Priyanka, who celebrated her 22nd birthday on July 18, is full of surprises. Why, life itself is full of surprises for her.
It started as early as Standard 8, when she was studying at Lucknow's La Martiniere Girls School. She went for a vacation to the US, gave an IQ test for a school for a lark, and before anyone knew it, Priyanka was on her way to the US for three years of education.
Even entering the Miss India beauty contest in 2000 was not planned.
"I was studying for my 12th boards, when my mother sent my pictures for the Miss India contest. I had taken the pictures earlier for a scholarship in Australia, where I wanted to do engineering. When I got the call, I didn't know how to respond! My dad told me to give it a try. And I did. Anything to give up my studies! I didn't think I would win. I just went to take a break. My family and I would joke about it. I would be the millennium Miss India!" she laughs.
And Priyanka went on to become the Millenium Miss World.
On the sets of her film, Vipul Shah's Waqt: The Race Against Time, the actress is juggling with various things. She is shooting for a Holi song sequence in artificial rain. Wearing a light pink top with a shirt over it and denim capris, she is also getting her nails done. The next day, she is shooting for Abbas-Mustan's Aitraaz and she will be shown applying nail polish.
Priyanka is also trying to figure out what she would wear for the next day's shoot. As some attendants bring her Vikram Phadnis designs, she seems unsatisfied. The required scene would have her at work. And she simply cannot wear that bright pink corset top. Nor does she want to wear black. "I'll look so kali (dark) in that," she wails. She prefers maroon, but doesn't like the design.
And then, there is this interview with Senior Entertainment Correspondent Ronjita Kulkarni.
With most beauty pageant winners make a beeline to Bollywood, what made you go down South?
Thamizhan was not the first film I signed. I signed Raj Kanwar's Andaaz, Anil Sharma's The Hero and Hriday Shetty's Plan way back in 2001. But the Hindi films took their own sweet time to get made. The Tamil film just happened to come out faster.
How difficult was choosing films for you since you had no experience in the film world?
It wasn't easy. I have made my share of mistakes. I chose films that got stuck like K C Bokadia's Ek Haseena Ek Deewana, Guddu Dhanoa's Gandhi and a Vijay Galani film.
I didn't know the filmmakers then. I would only listen to the story and say yes if I liked it. I chose films by instinct. I didn't even think about my role or how many songs I would get. I didn't think that was important. Then my secretary came in and helped me. [CEO, Times Of India] Pradeep Guha was also helpful. He gave me a list of filmmakers that I should know of and should say yes to, if they approached me.
But now, when I take up projects, I look at the banner first. The producer must be capable of promoting the film, besides making it. I have seen a lot of projects getting delayed. I don't want to do films that come out five years later. Look at Shah Rukh Khan's Yeh Lamhe Judaai Ke or Akshay Kumar's Mere Biwi Se Bhachao. I need bankable producers. Of course, my role is important too.
I chose Asambhav because of [director] Rajiv Rai and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi because of [producer] Sajid Nadiadwala. Of course, MSK's script is hilarious. And it's my first solo film with two boys, Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan. They are so good together. The project appealed to me instantly. You know, the film's mahurat happened on Akshay's birthday in September. In the middle of the shooting schedule was Salman's birthday in December. And we finished the film on July 18, my birthday!
How different are your roles in Asambhav and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi?
They are poles apart. The only thing in common is that both the characters are very innocent and gullible. Because of that, Alisha [in Asambhav] gets dragged into a conspiracy. And that is why Rani gets stuck between two boys. She likes both of them and she doesn't know what to do.
Secondly, Alisha wants to be a singer and is very ambitious. The same with Rani, who wants to become a fashion designer. These are similarities.
But the characterisation and the way they behave are totally different. Rani is a very girl next door. Alisha is a singer, so she has that attitude.
Do you work on your character beforehand?
If it is a normal character that I can identify with, then it is not a problem. But if it is a character that is very challenging, I sit with my directors.
Like the one in Aitraaz. I don't believe in this character's ideology. I cannot relate to her. I would sit with Abbas-Mustan a lot and work on the character and looks. She has two different looks, as I have shown her with two personalities in the film. One in flashback and the other is the present situation.
I always would pass my exams because I could mug a lot. I would never really understand (laughs). That helped me a lot in cinema. I can memorise two, three pages of dialogues easily.
Does working with actors like Amitabh Bachchan (in the under-production, Waqt), Salman Khan (in MSK) and Ajay Devgan (in the under-production, Blackmail) put added pressure on you to perform?
I have to work very hard to be seen next to personalities like Amitji, Salman and Ajay. One has to be very involved in the work and characters to be at par with legends like these who can carry films on their shoulders. But it doesn't put any added pressure on me. It is not like they are playing my character or that they can get the best actress award. That's something that I am going to get if I do well!
But they always give me advice.
When I see my older films and then those that I have shot recently for, I feel like I have grown as an actress. And the credit goes to my co-stars. If I've done a great scene, its only because they have reciprocated well.
What do you do a day before your film releases?
I get very nervous because you put in so much effort, time and energy in a film. But eventually I know the fate of a film depends on luck and destiny. We have put in as much as we can. We can't go beyond that.
I pray a lot. I hope that people like the film and that it works.
What is the ones thing you love and hate about films?
I love cinema itself. It fascinates me. Not just the acting part, but even the direction, cinematography and the technical part of cinema. It is like giving birth of a baby and there are about 200 to 300 people contributing to the film -- from the light boys to the sound boys to editors etc. So many people contribute to a three-hour film. There are so many aspects to it, it'll take someone a lifetime to learn it. I don't think I can do anything other than be in the movies.
But I hate malicious gossip. You are in the public eye and people have the right to know certain parts of you and your life. But rumours and gossip bother me. I couldn't deal with it before. I would retaliate by calling up the journalists and get upset. Now I know what I am doing, my family knows what I am doing and people who matter know what I am doing. That is all that matters.
Are there times when you have put your foot down on certain outfits?
Many times. I don't wear outfits that I am not comfortable with. I am grateful that I have reached a position where directors respect that. I tell them if I cannot wear an outfit because it is too revealing. I make that clear before I start a film. If they don't want to take me because of that, it is fine.
Once the film starts, I always do my sittings before shooting. The clothes are always my prerogative, unless it is something that the director or producer really wants.
Is there anything you feel you have missed out on?
The only thing I missed out on was college and those teenage romances. I only studied till the 12th. I did get enrolled in Mumbai's Jaihind (college) but never got around to attending college. I did plan to get a degree by correspondence but it is tough because I am very busy shooting. Sometimes, I do triple shifts!
At one time, I had five sets in Filmistan simultaneously. All my producers came to shoot in Filmistan because I was shooting for Aitraaz there.
How do you unwind?
My favourite pastime is sleeping.
I also have this thing for DVDs and CDs. I have so many of them. My mom says I should open a store now! That the only thing I am organised about. They are all numbered and coded. If anyone has touched them, I'd know. I hate people borrowing my DVDs and my books.
What are your forthcoming films?
Aitraaz, Yakeen (with Arjun Rampal), Blackmail (with Ajay Devgan and Suniel Shetty) and Waqt (with Akshay Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan).
I get along with everyone I have worked with. A lot of my directors have repeated me. I did Hero for [producers] Time. And they repeated me in their next film, Kismet. I was supposed to do Humraaz with Abbas-Mustan but couldn't. Now, they have taken me in Aitraaz. That's what matters to me. Your work speaks for yourself. We sell our talent and our work, not ourselves. You should be someone who comes on time and who delivers what you are paid for. You must be easy to work with, and not throw tantrums.
I am very punctual. But I am always in a rush. Suppose I have to get ready for a shoot in Film City by 9 am. I would have to get there an hour early, which means I have to leave home at 7:15. But I would inevitably get up at seven! Then it's a rush to be on time. I almost always eat my breakfast in my car [a Mercedes]. And tell my driver, 'Gaadi udao (Make the car fly!)'.
Are you happy with what you have achieved today?
I think it is a huge achievement for an 18-year-old girl to win a Miss World title. And to have the films I do at 22.