“I always wanted to act” – Puja Gupta

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A Friday release with a newcomer is always exciting. They have the energy to conquer the world and you the audience are eagerly waiting to judge just how they fare. I caught up with the debutant of the moment, Puja Gupta, who is all set to flaunt her talent in Remo D’Souza’s directorial debut, Faltu. The actress is full of energy, wit and charm! Both excited and nervous about her debut film, Puja is a ball of fun to chat with. Speaking to impress is second nature to this ex Miss India finalist who exuberates such positive energy. This Bollyspice exclusive is a must read interview as Puja chats to me about her struggling days, the making of Faltu and life here onwards!

It’s not everyday you see the portfolio of a newcomer who is successful as a model, has represented India internationally, contributed to major social causes and now is aspiring to act. So would you say you’re ambitious no matter what the field?

Yes you can say that. I also would like to ad that acting was always on my mind. After Miss India there were a lot of opportunities that presented itself of representing my country. After working for a cause like Aids Awareness and travelling when I was presented with the chance to enter the film industry it was something that I simply had to do. The pageant and modelling happened and I enjoyed it but acting was always on my mind before any of this happened.

So you’ve always worked towards acting?

I always wanted to act. Sridevi was my primary source of inspiration and what I aspired to be. My mother often said that I was often caught standing in front of the mirror imitating Sridevi from Chaalbaaz. Growing up I idolised her and would dream of falling in love with a Kuarji kind of a guy that I saw in Lamhe, which till date remains to be a dream role and my favourite film. So yes without a doubt acting was always on my mind. It just so happened that after Miss India I was given various opportunities and finally today I am doing what I always wanted to do. I don’t think I could ever want to do anything else.

Coming now to the practical and day-to-day side of the industry, you’ve mentioned many times that breaking into the industry was somewhat tough, so how did you handle disappointments and power on through it all?

Honestly, it was a very difficult time. I don’t know anyone in Mumbai, not even a distant relative! The days of Miss India was fabulous because the organisation truly takes such good care of me, leaving me nothing to worry about. However, when it
all wrapped up and I returned from the States to Mumbai I didn’t know anyone. I eventually found my own apartment and then commenced going to auditions. Whilst auditioning I got a range of negative feedback, ranging from “you’re too fair” to “you have an accent”. So naturally I used to return home rather depressed and often questioning why on earth I’m subjecting myself to all this! It is all thanks to my mother that I persevered through it all. She’s such a positive lady and reminded me always that I’d come so far without any backing and absolutely on my own so I should continue to give it a bit more time. So I continued the struggle with this in mind. There were times when I’d be sitting in front of a production house office for hours on end, eventually leading to no meeting at all with director or producer. Finally today my time has come and I couldn’t have asked for a better debut than one with Puja Films. I’ll forever be grateful to Vashu sir for giving me this chance. Ultimately the lesson to be learnt is that if you really want it bad enough you simply have to continue to wait, do the hard work and it’ll happen!

So after all the struggling and waiting, how was your reaction when Puja Films gave you not a one but a three film contract?

I couldn’t have asked for a better debut than with Puja Films. Although even this came after a lot of struggle. I attended total of five auditions for the role in Faltu. After the first one I was a bit nervous and didn’t know what to expect when they called me back. My manager Atul Kasbekar convinced me that it must be leading to something because of the mere fact that they’re calling me back. Although eventually when I did get the role Remo told me that he knew it was me the moment I came in for the audition and that the multiple auditions were simply for technical matters like seeing how I look on camera, how I look with make up etc. I was over the moon when I got the offer and called my mother in tears screaming, “Mum I finally have a film!”

Of course now that you have the film tell us why you think it makes for such an ideal debut?

Faltu is the ideal debut for me for many reasons. A, I’m the only female protagonist in the film. B, It’s a youth orientated film with a strong message. C. Puja Films is such a reputable production house to start your career with and D why not Faltu? It is such a beautiful script with a director who’s already won a National Award for his work in Bengali cinema. So the question is not why is Faltu ideal but rather why not! It’s without a doubt the most ideal thing that a newcomer like me could have asked for.

Now tell us a bit about the character you’re playing and if there’s any similarities between her and yourself?

A lot actually! This girl is a little rebellious! Which is a bit like me because I’m the youngest in the family and have been quite pampered growing up. My character is a like that too. She speaks her mind, dominates her father and knows what she wants. She may be a bit confused at times but ultimately she knows that she wants, to make her Dad proud. This is similar to how I am as a person. My mother had insisted on me going to NYU and doing my degree in Psychiatry however I chose to make her proud by going into Miss India and now films because those were my dreams. In this way there’s the rebellion in me as well as a girl who knows exactly what she wants.

And now the million-dollar question about the experience of working with an icon of a director! Remo is without a doubt the biggest name attached to the film thanks to his growing popularity with Dance India Dance and now Jhalak. So how was the experience?

Oh yes an icon he definitely is! Firstly and fore mostly, Remo sir is a beautiful human being. Personally I think his strongest trait is his patience. I often heard horror stories from actresses about tension filled sets where they cried and were in constant panic and under a lot of pressure. However, it was nothing like that for me. Remo Sir never yelled at me and was forever so patient with me. He’d take the time out to sit down and explain things. He’s patient, has such a beautiful heart, always is smiling and ensuring that everyone is comfortable. This was especially so important for us, the cast, because we’re all new. Even when we’re having a bit too much fun he’d come up to us very sweetly and tell us its time to work.

And what about the dancing? Did you focus on your dancing any more considering your director is a choreographer?

Well actually contrary to popular opinion the film is not dance centric at all! We only have a couple of song with dance. But yes it was a little bit difficult for me mainly because Jackky is such a brilliant dancer, Remo sir is obviously a dancing Guru, Arshad is an ex dancer and then Ritiesh who’s just a great dancer naturally. So amongst all these experts I tried my best and I guess you’ll have to decide how I did when you see the film.

Since you mention you array of co-stars, how was the experience of working with 3 newcomers and 2 senior actors? Was there an obvious different in the experiences?

There was an obvious difference because I’m quite comfortable with Jackky who’s perhaps the only friend I have in Mumbai. So I was naturally very comfortable with him as oppose to doing scenes with Arshad and Ritiesh with whom I was initially quite nervous. Although very soon I found out that in actuality they’re more fun to work with! They literally eased out the situation for me. It definitely helps to work with seniors because they have experience on their side. There were times when I would get stuck with a scene and either Arshad or Ritiesh would very kindly offer some form of advice to make it easier for me. So at the end of the day I got to learn so much with them, which was magnificent for a newcomer like me and has made me forever grateful to them.

And what about the experience of working with a co-star who’s the son of the producer?

Honestly I never felt that he was the son of the producer because Vashuji was quite obviously bias towards me as I was the only girl on the set. I was more pampered and most taken care off. In addition Jackky never threw his weight around, he shared a vanity with us and basically nothing ever happened to remind us he was the producers son. In fact I ended up getting a lot of flak from all the boys for the special treatment I got!

Coming to the music of the film now, do you think the unconventional release of MP3s online will have an effect in battling piracy?

I think it’s a fabulous idea that Vashuji came up with. I think it will work in battling piracy because the CDs aren’t released to outside sources. There’s no chance for anyone to get their hands on a CD, copy it and then sell. Honestly such a great amount of hard work goes into music making so I think this form of a release can go a long way and make quite a big impact if taken on board seriously.

I guess that leads me into the obvious question, your favourite track and why?

You know what, its my first film so I can’t choose! The party song is so ideal for get together with friends and then there’s Atif’s ‘Leja Tu’, which is a fabulous song to relax with. So in this way every song has its own charm and I truly can’t choose a favourite. Every time I listen to the tracks I get so excited and touched that its my first film with such great music!

Now coming to Puja offscreen, you’ve barely entered and we’re asking you “are you single” so you think you’re ready to take on the ups and downs of showbiz such as controversies, linkups etc?

Well I will be taking it all in quite comfortably as it comes because it’s a part and parcel of the industry that I’ve chosen to enter. At the end of the as long as my close friends and family know what is true and what is not, I really don’t care.

Did it surprise you at all when the media came up with the Jackky linkup so quickly before you’d barely had a promo out?

Nowadays it happens with everyone that enters the industry. It becomes a new fashion statement; you do a film with someone you’re hooked up. It’s a bit stupid, if you ask me, to link people up who’re naturally going to be quite close because they’re doing a film together which requires you to spend quite a bit of time with each other. As far as Jackky is concerned, he’s my first friend in Mumbai, my first co-star and we gel so well together. So I cannot let these rumours affect us and Jackky has a similar approach. Our friends and family know what’s the truth and so we truly don’t care about what is written or what is said.

Sound like a perfect mantra! Since we’re coming to an end of this interview tell us about your plans after Faltu?

I think I have my hands quite full with Faltu and my contract with Puja Films. At present all my energy is invested in Faltu!

Last but not the least, why should audiences not miss out on Faltu?

A. It’s a fun movie. B. It’s a youth orientated film but one that everyone will be able to relate to at some level. C. You’re bound to leave the cinema hall with a smile! It’s a fun loving film with a strong message at the end. Its been so lovingly made with not hint of forcefulness or pretentiousness and is bound to not disappoint!

Quick to impress, Puja has given us more than enough reasons to not miss out on her debut film. Faltu is releasing in cinemas this April Fools Day and in addition is releasing online for viewers outside of India. If you’re outside India and are eager to check out the youth entertainer of the year on release then simply log on to http://www.zeetv.com/faltu/ on the 1st of April at 4pm GMT and catch the film
for a small price of just $2.89!

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