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October 8, 1997


Delectable Divya

Sharmila Taliculam

Divya Dutta
It's a charming face, a pretty face, even a refreshing one. There is this innocence about Divya Dutta's looks that makes the guys frown upon all the brassiness in vogue now and cast a comforting hand around the shoulders of the adult cherub and say, "There, there".

Then again, maybe it wouldn't be a good idea. Dutta wouldn't take too kindly to it -- for all that unspoilt freshness about her visage, she's seen enough of the Hindi film industry to have put up some very prickly armour in place. If you remember even Urmila Matondkar started off with similar large-eyed innocence. And now…

Dutta bagged her maiden role in Agnisakshi as Manisha Koirala's sister. Apparently there was a resemblance between the two that the casting director thought the film could use to its advantage.

Perhaps that was why she was noticed though that wasn't why she was praised for her role in Suraksha opposite Sunil Shetty and in Veergati with Salman Khan. As these films flopped, offers faded away. Till a humdinger of one came, the one for A Train to Pakistan.

The spotlight was back on Divya. Lavish praise -- about her beauty, her talent, her grand entree, well, everything about her -- came in thick and treacly.

It was, of course, convenient to gloss over the fact that she has been on stage since her childhood in Punjab. Even past college -- graduating in English and psychology -- she never though she'd make acting big business till she won a seat at the Stardust Academy. Then, she mused, giving stardom the chance to grace her petite shoulders wouldn't be a bad idea.

"Films were never thought of as a career. In fact, my mother wanted me to be either an IAS officer or a psychologist. But I was not interested," she says. Her mother is a doctor, as was her late father, and her younger brother is diligently working at following in the family business. But she decided to flirt with the footlights. "I thought if I don't make it, I could always go back," she laughs.

While she liked the stage, she seems to be quite comfortable with films too.

"Finally, it depends on you -- how you should be. The audience is not going to see what kind of set-up you worked in. They are going to see the final result in the film. So I have adjusted that way."

Asked about reports of her impatience with people who are not organised, she said, "I don't possess a filmi temperament. I do feel sometimes that it is not my cup of tea. So I stick to people who I vibe with mentally. It's a matter of finding a set-up which suit you." she says.

Divya was first noticed when Stardust announced the list of students shortlisted for its acting academy. She quickly signed up for Ishq Mein Jeena, Ishq Mein Marna. It flopped. Then came Suraksha and Veergati.

"I thought getting myself a role in a film with big stars would benefit me. With them, I knew they (the films) would be seen by people. I made the selections accordingly." That was also why she signed Agnisakshi. It did not help either.

Wasn't she, um, a little worried about being sidelined on screen by Nana Patekar and Manisha Koirala, both heavy duty performers? No, she claims. It was actually wonderful working with them, both of whom were very helpful.

"Nana, I didn't have many scenes with, so there was not much interaction, but Manisha made me feel very comfortable on the sets," she says. But she knew she wasn't centrestage, and kept her peace.

"At least it got me noticed. I was termed the lucky girl."

Though Bollywood bigwigs like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, N Chandra and Mansoor Khan picked her for the Stardust Academy, none of them gave her roles later. "They were the ones who selected us. After that we were left alone and had to find our own way," she says. She did, and found it was hard going. Till she got a life with A Train to Pakistan.

Her cherubic looks got her the role of a child prostitute in the film. "For one year I was just finding out what kind of a film I should do," she says.

Pamela Rooks, the film's director, liked what she saw. "I went to her without any make-up and she told me she liked me the way I was. She refused to see my glamour pictures." And then she gushes, "I adore this role. It's very close to my heart. You are inspired to give a better performance when there are good actors with you. Pamela let me be the way I wanted to be." And here is where she admits that her Stardust Academy stint came in handy.

"It is a kind of a training. Like I didn't know what nukhtas (accent marks used in Urdu) were. It is very important to know it; it improves your dubbing," she says.

But, hey, wait, all that deep-sounding stuff doesn't mean she wants to be relegated to serious cinema.

"I would like to strike a balance between the two. I love running around trees as much as a serious role," she says chirpily. But she still prefers actors like Shabana Azmi. Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Anil Kapoor.

"I admire Anil Kapoor because he has done films with David Dhawan, Priyadarshan --and Hrishikesh Mukherjee too. He has been successful in both kinds of cinema and I admire him for that… I want the best of both worlds," she says.

Like many newcomers, she shrugs off the fear of competition. "I am not afraid of it; there is no burning ambition to be number one. If I am number one, nothing like it. And if I am not, then it's fine too," she says. But she assures you that though she isn't part of the rat race, she is serious about acting.

"Failures happen. You can't cry over them. You just take it in your stride because you know that you have done your best… Sometimes, even the best is not enough," she says. But with Train to Pakistan, it apparently was.

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