She rose to fame as a docile 'bahu' hell bent on seeking revenge from her wrong-doers in Ekta Kapoor's 'Kasamh Se'. At the peak of her TV career she quit this popular show and soon landed her first big Bollywood break- Farhan Akhtar's 'Rock On!!'. That's Prachi Desai for you!
A couple of films happened next but the actress believes that she is yet to make her mark. After 'Once Upon A Mumbaai' she is teaming up with Emraan Hashmi again and this time for a film based on one of the most controversial Indian cricketers of all time- Mohammad Azharuddin.
With 'Azhar' gearing up for a big release this Friday, Prachi Desai gets chatty with us about why she believes her character Naureen to be a beautiful mystery, her concern about not getting author-backed roles, why she isn't playing a second fiddle to Nargis Fakhri's Sangeeta and her link-ups.
Excerpts from the candid conversation-
Q. How did you prep up for your role of Naureen in 'Azhar'?
A. My role is based on a real character. So there were a lot of things that had to be kept in limitations. Since it's a real life character we have tried out our level best to stay true to it. There was nothing which we could experiment with or take any liberties. Fortunately we found a lot of pictures of Naureen which gave us an insight to what she really looked like, how she dressed and how she was. My look was designed keeping all these things in mind. It was really tough because nobody knows much about Naureen. In fact I tried to do a lot of research on her but I couldn't find anything. I had to rely on our director Tony Sir for whatever source of information that was available to at least reach it to me. Naureen is a beautiful mystery and the most important part of Azhar's life because they were married for nine years. Everybody knows Azhar on the field, the amazing cricketing star he was, his style statements and the controversies of his life. But you don't know that these two strangers were married together. Naureen was only 16 and he was a few years older than her. They had a silent love story She saw him through all the upheavals, the highs and lows. She was his biggest support system.
Q.Were you ever tempted to play the other character, Sangeeta which is now portrayed by Nargis Fakhri?
A. I think I am a very versatile actor. I can do any role that's given to me. I could have done equal justice to any part that was given to me in the film. I could have done Azhar as well. (laughs) I could have done Sangeeta or Naureen. But I think that I was the luckiest girl because I hit the jackpot. Naureen is the best role of the film. It is the only constant. It's the longest out of all the other roles. It's the most pivotal role and also an insight to this man's life that nobody ever has known or seen. I am actually lucky that I got to play Naureen because it's not one dimensional. It starts off as a 16 year old, a stranger who is married to this cricketing star to their transition into being a little more mature versions of themselves.
Q.Any memory of watching Azhar's matches?
A. I am sure that I must have watched Azhar Sir play on field. Maybe some match that my dad was watching at home. But I was too small at that time to remember all those things. I do remember playing cricket cards though. (laughs)
Q. When you met Naureen, did she tell you how shattered she was when Azhar started dating Sangeeta (Bijlani) so that you could play that emotional turmoil on screen?
A. Yes, I did meet Naureen. As actors we do understand how challenging the part is. Just imagine our turmoil! As actor we have to make sure that we ain't crossing these boundaries. You are trying to give another person their respect and also she has been a very private person. I am not the kind of person who would ever cross that line, overstep and maybe ask her anything uncomfortable. I would rather stick to the script. If I had any doubts I would ask my director. Thankfully I got most of the information from him. I have met Naureen in a very personal capacity. There were some amazing things that I got to know from her but I am not going to tell you what I asked her and what I didn't, what she told me and what she didn't because I think with Naureen individually that needs to be private as it is very sensitive. As an actor in spite of wanting to know things I cannot say it. I cannot cross that line.
Q. Because she was such a private person, was it easier for you to interpret her role on the canvas?
A. Just imagine, you don't know anything about this person but you are playing her role! How difficult that would have been! The thing is with Azhar, Sangeeta or anybody else, you could really watch their life feeds, you can get to know their insights from their interviews- how they talk, how they were. But with Naureen, you just don't know anything about her. I had to rely on everything that Tony told me about her. You know people make it seem so simple because they use all these adjectives. They would say she was shy or she was soft-spoken. But that's not really enough. How can you form an image of somebody out of these things? So it was really difficult. On one hand I was trying to figure her out through these little-little things that were being told to me about her. At the same time absolutely I had to stick to the script. There could never be a reaction from me which was coming out from my imagination or coming out as Prachi. I had to be Naureen. I was perplexed as to how things would fall into place. But when I met her I really figured out how she is and how she would have been back then. Then it all started making sense which was really interesting. She is such a confident person which I wouldn't have guessed otherwise. All my presumptions got cleared after meeting her. Of course I met a more mature version of her but still I could guess what she would have been like in her younger years.
Q. Was you a little sceptical about signing this film since you are working with Tony D'Souza for the first time?
A. Absolutely not. I think that everybody in life deserves a chance. Otherwise the industry is all about family business. As far as Tony is concerned, I think he has his soul in film-making which you will see through this film. You may have watched his earlier films which may or may not have appealed to you. But I think with this story and his narrative of Azhar's life I thought that was very interesting and I could see it from Day 1 that it is so promising. So I was more than happy to be working with him. My views only got better after I started shooting with him. He is a gem of a person. He is a fabulous director because the way he has held us in this film brought out something different in everybody in terms of characterization. It's real and not caricature-like.
Q. Why don't we get to see you doing more films?
A. I don't know what their (the directors') problem is! I think people need to be offering me a lot more exciting stuff. I get the most ridiculous reactions from people when they meet me in person. The thing they tell me the most is- 'Oh My God! You are nothing like what you are made out to be on-screen!' I think that's the problem. I am stuck in a rut. Something that worked for me and worked in certain films, people constantly kept exploiting that. So they keep offering me the same thing over and over again. I guess people need to see me for the real person that I am. Maybe give me more youth-centric roles, make me act with actors who are more my age and I know that I do this well which works for me. But I can do a lot more as well. Whenever they have a part which needs a good actor they always call me. It's good. It's a compliment but I think I want to have fun as well with other kinds of roles. So people need to see that. What they make me out to be on screen is make-believe. That's not me!
Q. Do you approach directors to cast you in their films especially those who are in your wish-list?
A. Absolutely. I do reach out to people whose work I really appreciate, but not in the sense of pure prospect of working together. I do reach out to them when I absolutely get blown away with certain films. I do compliment them on that. If I get a chance to meet them and express my desire to work with them then I do.
Q. Why do you do a lot of multi-starrer films as compared to solo ones?
A. Because people offer me only those. I think I can do a lot more. I think I can do way better. I am never given an author-backed role. I am always given a role which wouldn't seem the most important on the level of the script but I make it out to be something else. If people can't open their eyes to that also then I don't know what it takes. I think I just have to keep doing what I have to keep doing. You have to relentlessly keep going after doing your part at least well. You never know when it clicks. People like Vidya Balan and Kangana Ranaut took this long to prove or get that kind of acknowledgement even after being just as fabulous back then. They were fabulous from the day they entered this industry. We are only acknowledging them now. I think it's all about luck. It's all about getting that right role which can happen at any point and I guess I am waiting for that.
Q. What was the first thought that came to your mind when Tony offered you this film?
A. I thought I hit jackpot because I had the best role in the film. When he offered me the role of Naureen I was really happy because this was the first time I was actually learning about her. I personally didn't know anything about her myself. Just the fact about how the role is shaping up from the start to the end, I think that was wonderful because you are getting to play a real life character. Trying to get into that psyche and bring it out alive on screen made me think this was the best part ever. Nobody has ever seen her, so to put a face to her first time on-screen was a huge challenge for me.
Q. What is the one best thing about Emraan Hashmi as a co-star?
A. His nasty sense of humour. (chuckles). It's only become better. Earlier he would smirk when he would crack a joke but now he knows how to keep a straight face. It was amazing acting with him. I think this is one of his best performances ever. We share a great on-screen chemistry. I think he looks best with me.
Q. Did you at any point think that Nargis could perhaps steal the limelight from you because she is the oomph quotient in the film?
A. An actor's job is to act and that's what I am doing in this film. If you act well I don't think anybody can steal your thunder. I think that glam quotient appeals to some people and acting appeals to certain people. But then you have to do what you do best. Like I act, for myself that's the best I do. But I can also be glamorous. So I am the one who has an upper hand here because I can do various things and be versatile. Everybody cannot act so I think that's the difference. I think everybody has their USP and I guess if in a film that's utilized to the best then it brings out the best in everybody. But if you place us in irrelevant parts then it will look off. But this is what looks best for the film. So I guess that's why we are doing what we are doing in the film.
Q. How is 'Rock On 2' shaping up?
A. Fabulous. Kick-ass. 'Rock On 2' has always been a film ahead of its time. So doing this one was only more than special for all of us because we were coming back together. People usually don't tap onto the rock based genre of music. We did that with 'Rock On' and this is an extension of where we left off. All of this was very exciting and that was my debut film. So to come back to that is just really special. The rapport that the entire team shares is extremely special. The bond has just grown stronger with this film. There was so much familiarity. It was actually freaky because we have spent time together during 'Rock On'. We know each other over the years. Everybody evolved so much individually and professionally in every manner. At times you couldn't tell if these film characters are bonding or these actual people are bonding or what. But we were like a house on fire.
Q. Why don't we hear reports about your link-ups?
A. I have my fun but I am very private and discreet about it. (laughs) I am not the kind of person who just wants to make a news about all these other things. I am a private person as such.
Q. But are you dating someone?
A. I am not going to comment on that.(laughs) I will leave you guessing instead.