanese film called Ae Meri Bekhudi. We shot for the film totally in Japan, but unfortunately, it did not have a proper release here," she says.

Obviously-- I remark doing my eyebrow trick all over again, this time embellishing it with a few words --the glamour of cinema has got the better of your desire to act.

Priyanka agrees: "Even if I do a small role in a film like Sholay, people will remember me. And what if I am the heroine of a film that becomes a superhit! The glamour of 70 mm is too strong to resist!"

She has also done a short film with Shyam Benegal titled Enchanting Pearl. "It was very nice working with a person like Shyamji. He is too good."

Priyanka. Click for bigger pic!
Mainstream movies, Priyanka admits, is what she wants to concentrate on. "I know it will take me some time. But then I desperately want to get back to proper Hindi films," she says, "I have signed a film called Bandobast with Ronit Roy. I have five more offers being negotiated at the moment. But..."

But? Yet again, I make my eyebrows do desperate gymnastics... and Priyanka is encouraged!

"But," she rushes to conclude, " it is always fun to have my feet implanted in both the small and large screen. That is, if I find time to do television after getting the film offers..."

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