November 24, 2001


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Vasundhara Das

Vasundhara Das at a Deep Purple concert in Bangalore, sporting pinkish-orange hair, a black leather mini skirt and black fishnet stockings, looked quite the film star.

But the Vasundhara Das who greeted me at her Malleswaram home looked much like the girl I had seen for years, shopping with her mother at the neighbourhood grocery store or walking with father to the market. Wearing a casual blue and white flower-printed salwar kurta and her hair back to its usual brown.

"Bangalore is my base. I spend most of my time travelling to Madras, Bombay and everywhere else," she explains, settling down on a comfortable old rattan chair for a cosy chat as her father Kishen Das watched television.

This Vasundhara is more media-savvy than the one I met 18 months ago just before the release of her first film Hey! Ram -- far more articulate with her portfolio ready.

Vasundhara Das Vasundhara spoke to M D Riti just before the all-India release of the Mira Nair film Monsoon Wedding. It recently made waves at Venice when it won the Golden Lion Award.

The actress speaks about working with director Mira Nair and where she hopes to go next:

Everyone is dying to know why your hair changes colour so drastically so often!

That was just for Monsoon Wedding. They wanted me to have my hair that particular shade of pinkish red. Just as it was returning to its normal shade, three important scenes featuring me were damaged on the way to New York. Reshooting meant I had to recolour my hair.

When exactly did you shoot Wedding?

We shot for 20 days in September 2000 in Delhi. The reshoot was months later in Bombay.

How did you bag the role in the film?

I was actually working on my album Meri Jaan. My first film Hey! Ram was released February 2000. Then I heard Mira Nair was casting for Monsoon Wedding.

Not realising I had actually been called for a screen test, a friend arranged for me to meet Mira. I was part of a long line of girls. I read out a scene for her. When I finished, she told me I was the girl she wanted.

Were you aware you were vying for the heroine's role?

Vasundhara Das in Hey Ram Of course. Mira gave me a draft script as soon as she signed me on. She then sent me scripts that were redone every fortnight. By the time I went to Delhi, I had four drafts with me!

We had a two-week rehearsal period in which we just got to know each other. We went to the venue a week before shooting so we got comfortable and looked as if we had lived in that house for a while.

Mira's was a style of filmmaking called Dogma, which was going back to the basics without too many expensive sets. She was working in super 16 film and then enlarged it into 32 mm. We shot with a small, hand-held camera shooting.

Scenes were played out from start to finish. The whole thing was actually shot to look like a big wedding video. Declan, the cameraman, was with us all through rehearsals and had planned his shots.

It must have been far easier to act like that, right?

The flow certainly allows you to emote spontaneously -- you don't have to hang on to expressions and emotions between scenes. But when you are acting in a film in a language you hardly know, the breaks within scenes help.

Have you seen the film? Do you like it?

I think the film came across the way it was intended. Beyond that, its for viewers to decide whether they like it and me in it!

Did you find it hard as a South Indian, to speak Punjabi, Hindi and Delhi English?

We all take English so much for granted. But I found my ease with the language would make me change certain dialogues without meaning to subconsciously. I would ad lib without meaning to and make the scriptwriter tear her hair out. That never happened to me before when I didn't know the language well and would stick to my lines. I've done two Tamil films and one Malayalam.

Otherwise, my character speaks mostly English in the film, breaking into Hindi only in emotional moments, and virtually no Punjabi. I have travelled all over India, so Hindi is not hard for me. The Delhi accent was a bit tough, all I can say is that I've tried my best.

Do you think Mira Nair's film will give you an in into other arenas, internationally?

If that happens, it would be a bonus. I looked at it mainly as a learning process. It helped me grow as a person and gain confidence in myself as an actress. Viewers will form opinions about me as an actress based on this film. But I think it's healthy not to expect too much from all this.

As a young girl growing up in Bangalore, dreaming of a career as a singer, did you ever see yourself in the position you are now in -- being internationally acknowledged?

Oh yes. Only maybe it's all happening faster than I ever thought it would. I always wanted to be in the entertainment business. But I visualised myself as a singer, not an actress. I acted in Hey! Ram largely to catalyse the process of gaining an entry into the music world.

But by the time I finished Hey! Ram, I had become so intrigued with what I saw going on in the film that I was very open to doing another film.

I took a year to take up my next film -- Monsoon Wedding. By that time, I was established as a playback singer and was doing a lot of shows. But it did not seem enough. Nor did just acting.

I wanted to be both. It was hard to focus on twin careers and avoid conflicts between recordings and shootings. Now, I have decided that I will act in part of the year and sing in the others. Vasundara Das

Do you have any other films lined up for next year?

Yes, I have two Tamil films lined up for next year. My Hindi playback career has taken off well with my two songs in Aks: Rabba and Aaja Gufaaon Mein, songs in Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein and the yet-to-be-released Aankhen. I have sung in many Tamil films, too.

So you do plan to act and sing for a while? No plans for a monsoon, summer or winter wedding yourself?

I definitely see myself singing and acting for many years now. No marriage plans at all. I am having way too much fun doing all that I am doing now. I don't see anything coming in the way of that.

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