Actress Pooja Hedge, who made her Tamil debut with Mysskin's Mugamoodi and Bollywood debut with Hrithik Roshan-starrer Mohenjo Daro speaks to Anupama Chopra about getting over the disappointment of a film that does not do well, and the need to go that extra mile at work, because people recognise it. Excerpts:
I remember doing an interview with Prabhas, and he was telling me that he is so shy a person that he gets uncomfortable if there are too many people on set. What is it like to have a shy co-star? Does it ever get in the way?
Actually, he is not very shy when he is on set. I don't know what he is telling people, but we've had a blast shooting the film. With me, he's been very chilled out and comfortable. Also, this [Radhe Shyam] is a love story, it's not like a regular action flick. We have been shooting together from day one, so we did bond, so the chemistry is great on-screen. He's quite a goofy person, and I am pretty goofy too, so we had a blast shooting the film.
And he is never shy when you're actually shooting, because I guess, even the producers of this film are his…
Friends, you know, so I guess he is very comfortable shooting it, but it's been a lot of fun. He keeps ragging me on set about something or the other. I think he is just shy with people he doesn't know.
Prabhas is, of course, this massive star. You've also worked with other heavyweight names such as Allu Arjun and Mahesh Babu, and now you've signed films with Salman Khan and Ranveer Singh. When you're working with actors whose persona is so much larger-than-life, how do you ensure you don't get sidelined in any way, don't become just the decoration in a film?
I think it comes from an inner self belief. Of course, in the Prabhas film, I have a very big role. It is an out-and-out love story, so there's no sidelining happening there. With Allu Arjun [Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo], people did talk about 'Butta Bomma', and the songs and scenes that became a hit.
I dub for my own films, so I think if you go that extra mile and make that extra effort, somewhere, people recognise it. I am not Telugu, yet I dubbed for myself, and people appreciate that and are now asking me to dub for my other films too. So, I think that if you do that extra little thing, it does not get sidelined, and you get noticed. At the end of the day, it's also destiny.
You did Mohenjo Daro four years ago, and it's interesting that you are now a far bigger star in the South than you are in Bollywood. Is this empowering because all your eggs are not in the same basket, and you are in a position to choose?
It's funny you ask me that, because it really is the power to choose you know, I think that it's very empowering. I have to say because after Mohenjo Daro didn't work, being someone who is not from this industry, your second film becomes bigger than your first film in a lot of ways. There's no concession given and it becomes like your showreel, your audition to the world and then it doesn't work. And you thought it's the biggest launch, there's Hrithik Roshan, Ashutosh…
I was like, now my second film has to be something that is better or gives me more eyeballs. I did get a lot of offers, but I didn't want to be doing anything. At the same time, there were bigger films in the South, and work attracts work, so I kept saying no for some time, before I went ahead and did the South films. Slowly, people accepted me in Telugu cinema, and they are very possessive about me.
The industry in both places works in very different ways. In the South, they love their stars and idol worship them, and I think it has given me this pan-India reach that I can capitalise on in a lot of ways. I said no to a lot of films in Hindi, which did not go on to do well. Today, Rohit [Shetty] sir also has seen my films down South, and finally this film [Cirkus] has worked out. The border between industries is getting more blurred.
Baahubali did that in a lot of ways, it's like what the director of Parasite said that if you get over that one inch barrier of subtitles, you will actually immerse yourself into a whole other world.
How do you negotiate cultural differences between the various film ecosystems? Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is a massive blockbuster.
Well done, you've pronounced this so well, well done. I am so impressed right now.
Pooja I really enjoyed the film. It had a lot of fun, it had emotion, it had comedy, but for me, those moments where Allu Arjun's character is staring at your legs were very odd…Of course, in the movie you're his boss, you are in a more powerful position than he is, but if this happened to any woman in an office, it would be super creepy right.
Yeah. When Trivikram Sir told me about the scene, I was just like, but Sir… I am someone who always fights about things like this, you know, and we actually added those scenes where I sent him into the cold, I send him somewhere really hot and we added those scenes to try and also justify that she doesn't take it lightly. Then, I come to him and I say you need to get out of this leg thing, and people who have responsibilities on their head never look down. That's the point when he comes back and tells that the legs were okay, but the moment he saw her eyes, that's when… So, we did add this entire thing, and some people noticed it, some did not. It's a learning experience, and I always try to add these things in my films.
You pushed back, you said that this is weird?
Yes, I did, and we did speak about this in the press meets too. They said the South has an obsession with navels and midriffs, and I said I'd rather have a guy look at my legs than my midriff. I said that I know legs are hot personally speaking, but objectifying the legs is not quite. Which is why we added those scenes.
But, Pooja, you're in a place where you can say that this is awkward and I don't want to do this?
I always kind of try to reason with my directors and it's either you convince me or I convince you. So we reached this middle ground that he falls in love because of who I am, rather than my legs. So, even the song 'Samajavaragamana', where he talks about the legs, he's talking about the gait of the elephant, and how graceful she is while walking. But, I think it kind of got lost in translation.
Pooja, you figured out the glamour machinery through the beauty contest route. You were also a model. How did you teach yourself to act?
On set. I have never been to an acting class, so I genuinely feel people are privileged if they have had access to those classes. I remember going on set, it was a Tamil film [Mugamoodi] and I remember even like technical words such as focus. I remember I was standing on my mark and the focus puller was like, "focus, focus Pooja focus" and I was like I am focussing you know. And then I learnt what it meant. I would go to the AD and ask what '48 frames' meant, what's MOS, and learn. I would be so afraid, I would go on my mark, say my lines quickly and my co-star would tell me to take my time. Every film has made me better. The South has given me this opportunity to improve myself, to work on myself, and now we do little workshops and all, like for Radhe Shyam with Prabhas, and that's helped me, but it's all been on set.