Bollywood’s favourite Miss Bubbly is back – this time, as a gun-toting housewife who speaks mangled English. In Neerraj Pathak’s Bhaiaji Superhit, Preity Zinta plays Sapna, the wife of an eccentric gangster (Sunny Deol) who wants to become an actor. The November 23 release also stars Arshad Warsi, Shreyas Talpade and Amisha Patel.
Zinta’s last leading role was in her home production Ishqk in Paris in 2013. She has stayed away from the screen, apart from cameos in Happy Ending (2014) and Welcome to New York (2018), to focus on managing her Indian Premier League team Kings XI Punjab. Her credits since her debut in Dil Se in 1998 include Soldier (1998), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Lakshya (2003), Veer-Zaara (2003), Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007). “It was a conscious decision to take a break from films, but this movie has reignited my passion for acting,” the 43-year-old actress said during a recent interview in Mumbai.
Was it a conscious decision to make a comeback with an offbeat film like ‘Bhaiaji Superhit’?
Yes and no. I never chose this film to make a comeback. It was Sunny who called me for and insisted that I do the film. When I heard the script, I realised that this was the opportunity for me to play a desi role. The film chose me over me choosing the movie. Every film I have done till now is still 10 per cent my space. But this film is zero per cent my space as a character.
Arshad and Shreyas were so funny even during the serious sequences. This is not a film to watch if you are looking for something serious. This is a film that will entertain you and make you laugh.
You play the feisty housewife Sapna in ‘Bhaiaji Superhit’. Tell us about your character.
I play a twelfth class-fail housewife in the film. She loves to talk in English. I tortured Neerraj Pathak during the rehearsals. It is a totally madcap film. All through, I had a lot fun shooting it.
I was always stressed about getting the accent right. If the accent was right, my English was too clean. However I would talk, it would become very English. I had to remember my UP accent. There is one scene where I had to say that there was too much fire burning inside me. I then turned the word ‘inside’ to ‘incite’.
Most of my career, I have wondered why I didn’t get the desi, earthy roles. I have gotten the very rich or the very cool characters. Even in Armaan [her 2003 film alongside Anil Kapoor], where I play a negative character, the character is very modern.
Sapna is very mercurial and a drama queen. I am very grateful to Neerraj that I even got to do an action sequence after Sangharsh [her 1999 film] alongside Akshay Kumar. There were a lot of highs because the character has so many highs.
You have often mentioned in interviews that you took a break from acting to focus on your IPL team.
I had this stupid thought in my head that if I did not do any movie, I would immediately change my image and be taken seriously. First of all, without trying to praise myself, I think I am reasonably attractive. So when you are reasonably attractive in a serious work environment, you are not taken seriously. But I am very proud to be an actress.
More than the image part of it, you can only do one thing really well. Acting is not a job that you can multitask with. You have to go into a different zone. When I got into cricket, I got very excited. I was doing that as Preity. Every other character in a movie, I did as the character I was building on.
Also, I wanted to have some financial stability. It was a conscious decision to take a break from films. But this film has reignited my passion for acting.
This year marks two decades since you made your debut in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se. How have the audiences changed?
There is a lot of pride in being Indian today. When I started my career, 90 per cent of our films were shot in Europe or Switzerland. Of course, we shot interior scenes here. But everything was about the foreign world.
Now, things have become about Indian pride. We are talking about Haryana and Rajasthan, and films are set in our own country. Films are getting more rural and biopics are being made. It is about celebrating ourselves as opposed to being part of the world.
Masala and female-oriented films were always there. But the audiences have changed. That is why the films have changed. Content times itself according to you, you don’t time yourself with the content.
Has the Hindi film industry changed its ways too?
With Netflix and Amazon, people have some much variety. You cannot lift films anymore. You cannot lift music anymore. Originality and creativity have increased. A film now works on its purity, how good or bad it is. You can only do so much marketing, but the system has become more transparent.
The meaning of stardom too has changed. The aura of the stars has changed. The newer generation will never know what stardom really is. If two of your films don’t work, people move onto the next. People have put all their lives into social media today.
Part of being a star is also the curiosity that comes with it. Take the mega-stars like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Mr Bachchan [Amitabh Bachchan], Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukerji and Aishwarya Rai: the current generation will never know what that kind of stardom is. When we were working, it took us 10 to 15 years to become stars. But now, people become a star with the first film and fade away in the second. Stardom is very short-lived now.
The thing I miss in today’s movies is the soul and putting the one whom you love ahead of you. That is because of modern love. We as people have become quick and unsteady.
Which of your characters has challenged you the most?
In terms of acting, it was Kya Kehna. It was one of my first roles, and I did not know how to act or react. It was a very emotionally motivated role.
Lakshya was physically challenging. We shot at an altitude of 18,000 feet. My portions were all shot there [in Ladakh]. I was a news reporter and I had to speak non-stop.
Veer Zaara was difficult because I had to speak Urdu. It was everything that I am not. Yash uncle [director Yash Chopra] used to speak to me about the 1970s, but I could not relate to the character.
However, the one character that was the easiest to do and was a lot like me was Preeti Nair from Dil Se. Mani Ratnam told me to just be myself and do whatever I felt like. This was the only film where that happened. The character was the closest to me.