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September 25, 1998


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New belle in Bollywood

Mrudula Rajyadhyakasha

Namrata Shirodkar. Click for bigger pic!
Locating Namrata Shirodkar's make-up rooms in those many buildings of Film City where the bustle never stops. Lacking help from the unit hands, we went through quite a few buildings and, finally found ourselves in a labyrinthine structure. And the first door we knocked on, we struck gold.

She smiles -- nice smile, I note -- when I tell her about the trouble we had locating her room. She smiles again inoffensively and tells us one call on her mobile would have saved us a great deal of trouble. She had me there. But too tired to say anything, I settled on the first bit of seating available -- the bed and slowly took in the room.

It was a spacious room but dimly lit by a bedside table. There was the mandatory dressing table and a side table and, further on, what I later found to be a very clean toilet.

And finally we measure up the lady whom we came to meet. If beauty is salve for the soul, Namrata, at close hand, is balm for the eye. She's clad in a pair of jeans and a velvet top. But then she picks up a small packet of small masala and tosses it into her mouth. And the effect is somehow spoilt a bit.

Why is she suddenly the media's favourite, we inquire, shaking off the unpleasant feeling. We are talking about the many interviews of hers we've been seeing.

"I'm not generally on glossy covers, giving scandalous or peppy interviews. These are mainly my pre-release interviews," she says.

We gently bring up the matter of the failure of her recent Mere Do Anmol Ratan. Of course, gently. But she doesn't mind.

With Arshad Warsi in Hero Hindustani. Click for bigger pic!
"Frankly, the film isn't doing too well," she tells us with a straight face. That, of course, is a case of chronic understatement.

"But my performance was appreciated. Anyway between and the next year, I have six releases." But the film that should have launched her is yet to be released. And we point that out too.

"Now it's releasing, say, by mid-June. Purab ki Laila, Paschim ka Chaila was to be my debut film but Mere Do... released first. It's okay. I have many other films, Pukar, Hero Hindustani, Vaastav etc..."

Just then an assistant director peeps in to see is the heroine is ready. She shakes her head negatively. The costumes haven't arrived as yet. Looking very worried, the young man steps back, shutting the door quietly.

She turns back to us, again putting that bit of pan masala deep in her mouth, to avoid the lovely fringes layered with lipstick a shade darker than brick red. The lipstick is now as stale as most of her other make-up but then she's been shooting all morning. But our questions are more business-like. And so I ask her about the climb from ramp to marquee.

"It just happened," she says. I was offered the role of a heroine in Shabnam Kapoor's Purab ki Lalia... opposite Akshay Kumar and I decided to give it a try. I'd already done all I could as a model. I had won the Miss India title, modelled for the best of agencies, did all the prestigious fashion shows, shot for numerous press ads, catalogues... I mean, there wasn't anything left. Films was a good option and so here I am."

Click for bigger pic!
But if she had a film career planned, hadn't she lost quite a few years already? Does she regret it?

She comes back sharply, "I don't regret anything in life. Besides, I hadn't planned on joining films. As I said, it happened."

Just as we prepare to toss our next question in for her to tear up, another assistant steps in to ask her if she is ready. She tells him too about the absence of costumes but another gentleman along with him suggests she wear the same saree as she did earlier.

Namrata objects, saying it wasn't proper to wear a see-through saree. She also reminds them there is something known as continuity.

Finally, it is gently brought upon her that she will do as she is told. Heroines, particularly new ones, are expected to look pretty, not think.

They leave and we ask her about the treatment given to new stars, particularly when they are pitted against far bigger stars. She says she has no complaints.

"People aren't rude to you just because you're new. This unit, and most others I've worked with, are nice and friendly."

But she was ruling in the advertising world; here she was a newcomer...

Click for bigger pic!
"Still, nothing changes much. In advertising, the approach is more impersonal, here it's more personal. After all, people are the same everywhere. There (in advertising) too people can be rude. But if you don't like a particular thing you can say 'no'.

"Same with the folks here... Finally it mainly depends on how you meet them, the vibes you give out to people. I'm a very straightforward, blunt person. It's only black and white for me, no grays, sorry." We didn't know what the last bit was about but leave it at that.

Her mobile rings just then. She presses the button, hears a bit and tells the caller to call back later.

To bring down temperatures that seem to have risen, we ask her about some humorous incidents in her career. And that eases things a bit.

"For Hero Hindustani, there was a long-winded shot. We took so many retakes -- every time a different person made a mistake... If I did it right, the cameraman's trolley was slow; if he got it right, I messed up; if we both did fine, my co-star messed up... Finally we were fed up and packed up that day. Next day, we did the same shot in one take. And we sat and laughed about it..."

We laugh too and then she says, "So when you do work against a deadline, things don't always go right."

Another knock on the door and this time it is the hairdresser, lugging a lot of equipment. Namrata signals to the lady. Wait is the unspoken command. That, I took as a hint to me that I ought to hurry up and apologise, telling her we had our last few questions left. She apologises right back but does not actually say that we can go on...

Click for bigger pic!
Is she happy with her performances so far, we ask in an unnecessary hurry.

"No actor can be happy. I always think I could do better. But whatever I do, I do with 100 per cent dedication and try to be perfect. Still every time I watch my rushes, I think there's a lot of scope for improvement."

The hairdresser puts the rollers in place. An assistant comes in with an ice box; behind him is another unit hand who has come to see if 'madam' has taken seriously the instructions to get ready. Seeing her still busy speaking to me, he tells her, "Your shot will be ready." Namrata pleads for some more time and the man nods and leaves.

Last question, we plead. Has she signed on more films?

Thinking for a moment she admits, "Not really too many.. There's Vimal Kumar's film, opposite Govinda. I'm finishing my backlog before signing new films. What other films are likely, we ask.

"I don't know really. I don't plan anything. Whatever has to happen happens without you even trying for it. I don't mean you don't work, just sit and relax. You also work seriously. One shouldn't think too much. At least, I don't, so I don't know about tomorrow."

Now more people are rushing into her room. So we get up and thank the lady for all her co-operation. She smiles cutely and waves in a way reminiscent of the stills from Hero Hindustani we saw.

The efficient hairdresser puts on the bright lights around the mirror and takes Namrata's pretty head in her hands. The door shuts on us...

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