Anushka Sharma

Anushka Sharma is seen in a still from her upcoming film "When Harry Met Sejal" opposite Shah Rukh Khan. Sharma says she is not like her character in the film. (photo provided)

In just nine years since her 2008 debut “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi,” Anushka Sharma has chalked up some of the biggest directors (Yash and Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Rajkumar Hirani), banners (Yash Raj Films, Dharma Productions, Vinod Chopra Productions) and co-stars (all three Khans, Akshay Kumar, Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, with a film to come with Varun Dhawan).

What’s more? She has already produced two films, “NH10” and “Phillauri” that are considered break-even projects. She is now set to produce a third film, “Pari.”

She now adds to her roster a third film with Shah Rukh Khan (after her debut and “Jab Tak Hain Jaan”), also her first with Imtiaz Ali as writer-director and as a Gujarati girl—a tourist to boot. Always matter-of-fact, a shade reserved but extremely courteous, she is clearly tired but is willing for a Q & A at Yash Raj Studios.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: How relevant is Sejal’s community as well as that of Harry (a Punjabi) to the plot?

A: It is incidental. It could have been any two communities. One reason, probably, why Imtiaz has made her a Gujarati is that Gujaratis travel a lot as families abroad.

Q: What were your experiences with learning Gujarati as a language?

A: I picked up the diction and how she talks. I would record my trainer’s voice to listen and practice. Actually, once I got the hang of it, Gujarati came naturally. I could even do the improvisations. Obviously, I could not master the language. The idea was that her character was not a stereotype of a Gujarati or a caricature.

Q: What is Sejal otherwise all about?

A: Well, as a girl, she has no worldly view of things. Superficial, without a deep understanding of life, she has only lived among family members, like cousins. She loves shopping, and in that and many other things, she is street-smart and quite ‘jugaadu’ (resourceful). How she is influenced by Harry, and how she evolves forms an interesting journey.

Q: What was your experience with Imtiaz Ali, who fleshes out his heroines distinctly, come Ayesha Takia in “Socha Na Tha,” Kareena Kapoor Khan in “Jab We Met” or Deepika Padukone in “Love Aaj Kal” and “Tamasha?”

A: The best thing about Imtiaz is that he does not like references. Many directors tell you to do something similar to what has been done in the past, by you or someone else. But since nothing like that happened, it was more enjoyable to play Sejal.

Q: You have opted for certain kinds of films and roles of late, including in your productions. Did this role fit in with your approach?

A: Oh, she is totally different from me, yet relatable. It took time – and effort – to relate to her.

Q: You said somewhere that you had doubts about playing this role.

A: Not doubts about THIS role, but I was scared a bit – actually, I am always scared of every role I do. And you are only as relevant as what you do. I also cannot repeat myself. That would be boring.

Q: How has your equation with Shah Rukh Khan evolved in nine years? Had you not told someone at the time of “Rab Ne…” that he was not that good as an actor?

A: (Laughs) Oh, that was an inside joke! Who was I then to give my opinion on Shah Rukh Khan as an actor? He is obviously a superb actor, but as a person, even today, he is the same charming man.

During “Rab Ne… ,” he never showed me how big a star he was and how I was just a newcomer. And he has not changed in any way because I am also successful today. For me, someone being a good human being has always been more important than being a good professional. And that applies to him perfectly.

Q: You are playing characters very different from your norm in your productions –a city girl on a revenge spree, a ghost and now a fairy. Are you looking for roles you will never get outside?

A: We are generating new characters that we are not used to seeing, but our company is not about being limited to that. I will also not star in all our productions.

Q: Hindi cinema has not connected at all with audiences in 2017. Just two or three films have succeeded, whereas a “Bahubali 2: The Conclusion” has crossed 500 crore.

A: I think what has happened is a great thing because it will make the industry know we can’t take the audience for granted. What the story is and how well you have made it will always decide a film’s fate, not ancillary measures like big stars and good songs. Blows are very important for everyone’s life – they make you introspect and re-look at what you have done wrong.

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