What do you really know about her? Does that lilting name conjure up a stunning face? Or a lot of vaguely nasty notions fed by rumour and sold by tabloid sleaze mongers? What if she were, in fact, a sort of saint sold as sinner, an inner beauty with a face to match, a true talent tortured by naÃ¯ve misadventure malignly cast? Want to know the truth about Miss Priyanka Chopra? She’s got the bones of a flamingo and the spirit of a gladiator. We’ve watched her evolve into one of the most successful, serious-minded actresses of her generation. But beneath the pristine exterior lurks a woman few have ever seen-until now. Enter Susanna, her character in Saat Khoon Maaf where she plays a dreaded wife who kills her 7 husbands. But all of this is just information – valuable information, but information nonetheless. What we’re after is substance, some kind of material truth. How did she do it? Why did she do it? When did she do it? Priyanka Chopra, famous for more than half of her life, easy to spot and accessible to know, remains a veritable enigma to us, even today. And I am on a quest to know the truth, and nothing but the truth. UK’s Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama‘s London correspondent gets it all.
Doesn’t Susanna have any redeeming qualities in her?
Susanna has a lot of redeeming qualities in her. She is completely positive. When you come out of the movie, you will go something like this – ‘Poor Susanna! All of them deserve to die’. And that’s what’s ironic about Saat Khoon Maaf. It’s a black comedy. It’s not a serious, thriller, romantic film. It’s a humorous movie. The film is Susanna’s quest for love. She is looking for love.
When you come out of the movie, you will go something like this – ‘Poor Susanna! All of them deserve to die’
You are the hero of this film and it’s no more taboo that female actresses are playing lead characters now.
I don’t want to take credit by saying that I have redefined the word taboo just because Susanna is the lead character of the film and she is a woman. I do my movies for me. I need to be able to do films which move me, which stir me and I get bored doing the same old thing again and again. By God’s grace, I’ve never had to do that. I’ve been blessed when it comes to filmmakers who have believed in me and have come to me with parts which have always been successful. I like taking risks and pushing the envelope. That’s me as a person. I am inherently adventurous. For the actor in me, I need films with substantial parts but it doesn’t mean I will stop doing massy commercial entertainers.
And how does it feel to have wrinkled skin?
(Laughs) It’s very exciting for me to be in my twenties and play a sixty five year old woman too. Susanna ages from twenty one to sixty five. So doing the whole twenties gig was easy. Thirties was also relatively easier but forties, fifties and sixties was very difficult. That aspect of the age was more challenging for me as it doesn’t come to an actor so early on in her career.
Out of all your husbands, who came across as the most intimidating?
Out of all the seven husbands, the most intimidating husbands were Naseersaab and Irrfan. I did a workshop with them before I started shooting. Of course, they both are tremendous actors. There are many women in the world who end up becoming the people that they live with. Susanna is one of them. She fashions herself after the men that come into her life and she does everything to be that perfect woman. But she always gets disappointed in love and she gives in so much to her relationship that she hates her husbands as much as she loves them. That is why I have so many different shades in this film. But there is a consistency to who she is too.
Thirties was also relatively easier but forties, fifties and sixties was very difficult
Was your first narration with Vishal Bhardwaj disturbing?
Not at all. The first narration was quite humourous actually. I found the film very funny and every woman would somewhere relate to it and every man will come out saying that men aren’t that bad, which is why she keeps falling in love again.
Every actor learns something from the characters they play. What has Priyanka Chopra learnt from Susanna?
I don’t know if I have learnt something from Susanna, the reason being that the characters I play are too fictional. I think I leave a part of me in each film I do. I feel there is a certain vacancy when my films are over, there is certain emptiness. And that’s why maybe I work so much that I fill in the gap because my characters become an integral part of my life.
What was it like to be manipulated by the seven wonders of one film industry?
(Laughs) I think I’ve manipulated them, don’t you? Sometimes I don’t even remember how this film happened. I was so involved in this film that I forgot that I was working with seven immensely talented actors, Vivaan Shah being the only first timer. You know what; none of the husbands were my choice, that’s why I killed them all (laughs).
How did Ruskin Bond’s book influence you? Or did it?
Well, it was a short story first which Vishal read and decided to make the film. That’s when I decided to come on board as well. Then he asked Mr Bond to write the novella which was finally transferred into a script of Saat Khoon Maaf.
And did Vivaan make a good husband?
Of course yes. Vivaan is hugely talented. It’s his first film and he has done so well in the movie. I guess he has got it in his genes and in Hindi I’d like to say – usko viraasat mein mila hai. Vivaan was so correct to the character. The casting of Vivaan as Arun was so perfect. You need to see the film to believe it, believe you me.
Madhuri Dixit has herself quoted that India has got its best in the form of Priyanka Chopra. That’s a quote of the day.
Wow! It is. I am so touched. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with enormous talents, from directors to actors to technicians, but I’ve always imbibed the best of all of them because I have a huge hunger for what I do. I don’t know if I am good, I don’t think I am one of India’s finest actor or whatever. Yes, people are very kind to me. All I know is that I love what I do. I want to really be remembered as someone who can do everything. If there is a role of a man given to me, I want to play the best man ever on celluloid. I really don’t compete with anybody else. I have no interest in competitions. As an actor I just tremendously love what I do and I hope I continue getting that. That’s my biggest dream.
And what better way to end this interview by asking you what if you wake up one morning and hear…and the Oscar goes to Priyanka Chopra?
Wow! That’ll be quite something. I’ve never really worked for awards. The only agenda for me when I’m working is to stay true to every character that I am playing. It’s nothing to do with box office success; it’s not to get the accolades, etc. It’s to have my director turn around and say, “Sh**, that looked good”. It’s the moment. Yes, all good work leads to awards, credibility, etc. But between action and cut I want to create magic.