She is the middle one of three sisters, an ace at academics, and such a tomboy, that if a girl ever called the house asking for her, her dad would do a double take and actually take the girl's number down. Today at 23, she is India's newest silver screen sensation and Bipasha Basu has indeed left the tomboyish days far behind. Bipasha won the Famous Ford Supermodels contest at 17, and then became a household name starring in one prestigious ad after the other, as well as the famous video " TU" for Sonu Nigam's album "Kismat."
Currently, the hottest and most happening star on the silver screen, Bipasha is recognized not just for her sultry looks that prompted Paul McCartney to dub her the Sophia Loren of India, but also for choosing subjects that have nothing clichÈd about them.
Warm, down to earth, and very forthright, Bipasha, in an exclusive with Little India, talks about why she made the choices she did and why being a film actress is just part of her journey, but not her destination.
Winning the Ford Supermodel Contest, as a teenager was quite a switch from being a tomboy!
It is true that I was a tomboy. I come from a middle class family and my dad is an engineer. I was really my parents' pet, obedient and an ace student. In fact, if my dad has any regrets, it is that I did not pursue an academic career, because I was so good in studies, but my life took a different turn when I got into modeling. I loved traveling around the world and enjoyed my independence, and the money that came with it, some thing a normal college-going girl does not get to do. It started for me when I was only 17.
Nevertheless, you decided to quit international modeling because you were homesick and felt you would not make it, when on the contrary the dusky look is so in nowadays.
When I went abroad, it was 1997 and India was not big on the international map then. Today everything about India is considered exotic, but at that time it was not so. I did a lot of work, but I knew I could not stay. Everything is very professional abroad, but it is a very hectic and lonely life. I met many girls from different parts of the world, got to learn a lot and became more responsible as I saw them making the wrong choices all the time, things I had not seen before, like people doing drugs and not respecting themselves. Eventually it is all about you, and all up to you. Your parents can only teach you this much, but it is you who has to make the right decision. I am very close to my parents and they know everything about me. My mother was always supportive and proud of me, but for my academician father it took a year to understand what I was doing and that I was serious about it.
So after making it big on the domestic modeling scene, you finally agreed to give films a shot. After turning down offers for a couple of year, you started with a murder mystery and a role with negative shades in Ajnabee. You did look very much like Sophia Loren, though it was funny seeing you look very sultry but mouth an inane dialogue like "Mera Jism dekho",(look at my body) to Bobby Deol. It wasn't sultry in the least!
Do you know to this day Bobby can get me on that line? It was the worst scene of my life. Even in English, I would not be able to say a ridiculous line like "look at my body," but to say it in Hindi in front of all that crew, to a stranger especially when you are acting in a film for the first time in your life and I had no clue about acting. It's been two and a half three years, and I am still tortured with that line.
How easy was it to switch from modeling to acting?
It was a very strange feeling because, the world of modeling is so different and a 90-man film unit behaves differently. I had to start from scratch, but I met a fabulous bunch of people, who helped. The first shot I had in Ajnabee was with Kareena Kapoor discussing our life. I was nervous, but the director told me to be natural, and since then in every film, I have done just that. I believe in following the character I am playing to a T and to be natural and understated. I believe less is best. It doesn't matter what background you come from, if you are open minded and in touch with your emotions and yourself, you will always act well, because after all acting is nothing but a display of emotions and how you really feel. The only thing different is that modeling drills into you a need to look good all the times, in acting you have to forget that aspect totally, because you may not always play a glamorous character. The first time I saw myself on the screen I didn't want to see myself again. It was a shock and I hated everything. At that time I was just parroting my lines, but now I am more focused, and though I am not the best actress around, I think I have improved with each film.
I heard Paul McCartney saw the film and was bowled over by you?
Yes, I was in Goa and I get a call in the middle of night and I say who is this? My friends fool around with me all the time and Dino Morea had made that call once and I said stop fooling around, but it was indeed Paul McCartney and that was very sweet.
Let's talk about the film that was the big blockbuster and has catapulted you into a different league altogether - Jism. It was a bold subject where a married woman manipulates her way and uses her body and her beauty to get her lover to murder her middle-aged rich husband. The ending was very interesting. Even though it was touted as your film, John Abraham was the surprise package as your lover. Since you are a couple off screen was it easier to do those much-hyped erotic scenes with him?
It was indeed hyped as a woman oriented film, but in reality, it was about two people who are very different from each other -characters nobody had seen before. What I really liked about Jism was the freshness of the theme and the script. No other film had been made like that in commercial cinema. It is always parallel cinema, which focuses on things like a mature adult love story, but commercial cinema is content with popcorn and college romances and it's a little tiresome to see that again and again. I am as much a member of the audience also, and I try and look at each script and decide will I be able to sit through this film. I really love sensible cinema and I love directors who know what they are doing. You might be a good actor or actress, but if the director puts together the scenes badly that can kill you, so the presence of Mahesh Bhatt, a man who has gone through so many phases of life and has a good sense of real cinema helped a lot, even though his nephew Vikram was the captain of the ship and he is very sensitive and accomplished.
Which was the toughest scene?
The last one, where Kabir realizes that Sonia has manipulated him all along and she tries to tell him she is finally really in love with him, after trying to shoot him and that is why she could not kill him, but he kills her. Mahesh said do what you feel is right, but we want a mixed reaction from the audience, to leave them wondering. It was interesting, that after the movie was released, a lot of men came up to me and said oh its so sad you fell in love with him in the end and he still killed you, but there were also many women who came up to me and said oh my god you played such an evil character: till the end she lied to him.
As for the love scenes that were hyped up so much, I said yes I am a woman, yes we are talking about attraction very openly. There are love making scenes, but they are very beautifully done; there is no nudity, and I have shown nothing except my legs, in the entire film, which they show at the drop of the hat, long with the midriff and cleavage in every commercial Bollywood film. We didn't cross any limits. I had just started shooting Aitbaar, and had met John for may be 10 days, and we really liked each other. I must say my chemistry with John worked on screen, because off screen we were very fond of each other. So certain intimate scenes came very naturally with John and may not have otherwise. John is a thorough gentleman, and that matters.
There have been times, I have problems even hugging another actor. In a film - the situation, the scene, the people around you, and their behavior or what they may be thinking affects your performance and every film unit is not the same. But the whole setup of Jism, from Pooja Bhatt, to Vikram and Mahesh Bhatt, to the director, the cameraman comprised of very classy, sensitive people. My director gave me the liberty to discuss what I wanted to do with me. I was never coerced or forced into doing anything I didn't like. Jism as a film was a group effort where every one's sensibility matched.
The censor board, which is always criticized for its incompetence and close mindedness, surprised you by just two minor cuts.
Yes, that was amazing. The censor board people called us and said though the title of the film is very bold; you have made an excellent film. Majority of our Hindi films don't have half the emotions that were portrayed in Jism, but it did have a bold name "Jism-the Dark Side of Desire," and the promos were a bit misleading. But I guess it was a marketing strategy to get the people in
So far every single film of yours has been unconventional. Raaz was a supernatural thriller and that too was a huge hit. Gunah had you play a police inspector who falls in love with a criminal, to name a couple. So is it the adventurer in you who likes to take chances or are you just pure reckless, especially when every one wants to make their debut in a candyfloss family drama?
Personally, for me, doing unconventional films has never meant taking a risk, because this is what I like doing. I like seeing new kind of cinema and watching films with different themes. I hate seeing the same actors do the same thing again and again. I will never repeat a Jism. We have so many talented people in the industry, but every one limits themselves and does not fulfill their potential because they want to play it safe. But today that security zone does not provide any security, because most run of the mill movies are flopping these days and the only thing that seems to be succeeding are films with unusual, fresh themes.
It also seems that actors are a lot more professional these days.
I think it is because we come to the scene from professional or academic backgrounds. We have learnt to respect our work and not to take things or people for granted or to believe that you are so great that you are going to be here forever.
So what are the forthcoming films that you are excited about?
Aitbaar, with John Abraham and Amitabh Bachchan. Finally, I am playing a college girl, which is what every actress starts her career with! I started by playing a wife and a married woman! In fact it was so funny when in one of the scenes the director Vikram Bhatt said "Okay so you are this college girl, so go sit and study, I wailed, but I don't know how to" and everyone burst out laughing!
I play this vulnerable girl who has never experienced love and she has this really possessive father, played by Amitabh Bachchan, and he does not like her falling in love with a man and the whole pressure of being a daughter and a lover consumes her. John plays a very possessive lover. For me, the gamut of being a soft character that turns into a rebel has been interesting. Bachchan is so down to earth, always cracking jokes. He would complain mischievously, "Why can't I play Bipasha's lover. I don't want to play her father," and he would constantly fool around and pull my leg. For me he is the ultimate, because he has earned the respect of others by his professionalism and his humility. He walks into a room and people stand at attention. That is the kind of class he has. He is a thorough professional and a gentleman.
I'm also excited about Mani Shankar's Rudraksh with Sunjay Dutt, where all the amazing special effects have been done in house in India. I play a scientist in the film. I will have five releases this year - Footpath, Rudraksh, Jaane Hoga Kya, Aitbaar, and Ishq Hai Tumse. I think the winners would be Aitbaar and Rudraksh though all my films are great. Ofcourse, one never knows. I thought Gunaah was a great film. I worked 70 days in a row, day and night for that film but that didn't work.
You don't act in multistarrers much do you?
Well that is because of the date problems that invariably crop up with various stars that are roped in. I like to act in films that are quickly made, and it gets chaotic, but I am doing a comedy by Inder Kumar with Ajay Devgun, Fardeen Khan and Saif Ali Khan, but things have been worked out and dates are all coordinated, so as long as that is done I don't mind.
So where do you see yourself as an actress a few years from now?
The excitement of getting so much creative satisfaction and that I am continuing to improve and grow with each film is wonderful and ofcourse I get to travel and enjoy the perks that being an actress gives. There is lot of hard work involved, but I also know that this is not that I will be doing forever. I give myself maybe five years at the most as an actress. I don't want to be a legend. I just want to be happy with whatever it is I choose to do at any given point of my life.
Is there anything about Bipasha Basu that we don't know?
That I have big feet! I hate my feet and I talk about it all the time - all my costars make fun of them. And I guess now everyone else will know too!
You said it Bapisha!