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April 04, 1997


She's a beauty, that's official!

Suparn Verma

Smriti MishraHer glazed eyes make you think she is high on something -- and it's definitely not life. That is the first impression, as if they count, of Smriti Mishra (left) chosen by The New York Times as one of the ten most beautiful faces on the Indian screen.

"I haven't slept the whole of last night. I was at my friend's place who is flying off to Bhutan," she says. "That's okay. I haven't slept for the last 51 hours," I reply, trying to put her at ease. The glazed look vanishes, replaced by a wide sleepy grin, placing a strand of hair back where it belonged.

"I think we both need a strong drink." "Oh yes, a drink would be nice," I reply. Noticing my grin, she quickly clarifies, "A strong cup of black coffee." Now my eyes have a glazed look.

As we travel to the kitchen, one notices her spacious apartment. "You must be making a lot of moolah," I remark. "It's rented" she says, trying to find the cups.

Sipping hot black coffee she starts off, " I studied Kathak for 16 years. But I left the school after my Kathak teacher's death because of the politics for his position."

"I was never interested in acting but watching actors fascinated me, so I asked Ramgopal Bajaj's permission to come over to the National School of Drama to watch Naseeruddin Shah perform. He is simply brilliant. Once when I came to Bombay I called and found out where he was shooting and met him. Mahesh Bhatt was there and wanted to know if I could act. He suggested I come to Bombay if I wanted to become an actress. He also asked me to come over for an audition. But he did not turn up. I was very hurt with his insensitive behaviour, so I went back to Delhi."

How then did this girl appear on screen? "Actually at that point Mr Vijay Singh was searching for a girl for his film Jaya Ganga. Manisha Koirala had been chosen for the role but she could not give dates in bulk. He made me read the script, we rehearsed and worked it out."

So how much of Delhi reflects in her way of life? "I am not the same person I was five years ago. I was like a kid then. But I can't say I have fully matured now. I was childish and could only see the good things in life. I could understand only love. Today the first thing that comes in my mind after meeting someone is that he may have an ulterior motive."

Sadari BegumThe sex scenes shot in Shyam Benegal's Sardari Begum (right), though shot very aesthetically, are not every actress's cup of tea, so how did she feel while performing the scenes?

"I didn't feel I was doing a lovemaking scene. I had to express the right feelings and at the same time concentrate on my movement and the camera movement. It was so methodical that there is no way one can enjoy doing a lovemaking scene. The scene is a realisation of the fact that her lover only wants her body. He doesn't love her. I am very comfortable with my body but with the double standards in India it would be very difficult for me to survive with that kind of image," she says.

Smriti MishraWhat is her idea of beauty? "Sushmita doesn't have the best features in the world but she has a combination of beauty, mind and soul. I have a beautiful heart and I forgive very easily. I think the most beautiful feature about my body is my nose."

What was it like working with Shyam Benegal? "He is a very professional director. I had not acted before with him and I was scared because his name stands for class. But he treated me like a professional actor. That made it very hard in the beginning."

"He couldn't understand that I was nervous, it takes time to understand the director's concept. Later on I had to tell him that I was feeling very nervous."

"During the shooting I had my own ideas about scenes and didn't like others interfering with my work. Which I later learned could be the worst sin I could commit as an actor. Now I am open about everything. It's good to have a flexible mind. That is one of the lessons I learned from him."

She seems to be lost in thought for a moment but suddenly springs back to the real world. "Let me tell you about the time we were shooting forJaya Ganga.

Cuddling a pillow, she begins after draining her cup empty "We had gone to Gomuk for the shooting. Our bus had stopped on the way. On one side there was a sheer fall. As we proceeded, boulders started falling from top of the mountain. We were (expletive deleted) scared, one of the falling boulders just missed Piyush Soni (the male lead) who had stepped out of the bus to inspect the scene. In the beginning I thought 'Why have we come to shoot here?' Later I couldn't care less. I thought if I had it coming like this, then so be it."

Is Raat Ki Subha NahinOn the other hand during the shooting of Sudhir Mishra's Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (right) "I was half awake and half asleep throughout the film because the whole film was shot at night."

"I want to do commercial films and dance around trees. Dancing is my life so I am not going to say that I will not do such films. In fact I am waiting for those kind of films." By now I am used to her style of changing lanes faster than Formula 1 drivers.

Smriti MishraAs she waves off a strand of hair that has been falling over her eyes for some time she smiles looking straight at me. "I hate rude and dominating people." Now what did I say or do to deserve that, I complain. But she simply flashes one of her smiles and winks back

"I don't try to correct people if they have faults, I try to accept them for what they are. It might be something to do with their past. I am very moody and it affects other people. But when it comes to work I leave all my baggage at home."

As I leave I see her furiously struggling to make the errant strand of hair stay in place.