When 'Rangoon' did not take off, there was some obvious happiness. That a Kangana movie did not run. Now isn't that a benchmark of producing arrived? When are people waiting for a flop to come and are happy when it does?
Yeah, it's a celebration!
Does it feel like I'm vindicated, my losses also draw attention?
No, you know, the thing is, with 'Rangoon', I knew the stakes were very high. And 'Rangoon' flopping, I knew there is a set of people who are going to come out with their daggers and stab me to death, in a way... So I knew this. It was my biggest nightmare, my biggest fear, that if 'Rangoon' flops, what will happen to me? And when it did, every nightmare came true. People were just waiting for this to happen.
There was a time when my phone was ringing all the time, there was so much. And they all came together. And to my surprise, when I survived that, the rush that you feel, that's when I felt - if my worst fear cannot do anything, so what is there for me to worry about? So now I feel like this unchained beast because this is the limit of my enemies. All the controversies, all the... And to add to that my accidents, to add to that how my film (on Rani Lakshmibai) was struggling financially, the film I was supposed to do with Ketan Mehta didn't get any finances. And then he came with a lawsuit and then the nepotism debate went abroad and... So for me, like, when all this happened and I survived that, now I honestly don't fear anything. What will you do to me now? Nothing! There's nothing you can do to me now, because everything that can go wrong did go wrong, and here I am, completely perfectly happy in my own world.
What have your hits taught you, what have your flops taught you?
My hits have taught me nothing. When a film flops, there is a lot of learning. Post a failure, you're heading to big success. But success is a result of the learnings from failures. If I have succeeded in a film like 'Queen', it's a result of eight years' failures. But Queen in itself didn't teach me anything. Celebration in itself has no learning to it.
If those eight years had not been a tough ride, would you have been the person you are today if you had a hit to start off with?
No, no way! And I wouldn't want to change it for anything. Because of course when I started out, I didn't know I wanted to be an actress. But when I became an actress, like anyone else, I wanted an easy life, I wanted to be in the Yash Raj camp and the Dharma camp and be doing Khan films when I was an 18 year old. Of course, I wanted all of that. And because it didn't happen, I realized that the real treasure is not something that someone can give you... you don't want to be the moon who is reflecting light from others, because when everyone's gone, you have your darkness to live with. You want to be like the sun, you want to give light, not just borrow light from people.
Somewhere, people feel that an individual's struggle is about the individual and the world. My struggle is about me. My struggle did not start with the point that I want to show the world who I am. Because I did not know in the first place, who I am, who I was. So my struggle was 'I want to find out who I am'. Because what I was told as an individual, by my family, and the limited impression of mine that people had, even growing up - that didn't ring true. Being physically less capable than a man, being emotionally or financially always dependent on a man... I didn't speak English. None of the women from our family have a success story to brag about, so even I can't have it... yes, it does make sense, nobody has made it so far, why would you? But then there is a feeling within you which tells you otherwise. So that's the struggle - between the facts and the feeling.
How often do you ever end up Googling yourself?
These days, quite a lot (laughs)! Because there are like I said, a hundred people, a hundred opinions, and I have a digital team, so of course, they keep sending me links, asking, 'Do you want to give a reaction?' Or they keep telling me, 'don't react to this'.
Most people think when you are an actor, you should stick to your business, but I see myself more like a personality than an actor. So just the movie is never my agenda, never has been.
What is your agenda?
Most people expect me to be like, now that you're promoting, just stick to your business. But the point is, who are you tell me what my business is? If I am entirely here only for movies then why did I reject Khan films? Why don't I care to work with Karan Johar? Why don't I go get awards, if just that's my business? But I don't care about my business, can't you tell? So who are you to tell me what my business should be? I am here in the capacity of a woman, and my personality as a woman is a lot more valuable to me than my business of my films. Like I've said no to 300-crore films. It's not like they became 300-crore films and I regret it, they were always 300 crores on paper also. I mean, can't you tell that I really don't care about the business of my films? Especially, like I said after I hit rock bottom and realized that actually, it really doesn't matter, because people have loved me as an individual. So I have to make sure that when somebody points a finger at your character as a woman, you've got to respond to that.
You can't be like, oh, I'm an actor, in my capacity, I should just be promoting my film. I would never respect anyone who is so calculative in life, who can't rise above the status of the business and the method of marketing. It's a horrible thing to tell somebody that now that you're promoting your film... what is a film? In the scheme of things, tell me, what is a film? I've given so many hit films, today they're not even relevant. Who are you to tell me I should only be bothered about my film? What is a film? A film is nothing. I already have four offers...
Your character says, "tum jante Kitna ho mere nature Kaisa hai, character flaw toh nahi..." - what's your character flaw?
Mera character flaw yeh hai ke I am, I mean, being headstrong is a good quality, but I am too headstrong. I am too, too, too headstrong. And sometimes I even get a bit taken aback with my own ego as a woman. Because - A, a woman, and B, ego. It's not a combination that doesn't exist, it does, of course. But it's not acceptable. And that too in this much multitude. I think ego is genderless. It's harmful to anyone. But for me, I do feel that I am too egoistic... but my pride and my dignity do stem out of it.
Doesn't that disrupt logical thought, influence your reactions?
Well, of course. Luckily, I am not an impulsive person. I always have a filter of objectivity through my thoughts. That's why I can take really strong stands. I really value my personality more than my profession. And I've earned it, over a period of time. Luckily, I became familiar with the cause and effect theory by Vivekananda, and I subscribe to it. I have to put everything through that filter, and then I realize, oh, yes. If I didn't have that, I would be a disaster, I agree. Ego is like a death trap, the ego can completely destroy you. But then I have Vivekananda's blessings, and I have his teachings.
Are the people close to you, who when they see you continuing with your anger and ego, do they behave like Sameer in Simran's trailer, flee you without hearing you out, and you have to exclaim, poori Kahani Suno!
(Laughs) Well, people around me, yeah they get fed up of me, it's not that they don't. I don't meet my set of friends sometimes for days because I am embroiled in some kind of controversy, something's going on. So they do get fed up, ki Tomko chain nahi hai? Matlab when you're in so much trouble, why don't you keep quiet?
You and Vidya Balan are actors who are often the sole face on their posters. You, in particular, seem to have a lot of cinema which looks like it is being made around your personality. If a role is contrary to your profile, is of a love-struck, dependent character, will you be able to fit in?
Of course, I'll do such a role. If the script is good, if the story is good, I would play such a role. In fact, Julia, to an extent, till half the film (Rangoon), she's that woman, who's looking for the approval of a man, who's so needy in love that it is almost like a sickness.
Also, I can't say that I was not that person at one point of time. Growing up, I had a terrible time with romantic life and love interests, and I used to be lovesick to an extent that I wouldn't eat for days, I wouldn't go to school, I would cry all the time. And also there's a lot of shame that comes with being lovesick, with the fantasies of youth and the trap of primitive mating instincts. There's a lot of shame attached to it. You can't share that with anyone. I used to lose a lot of weight every time I was in love. I've had a terrible time growing up. And the same with maternal instincts. Like the last few years of my life, since I've been 25, and now I'm 30, I'm just, brooding, want to have a family, all my girlfriends are expecting. So it's not easy. I would show a lot of empathy to young women and tell them it's just fine, it's fine if you're lovesick, it's fine if you cry all the time, it's fine if you don't feel hungry, feel the butterflies that come with the initial encounter of passion, that pukey feeling that you get with the excitement of meeting someone. Oh, my God, I remember all of that. So that time, yes, that's your world and you can't think beyond that. I have a lot of empathy for such a state. And I'm sure I'll be damn good at playing it because I have been lovesick to such an extent... I used to listen to Jagjit Singh's poetry. I was a Ghalib fanatic!
Tere are ki jab Khabar mehke teri khushboo se sara ghar make (laughs)! Oh God! Ghalib - Khuda ke waste parda naked se that Salim, Kahin aisa na ho yah bhi wohi kaafir sanam nikle... Hazaaron khwahishein aisi ki har khwahish pe dam nikle . How much, off! Matlab, what beautiful days of growing up.
We didn't know much about the phase when you were into theatre in Delhi, with Asmita.
Because it was a very short span. Almost just a few months. I wish I had a lot more time there. But I was very young when I started, and I did a few workshops, and a play, I was doing backstage for that play. And then Arvind (Gaur) sir - his actor went missing one day, Madhavi was the name of the play. And he made me the lead actor, he gave me a mustache, and I was so confident, and he was so wonderful, he said, 'you're amazing with acting. You should try in films, you're young, you're beautiful', and I'm like, okay! And it is only because he guided me and gave me the direction that I came to Mumbai and I auditioned.
What irks you the most currently?
How people think they have the right to tell me how I should live my life. Who are you to tell me what I should do with my life? "Just keep to your film"? Why?! This platform that I have, I've earned, dammit! You will tell me what I should say? Why should you tell me?
There was so much shame in being in love when you were younger and now there is shame in being a nationalist or being someone who's fighting against gender bias or... if there is going to be the shame at every stage, then what is the fun of growing up? (Laughs) Young women are shamed for being in love, older women are shamed for talking about issues, what do you do?!
Write a book?
(Laughs) I definitely have a lot to tell!