MUMBAI—She’s getting better by the film. When I mentioned it to her, Ileana D'Cruz smiled and thanked me, saying “So sweet of you to say that!” Her tally of 25 films (including this week’s release “Raid”) includes just eight Hindi releases. Her South Indian career began with “Devadasu” in 2006.

However, she rued that since she started out in Hindi films, there is a misconception down South that she is not interested in doing films there anymore. She set right the misunderstanding but said frankly that the offers she has got since have not been exciting. “I have been a part of such big films and hits down there that I cannot do films for the sake of doing a movie down South,” she said.

D'Cruz’s Hindi hits have been “Barfi!” (her debut), “Main Tera Hero” and “Rustom.” Though “Mubarakan” and “Baadshaho” did decently last year, they underperformed vis-à-vis their huge budgets but were liked by audiences. Even better, from “Rustom” onwards, Ileana’s histrionic graph has been going up.

“I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Baadshaho’ and began to cry like a baby on the last day of shoot, because I did not want to leave the character!” she recalled. “I was so excited about being the baddie that I wanted to kill all the characters in the climax, and told Milan (Luthria, the director) so, and he was laughing away!”

Is there a conscious decision now to do meatier roles? “Yes!” she declared and added, “I am very selfish! But in that sense, ‘Raid’ is not really a meaty role. It’s not even too long. I was quite indifferent when told to listen to the narration, convinced that she would be a typical ‘pativrata’ kind of woman. But I realized that she was actually quite spunky. I began laughing at her lines with her husband. It was an important and interesting role. And then, finally, the story was so good and deserved to be told. It’s nice to be a part of such a film!”

She went on, “When we read or hear about a raid, we come to know of the person who was raided, not the backstory of the people who did it, and why. There is always the inspector’s point of view that is never known. ‘Raid’ is based on an actual inspector, and it is just unbelievable that he has actually gone through all this! The man is an absolute hero, so amazing that I would love to go and shake his hand and his wife’s hand. He could not even tell his family where he is going, and his wife could not even be sure whether he will come back. It’s scary to think of all that.”

Ileana D'Cruz does not like researching her characters as that spoon-feeds an actor about what others think of a character. “I like to present my understanding of a character and I think research can kill the spontaneity too,” she said.

She admitted that her simple woman character was a shift from her glamorous, stylish roles in the past, but loved the look that was designed along Rekha’s looks in the 1980s, with salwars and lehengas. However, she found the romancing part with Ajay Devgn so corny that she would burst out laughing in the middle of the shots. “There was one sequence in which I had to trip, and he would catch me. I had to trip so many times it was hilarious!” she recalled.

Ranbir Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and others: with such co-stars, why does she think she is still not in the Deepika-Priyanka league? Is it because she is considered a part-time South actress even now?

“I don’t know!” she said. “Maybe it is because I am a different actor. Arjun Kapoor told me that he loves the way I work. I am very committed, but after a shoot, I go back to my world of family and friends, who live all around the world. I love my work, but I love my family more. I do not mean to be critical in any way, but there are artists for who work ranks above everything else.”

D'Cruz loves to cook and do “something regular at least every other day.” She loves to eat and to feed people and has stopped being obsessive about her figure. “I was very hard on myself initially, but now, I realize that it is alright to be a little jiggly here and there. Men like something to hold on!” She guffawed and apologized for what sounds like a coarse remark!

Ileana D'Cruz is toying with at least one of three Hindi heroine-centric offers now, and is shocked that they have come to her at such an early stage. At the same time, she would love to do such heroine-centric films. Her all-time favorite role was “Seeta Aur Geeta” with Hema Malini, and she loves Kajol. “Ajay does not know how much I love her!” she laughed.”I have watched only two films of his, but I have watched so many of Kajol’s films, including some again and again, where I wander away when other characters come in! As for ‘Raid,’ I wanted to please his fans who felt I had betrayed him in ‘Baadshaho!’” she quipped with another laugh.

She has already had an elite crop of directors in Hindi films – Anurag Basu, Raj & DK, Rajkumar Santoshi, David Dhawan, Anees Bazmee and Milan Luthria among them. Which of them have helped her grow as an actor? “The most I learned was from Anurag. I thought my South experience would help, but other than familiarizing me with how a set functions, I had to wipe the slate of six years clean!”

She explained, “Anurag would not give me a lot of direction, but he would tell me a scene and want me to react. Every time, he would tell me to tone things down, so much so that someone could feel that I am doing nothing. He really believes in subtlety. Working with Anees-sir on ‘Mubarakan’ was physically exhausting, while with Milan it was mentally draining to be so calculated and getting into the psyche of the scheming princess!”

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