Pooja Kumar makes every effort to practice her smattering of Tamil; be it at the audio launch of her upcoming film, ‘Vishwaroopam,’ or at the film’s promotional events. The pretty actress always peppered her talk with Konjam Konjam Tamil theriyum (know little Tamil) to finally wrapping it up with Nandri (Thank you).
For one who grew up in the US, the south Indian language no longer seems intimidating. Thanks to ‘Vishwaroopam,’ where she shares screen space with legendary actor Kamal Haasan.
However on the first day of the sets, the story was different, remembered this model-cum-actor.
“I was nervous that day,” recalled Kumar.
“And when Kamal sir gave me five pages of dialogues in Tamil, I had my own fears. I went in for ten takes and then another one until we reached the thirteenth take and I thought he will fire me.”
“At the end of the day, Kamal sir told me, ‘You did a good job and obviously you don’t know the language. But you are on board.’
“That was great about him to give a newcomer like me a chance. My nervousness transitioned into confidence,” said Kumar who won the Miss India-USA pageant in 1995.
How did she land in the film?
“Gauthamiji [referring to actor Gauthami] watched some clippings of my work online and suggested my name to Kamal sir,” revealed the former VJ of Channel V.
An interview on Skype with Haasan followed and before she knew it, Kumar was on her way to Chennai.
“I had grown up watching ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye,’ [Haasan’s box office hit] and had fallen in love with his character Vasu. I just could not believe that I was now going to act in his film. It was like a dream.”
In ‘Vishwaroopam,’ Kumar plays Nirupama, a nuclear oncologist, who is married to Haasan’s character.
“Nirupama is a smart and interesting girl, yet naïve too. She helps her husband accomplish his goal. It is an action thriller. For me the huge challenge lay in delivering the lines in Tamil and getting right the mannerisms of this Tamilian girl from Chennai who is living in New York.”
What about working with Kamal Haasan?
“Amazing! He is an icon, who is involved in every aspect of the film. It was wonderful watching him do so many things and instilling in you a drive to push yourself. His knowledge is phenomenal, be it of politics or religion. His patience in working with such a large crew is humbling. I think some good karma of mine got me this opportunity.”
So did she get to dance with the legend?
“No, that was upsetting,” confessed Kumar, who has been learning dance since the age of three and is trained in three classical forms — Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Kuchipudi.
“I don’t have any song dance sequence in the film which is quite ironical for a hero and heroine of an Indian film,” she continued.
“Kamal sir does a Kathak dance in the film. He is a talented artiste with a remarkable stamina and can go on for eleven hours. Watching him dance makes you want to go out there and dance with him. That is the kind of emotion he brings into the art.”
A political science graduate, Pooja Kumar trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, US and Roshan Taneja’s School of Acting in Mumbai, before entering films.
“Acting was a natural transition,” added Kumar who received the Screen Actors Guild Award for ‘Best Emerging Actor,’ for ‘Flavours,’ an independent English film.
Looking ahead, she hopes to explore different kinds of roles.