Happy Birthday, Lara Dutta

She once told me  she was named Lara after the heroine in  her mother’s favourite  film Dr Zhivago.I don’t know Lara Dutta well. But I’ve always felt very positive vibes  from her. Our conversations have always been  impersonal and she has  never called herself  a friend or  a sister  or a daughter  …relationship catchphrases  that  mean nothing,  absolutely  nothing, in the entertainment industry.

I’ve met her just once, and  it didn’t go well.I had  gone  to meet  a director-friend on the set of a film . Lara was one  of  the leading ladies in the multistarrer. The director informed me  she was in her van. Would I like to  meet her? I  of course agreed happily since Lara and I had been talking for some  time.The  director knocked on the  van and we entered.Lara hastily got up from her  recliner where  she was napping in a sequined  ghagra-choli ensemble  for a hideous  tedious  dance  number. Introductions were made. Fake smiles exchanged. And I fled.

Later I sent her a text saying, ‘That  didn’t go  too well, did it?’

She agreed. This is the quality that  I like  about Lara.In an industry  of hyper-hypocrisy she  remains honest. No  false smiles,  no sucking up to  directors and heroes. No  compromises,Priyanka Chopra and  Lara Dutta started  off together in my friend Suneel Darshan’s Andaaz.Between the  two I thought Lara  was  going to be the big star. She had  the  better role in Andaaz and she went on to give some good  performances in films like Dilli Chalo, Billu  and David. But her  career  never  took off in the way  it should have.

Lara was  seen as  Priyanka’s competition at the start, like Sridevi and Jaya Prada, Hema  Malini  and Leena Chadvakrakar. Sadly Lara  had to be  the Jaya Prada in the race with Priyanka.

Lara had spoken about the comparisons once during an  interview with me. “We competed on the same level for the Miss India contest though I had been modelling before. We trained and won together and even won international crowns in the same year. I could not have hoped for a better costar. The makers of Andaaz wanted to cash in on Miss Universe and Miss World, that’s me and Priyanka Chopra, being cast together. Both of us came from an ‘out-there’ field like modelling and we were comfortable with our bodies. We knew what we were doing and wearing. No compromises were pushed on us.I can only speak for myself and say I was very comfortable with whatever I wore in Andaaz. I wore what today’s college girls wear.”

Did  Lara  see Priyanka as competition? Lara reply was candid but cautious. “We are very different actresses. She has different aspirations. I want to build a base for myself as an actress so that, tomorrow, a filmmaker will have the confidence to cast me in a role like Nargis’ in Mother India. I don’t want to burn myself out. I don’t want to be seen in every second film. I don’t want the audience to say, ‘Oh no, she’s in this one too.”

Surely there must have been a competitive edge?  “There was! But that helped both of us perform better. And I would much rather compete with Priyanka, whose career has grown alongside mine. Besides, she’s very talented. We advised each other like two veteran actresses whenever the other would mess up a shot

Lara’s  interest in acting started early. “I have been involved with theatre since I was 13. I never seriously thought I would get into movies though I had every intention of continuing with theatre. To be brutally honest, when you win a title like Miss Universe, your entire life turns topsy-turvyfor one year.Coming from Bangalore, I suddenly saw a large world of opportunities open up before me, movies being one of them. Again, to be honest, I had no idea what the Indian movie industry was like. What I heard made me skeptical. But it was also a chance to go forward in life.”

  Entering Bollywood was  not easy. “It took me a year-and-a-half to sign a movie after I gave up my title. As Miss Universe, I made a huge effort to keep at least some areas of my life to myself . The film industry requires you to drop all inhibitions, demolish all the walls built around you.It took me a  while to get used to the constant glare. Know what? Now I love every bit of it.When I came in, I hadn’t really done my homework. I had only heard about Subhash Ghai and YashChopra…that’s it. I went purely by gut instinct when I signed my first film Andaaz. I’ve been finding myself as an actor. And, I love the process.I am new around here. There were lots of things initially that didn’t make sense. Certain things upset me. I can’t change the industry, so I learnt to adapt. As I got involved with the whole business of moviemaking, things started falling into place. Now, I am having a great time.”

 Someone  should write  a role specially for  Lara  of an urbane  30-plus woman finding herself in the corporate  jungle  and bossing over an  organization filled with men. She would nail that one. She would have been  a much better choice  for the  desi  version of The Intern than DeepikaPadukone.

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