October 2014: She may be one of the South’s biggest superstars and rising fast in the Hindi film industry, yet Ileana D'Cruz keeps it real, knows what’s important and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
Fresh-faced Ileana D’Cruz is quick to bust the myth that looking superstar-good comes easy, even for someone as naturally pretty as her. She’s in the middle of a shot, music blaring, when I arrive at Studio 8 at Bandra’s Mehboob Studios, and I notice how uber particular she is about the angle she presents and how carefully she goes through the shots on Arjun’s computer. (“I have a big arse,” she tells me later.)
That beauty is beyond the skin-deep for Ileana, more than the make-up, cosmetics and the Photoshop, is the first thing she establishes when we settle into her vanity van for our chat: “A happy woman is a beautiful woman. Being a happy person within makes you a beautiful person.”
Beauty & Body
We talk about her skin and body anyway—it’s such a big part of her profession, plus she’s the new Pond’s Girl. “I’d like to say that I do it all by myself, but I don’t. I’d like to say it’s easy, but it isn’t!” she says honestly. Dermatologist Dr Jayshree Sharad, whose book Skin Talks Ileana has been tweeting about, manages her skin; she works out “like crazy” with celebrity fitness trainer Yasmin Karachiwala, doing Pilates and crunches—for two hours a day (sometimes three), at eight in the morning, every single day!
She isn’t on a very strict diet, just moderates her food and tries her best to stay away from unhealthy stuff, having a little rice and sometimes a little dessert. “The time I went on a very strict diet, and cut out carbs and sugar, I really shrunk. Crash diets don’t work, nor are they healthy.”
“Sex was probably made to keep you in shape. And it’s pleasurable, so why not?!”
Luckily, she doesn’t really have a sweet tooth: “But when I’m PMSing, I crave sugar to another level… sometimes, I wonder what’s going to happen when I get pregnant, this is just PMS!”
Apart from her fear that she’s going to “bloat like a balloon” when she gets pregnant (she’s already been looking up on how to get ones body in shape after a baby), Ileana can’t wait to have kids. Family is very important to her, and she lives down the road from one of her three siblings, her older sister whose son’s pictures she’s always posting on Instagram. “We are all very close. I still cry when I miss my Mum,” who’s in Houston where Ileana’s brother and sister are studying; Dad’s in Goa. “My sister and I catch up. I babysit when I’m not working. We always do things together, and keep making calls to Mum.” This keeps her a little disconnected, and is probably why she doesn’t have many friends in the industry. “There are a few who I am quite fond of and who I trust. But it has always been family for me.”
Ileana was born in Bombay, and when she was nine or ten, her mother moved with the kids to a small under-construction house in Goa. “Dad was still working in Bombay. My mum did everything single-handedly—she got the house up, she got the water running, she got the power going.” She recalls them having to put buckets on the terrace to collect rainwater. “It was really hard initially.” So it bothers her when people say that she’s lucky, that she’s got everything: “You cannot take anyone or their journey for granted.”
Despite the meager money, those were amazing, untouched, innocent times, the “happiest days” of her life. “Some days we’d put mattresses on the terrace and would fall asleep, and wake up in the morning with squirrels running around.”
In Her Skin
When the opportunity came her way, borne out of a meeting with Marc Robinson arranged by a colleague of her mother’s, Ileana was initially reluctant to be in front of the camera. “When I was in my early teens, I was really rowdy, a tom-boy running around, climbing trees, catching frogs. But when I got to college, I became really shy, I wasn’t sure of myself.”
And, like all of us, Ileana was very self-conscious about her body. “The boys would say ‘She’s so fat, look at her big arse!’” Now she’s proud of it—“Men like big booty!”—and, inevitably, our conversation turns to the video, Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’. “Oh my god,” she says astounded. “I mean, where did they get arses that big… I thought mine was big but that’s huge!”
It was her family who encouraged, inspired her to seize the day. (Inspiration is a big theme in her life, and she has the Latin ‘Inspirare’ tattooed onto the inside of her wrist.) As her confidence grew, she began enjoying her work and getting good at it. And she’s learnt to dress for her body, sticking to silhouettes in black, burgundies, deep wines, dark blue and bottle green, irrespective of fashion trends.
She’s been part of the South and Hindi film industries (but doesn’t like being called a ‘star’). They’re different, she says. For one, the South is way more mass market. The actors’ involvement is lot less, sans script meetings; there aren’t emotional or promotional aspects to films. Plus, she doesn’t know the languages. “It’s really quick, which is why I have done so many films there, probably four in a year.”
Barfi, Anurag Basu’s 2012 masterpiece marked her entry in to Hindi films. “It took me three months to decide if I wanted to do it or not.” At that time, she had really big offers coming from the South. Here, there were Ranbir and Priyanka, and she even didn’t get the guy in the end. Plus, there was a clause in the contract that allowed the director to do away with her role.
Leading cinematographer and debutant director Ravi K Chandran, who also straddles the South and Hindi film industries, and has recently shot Ileana for the Pond’s commercial (“stunning—lovely skin, nice smile, gorgeous eyes”), understands her fears. “She’s a very big star in the South, especially in the Telugu industry. Every hero, every director wants to work with her.”
It was a big risk—that’s paid off, she thinks, despite the flop (Phata Poster Nikla Hero, 2013) and semi-hit (Main Tera Hero, April 2014) that have followed. “As much as I loved working in the South, I got into a very comfortable zone. I needed the change.” Happy Ending, scheduled for a November 2014 release, has her playing an author alongside Saif Ali Khan, Govinda, Ranvir Shorey and Kalki Koechlin.
She says that, although she loves her work, it is not her life. “Most of them make it their life and an obsession,” she says about fellow actors, “but for me, while I love it, it’s great, it’s exciting, I can do without it. The minute you get too attached, it is going to bring you down.”
It’s no wonder that she has such a healthy equation with this capricious career. Her father is famous for having told a reporter that he would rather have her home, living a normal life, instead of working 18 stressful hours a day; early in her career, her mother yelled at a director who kept Ileana hungry all day and then marched her off the set.
“I’m a real homebody,” Ileana declares. Unusually, she has no household help, and cooks, cleans and runs her home all by herself. “I like the fact that people tell me I am crazy in the industry. For me, this is just a way of staying grounded.”
She’d be a couch potato if she could, watching cooking shows on TV all day. She’s always experimenting with food, and bakes a lot, desserts, donuts and pizzas (all of which she sends to her sister). While she likes sketching, her true love is singing (her Twitter profile says she’s a “professional bathroom singer”), which she would pursue was she not “terrified of rejection”.
I ask her about her relationship (she’s said to be dating Australian Andrew Kneebone). “I’ve never been really open about it. I just feel it is really unfair to my partner, because he becomes part of the media, which can be too offensive and aggressive.” When the time is right, she’ll tell the world. For now, “As long as my family knows, that’s all that matters.”
An edited version of this interview was the cover story of Women's Health in October 2014.