In spite of playing second fiddle in her first film, Parineeti Chopra swept the awards. Nishita Jha meets the actress to watch out for
SHE’S JUST back from a whirlwind promotional tour through Ahmedabad, Indore, Jaipur and New Delhi. In the sanctum of tinsel dreams, the Yash Raj Film (YRF) Studios in Mumbai, 24-year-old Parineeti Chopra has just woken up to the fact that she is living the dream. A year ago, actress Priyanka Chopra’s cousin, moved to Mumbai from London to “escape recession”, and found herself a mid-level executive job with YRF’s marketing team. If the fact that she was almost immediately offered a three-film deal with Aditya Chopra wasn’t enviable enough, Parineeti is about to cross an even more significant milestone. Ishaqzaade, poised for release this week, will be her second film with YRF, and her first as Yash Raj’s lead actress.
Through her 19th interview at the end of a long day, Parineeti is still untouched by the cultivated air of one accustomed to being watched. She has instead, the joie de vivre of a schoolgirl who has suddenly discovered she is popular. At the end of each interview, she rushes out of the conference room to sing snatches of old Hindi film songs in the corridor, exchange jokes with the Ishaqzaade team, bestow waiting journalists with a sudden, radiant smile. While her agent Parul warns reporters that Arjun Kapoor (the male lead of the film) is especially sulky today (uncle Anil Kapoor has been walking armin- arm with Yash Chopra all day, a meeting of grown-ups that is making Arjun nervy), she adds that Parineeti “is never in a bad mood”. The comparison would only be fair if Parineeti’s big Bollywood connection, cousin Priyanka Chopra, were around, hobnobbing with the “seniors”. But Parineeti’s current status as very important person at YRF certainly agrees with her.
What is harder to imagine is the young debutante as part of the efficient, homogenised mass of busy young people that turn the wheels of the YRF machine. Her colleagues from a year ago now mark out interview slots for her and arrange to have her parents picked up from the airport. They agree that she was a misfit in an “office situation” given her predisposition to goofing around, breaking into improv imitations of co-workers, and always sub-consciously seeking the warm glow of a spotlight. Nearly six months before Parineeti decided to quit her executive job with YRF to look for an acting school, Maneesh Sharma, director of Band Baaja Baaraat, suggested to Aditya Chopra that he consider signing her on as an actress with YRF. Appalled at the idea of recruiting someone from his marketing team as a heroine, Chopra refused. Realising that the only way to get the filmmaker to notice Parineeti was on a film reel, Maneesh suggested she meet YRF’s casting director for “advice” on her career.
‘No one told me to look hot, I lost weight for the role because Zoya is a feisty and hardheaded young girl,’ says Parineeti
“We were fooling around with a camera, I did a few lines from Jab We Met, and left. I was called back the next day and Maneesh said we’re giving you a three-film contract with YRF. I didn’t know how to react, so I said, ‘What did I do?’” Parineeti laughs. Displaying an uncanny instinct for her first on-camera audition, Parineeti who is from Ambala, chose to perform Geet’s dialogues from Jab We Met — an effervescent and talkative Punjabi girl. It was the perfect pitch to land her first role as Dimple Chaddha in Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, but still a long way off from winning her a lead role.
“Call me self-centred, but I never considered myself only one-fifth of Ricky Bahl,” says Chopra seriously, aware that her role was hardly written for a star. “It didn’t bother me that I had been managing publicity for Anushka and Ranveer till a fortnight ago or that there were three beautiful women apart from me in my first film, where I was playing an overweight, small-town girl. It was a weird professional transition, but I was on a set as a Yash Raj girl, and I knew life was good,” she grins. But Chopra’s scrubbed clean look made her luminous onscreen. As Dimple Chaddha, she was believable, funny and by her own telling, utterly spontaneous — “I’d be like ‘cue, line, got it. Action! Cut!’” she says, miming a fleeting glance at an imaginary script. Parineeti’s “unlettered” method in Ricky Bahl won her 10 best-debutante awards in 2011, along with that longed-for lead role in Ishaqzaade.
Suddenly aware of what was at stake, Parineeti approached this role with far less naïveté than she lets on. “No one told me to look hot, I lost weight for the role because Zoya is a feisty and hardheaded young girl, look at the way she glares at Parma (Arjun Kapoor) in the posters while he’s pointing a gun at her — it would look comical if she were plump,” she says seriously, explaining her newly-toned look. This is Chopra- Parineeti internalising the fact that in Bollywood, leading ladies, no matter what the ‘character’ demands, are almost always perfectly slender. “On the sets, I forget that there are cameras on me,” she says. Yet a recently acquired awareness of camera angles is apparent even in the rushes for Ishaqzaade, as in her expressed disappointment that not enough of her interviewers were from television channels.
CHOPRA’S FIRST big spend post the success of Ricky Bahl, was moving in to a sea-view apartment— the ultimate portent of having ‘arrived’ in Mumbai. One of the reasons she is so likeable is because she does not yet speak in Bollywood’s manufactured quotes. She is still in awe of how fast her world is changing, evident when she speaks of her new home — “I can’t lie, I’ve only rented it, but I’m earning now, I can afford it and it’s still pretty huuuumongous,” she drawls.
In spite of such worldly wisdom, Parineeti Chopra introduces herself to everyone she meets— spot boy, the sandwich guy, anyone who passes by— glowing when she realises they already know her name. “I haven’t reached a point where I think it’s alright to forget my manners, and I hope I never do. I have this feeling that if I start taking life for granted, it will all go away,” she pauses, as if suddenly aware of the precarious peak she is balanced on. As the interview ends, she waltzes outside with a choreographer, back to being shiny and happy, relieved that she can finally go meet her parents. She takes him by the arm, “Let’s fly!” she says, and runs down the corridor, into a room, arms flapping like a bird. As admiring heads turn to follow her lithe frame, you can’t help but hope she will.
Nishita Jha is a Correspondent with Tehelka.