Sifting through tales of narcissism and starry tantrums, SUNAINA KUMAR discovers how Anushka Sharma, the face-next-door, is all set to become the new ‘It’ girl
ANUSHKA SHARMA IS exactly seven minutes late. Her assistant has been issuing updates, “Anushka is walking from the gymnasium, she will be there in three minutes.” This military precision presumably is a result of her colonel father.
The 22-year-old with just four movies to her credit is on the cusp of being very famous and knows it. Everything she does is grist for the rumour mills. She’s dating Ranveer Singh, whom she cosied up to at a party. She’s interested in Ranbir Kapoor. She is arrogant, throws tantrums and thinks she’s better than her contemporaries. She demands an unreasonable fee and does not revert to directors on scripts. And the most outrageous rumour thus far — there are two girls in her entourage whose job it is to reassure her of her beauty all day long.
It has taken Anushka two years since her launch to get to this vertigo-inducing point. Despite her debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan, or perhaps because of it, she has been under the radar all this while. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was followed by Badmaash Company, where she shed the cloying sweetness of Taani to become a spunky con girl, Bulbul. The glimpses of the vital performer in her first two roles finally came together as the chutzpah-filled Shruti Kakkar in Band Baaja Baaraat.
Like Shruti, Anushka has a ‘don’t mess with me’ aura about her. No one can tell her what to do. Even director Aditya Chopra knows better than to ask her to do something. “He gently suggests it and waits for me to grasp it myself,” she laughs. Growing up in Bengaluru, Anushka was contemplating a career in journalism when she first walked the ramp as a 16-year-old. As the modelling assignments grew, so did her interest in the profession. Movies were never on her agenda, till her family moved to Mumbai and her agency sent her pictures to Yash Raj Films (YRF). Even while waiting for a break, she was a girl who spoke her mind. She refused to take an impromptu screen test and told mega banner YRF that she needed a day to prepare herself. They made an exception and she came back the next day, to be cast as the next Yash Raj heroine.
Even if Anushka had been the most humble of actors, getting equal billing with Akshay Kumar in the promos of Patiala House would have cured her of that. And faux modesty is not one of her afflictions. She does not talk openly about dating Ranveer Singh, but says she doesn’t like to conceal her friendships with her male co-stars, or that she prefers hanging out with men. She made no ritual fuss about wearing a bikini or being in Band Baaja Baaraat’s Kurbaanesque sex scene. On Koffee With Karan, she claimed she can outperform most actresses.
Young and high on success, she admits she often comes across as brash; but that is because she is sure of herself and her place in the industry. “People are used to newcomers exhibiting timidity. I’m misunderstood for confidently speaking my mind.” It is a confidence she attributes to her very liberal upbringing. As a concession to humility, she grants that all the excitement around her has only built up post Band Baaja Baaraat, “no one really cared until then”.
Anushka is slowly adjusting to this new life. Her parents find themselves befriended by everyone around them, looking for an opportunity to meet their famous daughter. She admits feeling selfish, because everything in the family now revolves around her, from taking holidays to going out for meals. It is left to her brother, who is in the Merchant Navy, to spend time with her parents.
Anushka recently bought the three extravagant things she’d promised herself on making it big — a designer bag, a house and a Range Rover. But here she is, dressed in jeans, a white ganji and a floral shirt from Delhi’s export reject market Sarojini Nagar, bought by her mother. And this is what Anushka has capitalised on in every movie — her girlnext- door appeal. She is just Anushka, non-threateningly pretty, natural, and able to say ‘ren de’ for Band Baaja Baaraat as if she was Janakpuri born and bred. Parmeet Sethi, director of Badmaash Company, says she is a rare actress who focusses on her performance, not her looks. “She is fiercely competitive and determined to make it to the top,” he adds. Though he disarmingly admits to casting her because she talks a lot.
Even Aditya Chopra knows better than to ask Anushka to do something. He gently suggests and waits for her to grasp it
She certainly does talk fast and talk a lot. Meiyang Chang, one of her closest buddies and co-star in Badmaash Company, says she has not one but three brains working simultaneously. “She lights up the room with hyper energy,” he says. To keep her surplus electricity in check, she practises transcendental meditation twice a day, without which she becomes cranky. She also loves to read philosophy, and hopes one day she will get some time off to get a degree in the subject. Currently, she is consumed by Open, Andre Agassi’s auto biography, and keeps quoting from it.
WHEN ASKED about her approach to acting, she says, “I wish I had an intelligent reply, but I don’t. I just rely on instinct.” On the sets of Band Baaja Baaraat, Anushka and Ranveer would be at each others’ throats because he is a studied actor who likes to rehearse, and she dreads it. Finally, director Maneesh Sharma had to step in as a peacemaker and rehearse with Ranveer. And to bravely cast the hit pair again in his next film Ladies vs Ricky Bahl.
On life beyond acting, she says, “The plan is to do this for now, while I’m young. But, later I would love to produce and host a travel show, see the world.” Anushka’s father says his daughter has always wanted to do too many things. It’s true, Anushka has the hurried air of a woman who is 10 minutes late for a five-minute appointment.
Sunaina Kumar is Special Correspondent with Tehelka