Celebrity interview

Interview: Ileana D'Cruz by Tara Kaushal

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.

The cover of  Women's Health .

The cover of Women's Health.

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!”

Family First

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.

Filmstardom

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.

The  Women's Health  cover story.

The Women's Health cover story.

At Home

“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.

Interview: Tabu by Tara Kaushal

April 2013: Tabu embodies the best of the Indian film industry. Here she talks about her long and unexpected journey from Hyderabad to Hollywood.

The cover of  Harper's Bazaar .

The cover of Harper's Bazaar.

It is mid-afternoon when I get to Tabassum Hashmi’s home in a leafy building society in Lokhandwala, Mumbai. As I wait, I take in the unpretentious Indo-fusion decor in warm earthy tones, dominated by a large, unmistakable Husain. Soon, Tabu emerges from her bedroom wearing a big smile, and promptly starts fussing over me: "Nimbu pani? Chai? Are you hot; should I turn on the AC?"

In a maroon kurta on a white churidar, Tabu is comfortable in her simple style. “When I’m not working, I wear casual Indians, dresses with classic lines and, most often, jeans—a lazy person’s dressing! Even when I dress up, the more I put on myself, the worse I feel.” Priyadarshini Rao has styled her look for over 10 years, even when she received the Padma Shri. She is also in a mutual admiration society with her go-to designer duo Abu-Sandeep, whose clothes she carries with great élan. Says Sandeep, “Tabu gets in to the skin of clothes; it’s almost like she enacts them.”

As we settle down, I tell her why we at Harper’s Bazaar believe she’s the ideal cover girl for this issue that celebrates a hundred years of Indian cinema: while most of her contemporaries have taken career breaks to settle down, she’s continued adding to her prestigious body of work; where many bemoan the lack of meaty roles for older women actors, she continues to get better, stronger roles that garner international attention, making her one of the most successful crossover actors; she’s worked in films across many Indian languages and in Hollywood, apart from Bollywood… “I don’t like the terms Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood,” she interjects passionately. “I know they’re accepted, even in the dictionary, But I feel they trivialise the Indian film industry. Why should we make our industry sound like a cheap imitation of Hollywood, when we have long before established an identity of our own?”

Point taken. I will soon find that Tabu holds strong opinions about the industry she entered reluctantly and by chance. “For my older sister, ['80s leading lady] Farah and I, growing up in a typical household in Hyderabad, there was no aspiration to be in films. We went to convent school, and both of us wore churidars beneath our uniforms. We were taught that girls didn’t laugh showing all their teeth.” At a birthday party in Bombay, while visiting their mum’s cinematographer brother, director Vijay Anand’s wife saw the 11-year-old and thought she’d be perfect as Dev Anand’s daughter in Hum Naujawan. “We thought: ‘Why not go? We’ll get to meet a hero.’”

Not only did he like and convince her to do the role, working for a few days every few months, he also screen tested Farah who had accompanied her. “Back in Hyderabad, Yashji called on our neighbour’s phone—we didn’t even have a phone at home—saying he wanted to cast Farah. Mum was like, ‘Yash Chopra who?’ That’s how little we knew about the industry!”

The  Harper's Bazaar  cover story.

The Harper's Bazaar cover story.

It was a big decision, and the Hashmi family didn’t realise how life would change. Tabu visited Farah in Bombay, often accompanying her on outdoor schedules, before moving here for college. It was Shekhar Kapur who convinced her to do “just one film” before studying further: Dushmani, with Sunny Deol, which never materialised, and then Prem, with Sanjay Kapur that was six years in the making. “If films hadn’t happened, don't think I would have been a professional. I’d be married to a nice boy in Hyderabad or London, with two-three kids,” she laughs.  

Has the Indian film industry changed since she started? “Cinema and the industry reflect the society we live in, and the social, generational and technological changes that are in all walks of life. People communicate more openly and freely now; there are more specialisations and designations; and budgets are much bigger. But, I don't see many changes in the power structure and hierarchy.” In fact, she says, there are just a few degrees of difference between the Indian and Hollywood industries: “Ultimately, it’s a business.” It is with this that she brushes away a question about film dynasties. “In every industry, there are people who run family businesses, so too in films. Also, if you’ve grown up in a family that acts or directs, it’s in your nature and nurture. Doctors’ children often become doctors; my mother is a teacher like my grandparents, I might have been one too—it’s okay if people want to carry on their families’ legacies. I don’t see it as a problem and don’t judge it. Ultimately, it is your personal journey, and only work will become your identity.”

Tabu is uniquely qualified to talk about Hollywood, with two major films, Mira Nair’s The Namesake and, recently, Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Life of Pi to her credit, both with Irrfan Khan, who says she has a special place in his life. “Tabu and I have a great work connection; we even won the Padma Shri in the same year!” When I ask Tabu about this pairing, she laughs, “Maybe we are easy to cast.” I chide her for being modest, so she adds, “I think The Namesake has given us international recall.” Life of Pi is special because its universal message has touched so many people. “Some pieces of work use you for a greater purpose that consumes you. Every human being has existentialist questions, and Pi’s journey is common to all races, religions, countries and nationalities. I am honoured that the director chose an Indian family to be the vessel for this message.”

Consciously or not, she’s become the poster child for art-house cinema, an actor instead of a ‘heroine’. “Images and perceptions are made in retrospect. I chose from the projects that were being offered to me. I was just working, I was not thinking about working. I’m fortunate I’ve made such a strong and significant place for myself.” She wishes she had a life plan, but has long since realised that going with the flow, following her heart is the only way for her. “I live life from my feelings, and happiness comes from personal satisfaction from my work, love and respect from my peers and audiences, my relationships, and my friends.” She counts Vishal Bhardwaj’s 2003 film Maqbool as the one that has given her the most creative satisfaction.

She’s met most of her friends through work, and feels a “connection, comfort and camaraderie”, with others who work in films. And this begs the question: does this mean she’s going to end up with someone from the film industry?

Tabu mock balks at this “perennial question”, then says she doesn’t know. “When there is no one on the horizon, what’s the point in dissecting what he’s like, which industry he’s from? What can I say about a relationship, especially if it doesn’t exist!” Does she aspire to children? “That’s very hypothetical,” she exclaims. “There’s no man, no marriage, where’s the question of children...!”

Over the course of our conversation, Tabu has mentioned wanting to study abroad for six months, maybe teach acting, and her upcoming film Mental in which she plays Salman Khan’s sister. "What’s next?" I ask as I prepare to wrap up. “I don’t plan, and my life is unpredictable. If you read this interview a year later, things will be so different that you’ll probably laugh.” 


An edited version of this interview was the cover story of Harper's Bazaar in April 2013.