Subhash K Jha speaks to Preity Zinta about 'Kal Ho Na Ho' and her future plans.
Q. Your look for Ka Ho Na Ho is completely different from your other films?
Isn't that how it should be? We all wanted a very different look for my character. Itís a very 'preppy' look like Ali Macgraw in Arthur Hiller's Love Story. So Preity has gone from peppy to preppie, ha ha. Let's hope she never becomes petty. See, right from the beginning after I did Dil Se I went to Sangharsh where I had a very different character. Now of course I'm far more careful about my character's appearance. Naina in 'Kal Ho Na Ho' is certainly not perky or bubbly. You know, lots of directors give glasses to their heroines to wear when they want them to play serious people. But glasses for Naina were just part of the look that I imagined from long before. Naina takes everything in life seriously. She isn't the hee-hee-hoo-hoo sort. This is a very important role for me. It allowed me to age from 23 to 40.
Karan Johar was a great leap forward for you?
When Karan approached me, I only asked for the script. For me that's the primary criteria for selecting a film. No actor can rise above the character and the script. Once those are in place everything works out. When I read Kal Ho Na Ho, I just fell in love with the film and character. Both are very close to my life in certain ways. I had to do these films. It isn't as though I haven't worked with talented filmmakers before . But with Kal Ho Na Ho, I entered a new world .
In what way?
Karan Johar and director Nikhil Advani were so responsive to suggestions. I'm not that great an actor that I can work when everyone's in a sulk. I need to constantly discuss my scenes, throw in suggestions. I can't just land up on the sets and say,
"Gimme my lines, and let's shoot." No, sorry. I'll argue , question - even quarrel. For me the subtext is the most factor for an actor. Iíve to have my lines to prepare from beforehand. Iím the kind of person who always speaks my mind. But Iím also very flexible. I just have to make sure I donít embarrass myself with my performances. Thatís enough for me. I donít look at other actors as competition. I always watch my films from the point of view of my family and friends. And if I donít flinch, neither would they.
So how high was the comfort level on the sets of Kal Ho Na Ho?
Very high. Karan Johar isnít just the jack but the spade of every trade from script to dialogue to production. Heís really multi-talented! And then there was my director Nikhil Advani. His approach to filmmaking was unlike anything I had seen. Then there was Saif Ali Khan . With him I had already worked in three films including my very first film (Kya Kehna) . Heís such good actor. As for Shah Rukh, he has such a high level of energy - the last film I did with him was Mani Rathnamís Dil Se. In-between we didnít get anything worth doing together.
You got to work with Jaya Bachchan for the first time.
She so real , itís unreal! Iíve never in my life worked with such an authentic actor. I started feeling she was my real mom. We used to chat for hours on the sets. Itís very important for me to be happy on the sets. But while we shot Kal Ho Na Ho in New York there was one situation that made me very uncomfortable. That was when we we discovered that Yash Uncle (Yash Johar) wasnít well. It was as though dark clouds had covered our sunshine. I realized how a unit can become a closely knit family. I had never experienced such togetherness. The kind of goodwill that Yash Uncle has is beyond description. We had a schedule to complete in New York and we did that in spite of the sudden setback. Iíve told Karan that his is the best production team Iíve worked with and itís because of his dad. Yash Uncle made me feel like a princess. And I was willing to go ten extra miles just for his sake. Heís amazing.
And now youíre working with another regal banner.
Yes, more Yash (fame) Mr Yash Chopra. When I signed his film, I was over the moon. When I first came to Mumbai there were only two filmmakers I knew - Yash Chopra and Shekhar Kapur. From where I came, films and actors were so distant! As a child when I watched films I believed it was all for real. I imagined Iíd get a watch and disappear like Mr India and now here I am working for one of the the biggest banners! On the first day I was so nervous. Yash Uncle is rock star. Heís so chilled and so lovely, he put me at ease immediately. Now I know why he is what he is. You know he made successful films from long before I was born. However big a star I may be today, Iím still no one compared to him. Itís very a tough role for me. He showed so much confidence in me. "Beta, araam se..," heíd say. He made me feel so special.
Are you going to be a typical Yash Chopra heroine in chiffons?
No. This is something else altogether. Itís something Iíve never done before. I canít believe itís happening to me! The conviction that filmmakers show in me matters. But I also have to put in a lot of hard work.When I was playing a streetwalker in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke I did my own reasearch . I thought Iíd play my character Madhubala as a cool prostitute, till I read my crude lines. And I was shattered. So I had to unlearn and relearn for the part. I remember a time when my co-stars would laugh when they saw me making notes in my script. I remember one of my co-stars called me the female Aamir Khan.
That wouldnít be possible if you were doing a number of films together?
Thatís true. In Kal Ho Na Ha, Iíve a different hair length from Laqshya. In Laqshya my look is absolutely different from all my other roles. I play a very 'today' woman. Itís very important for me to look into the mirror and see another character. When I look different, I feel differently. Laqshya or Atul Agnihotriís Dil Ne Jisse Apna Kaha , where Iíve a guest appearance opposite Salman Khan, will be my next film.
How many films are you offered a week?
Ha ha. I donít know. Sometimes I donít get offered any film during a week. A lot of filmmakers feel Iíve become over-selective and elitist in my choice of filmmakers. That isnít true at all. To me every filmmaker is equally important. But yes, itís very important for me to let filmmakers know that Iíve as much work as I can handle for now. Thereís no point in signing films for the future because I canít see that far ahead.
Where do you see yourself next year?
I see myself working very very hard. Iíll know when the time is right to quit. But for now thereís Diana Rossí song (sings) 'Aint no mountain high enough'. Marriage would be the beginning of a new phase in my life.
Would you continue with your film career after marriage?
I doubt it. Marriage for me would mean babies. When Iíve kids I want to be there for them. I want to bring up my children the way my parents brought me up. I donít want to be a mother whoís hardly there.
Who are your friends in the film industry?
Bobby Deol and Hrithik Roshan are very dear friends. These are guys I know from before I became an actress. Aishwarya Rai is a very good friend too.
Do you have time for a personal relationship?
A relationship isnít only about having someone in my life. Itís also about finding time for that person. I try to create time for that. I also need time for myself. I never shoot on Sundays, unless absolutely imperative. Then I take Monday off. For that one day I put my cellphone on silent and put it in drawer. For Mr Yash Chopraís film, Iíve to cut my 40-day annual holiday to just 10 days. But Iíll make up for lost time next year by taking two months off. So my point is donít have regrets in life. 'Aaj yeh picture dekh lo kya pataa kal ho na ho' - My cheesy poetry to close the interview, ha ha.