It’s drilled into an entertainment journalist’s head that celebrities that we meet can’t ever really be our friend. But Bollywood’s rising star Prachi Desai makes you want to doubt that theory. Well, almost.
Billed as Bollywood’s preferred star for girl-next-door roles, her responses are artless and makes her seem far less synthetic than her peers. It’s almost as if this Bollywood equivalent of Katherine Heigl has no agenda up her sleeve other than to have a heart-to-heart chat.
“Personally, I think I deserve better,” said Desai over the phone prior to her appearance in Dubais’ Gold Souk tonight to pick the winner of Dubai Gold & Jewellery Group’s DSF 2013 raffle draw.
This was her prompt response when asked why she wasn’t visible as some of her peers despite churning out hits such as Rock On!! and Bol Bachchan. Her contemporaries such as Sonam Kapoor — who has far fewer hits under her belt — manage to remain in the public eye with greater ease while Desai is still struggling to cash in on her hits.
“But any moment of that insecurity or feeling low or that unpleasant feeling disappears when I think of what I have accomplished in the last five years. I think about where I have come from and all that’s happened in my life. I have my own story to tell. It’s about pushing hard,” says Desai, who blames the dynamics behind the industry for her predicament.
Like Heigl, the Gujarat-bred actress made her entry through television with the daily soap opera Kasamh Se. In 2008, she graduated from the tear-jerker to the big screen with blockbuster Rock On!!. The film, about the re-union of a bunch of male rockers, wasn’t an ideal launch pad but Desai held her own as the unhappy rich wife of Aditya (Farhan Akhtar).
“Rock On!! happened out of the blue. I didn’t know anything. I was 19. All I knew was that it seemed like one-in-a-million opportunity and I had to grab it right away … I feel blessed because it was easy for people to connect with me.” Her last sentence mirrors her predicament. She’s relatable and therefore producers shy away from offering her risque roles.
In 2009, Desai played the role of an uncomplicated Gujarati bride, Prachi, in the comedy Life Partner. She did her part flawlessly, but it lacked that oomph factor. However, the 24-year-old star is quick to put things into perspective.
“After Rock On!!, everyone thought I was a one film wonder. There was nobody out there who was pushing me. Everything had to be done by myself … I didn’t know the industry or the people.” While Life Partner may have been a blip in her lean, hit-laden catalogue, she now boasts hits including Once Upon A Time In Mumbai and Bol Bachchan. The latter was a money-spinner that entered the revered Rs1 billion club.
“I feel blessed to be in that space. Having a Bol Bachchan behind you puts you in that commercial space which is good. I know I have that image [girl-next-door]. There’s no way to change it even if I want to. But I can try by making a conscious attempt to do different kinds of films.” Her forthcoming romantic comedy I, Me, Aur Mein, releasing February 28, is a step in that direction.
“I play a bohemian character. This girl is closest to my real self. Nobody has really seen my fun side before. Trust me it came out so naturally that there was hardly any thinking involved. She’s free-spirited and has a mind of her own. Also, she believes in enjoying life and spreading the joy,” said Desai who acts alongside hottie John Abraham and Chitrangada Singh.
“It’s one of my favourite roles and I can’t wait for the film to release,” says Desai. History has taught us to be cynical when a star gushes about a film, but the declaration doesn’t grate on us entirely. Perhaps, that’s the strength behind an attainable beauty. They get away with a lot more than a perfectly-constructed beauty who overwhelms you. Even her barb about actresses attaching themselves to blockbusters and riding piggy back on a hero’s shoulders slides off easily. In Bollywood, it’s not uncommon for Bollywood A-listers such as Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif to act alongside bankable actors such as Salman or Shah Rukh Khan to increase their popularity. They may have little to do in terms of acting in such a film, but looking pretty is an essential skill set.
“I have one big complaint. Why is it that I don’t get these easy roles where you need to do two songs, stand there and give all of five expressions?” said Desai. Her whining may not have us reaching for our tissues but her sour-grapes moment is immediately replaced by effervescent optimism.
“But seriously, I had lot of fun doing different kinds of roles. I always chose roles with some substance with it … at least some people think I am versatile,” said Desai rattling the name of all her hits. She is also a rarity in Bollywood who happily praises the work of her contemporary such as Deepika Padukone, who was last seen as the promiscuous party animal Veronica in Cocktail.
“It’s high time we put more reality into films and the characters we play. Till then, nobody had shown a character like hers. Remember, all the young girls were rooting for her [Padukone], which is great,” said Desai. In the love triangle, the climax may have ended with the hero Saif Ali Khan uniting with the prim and proper girl but popular sympathy rested with Padukone’s wild Veronica.
“It’s a great time for us actors. There are these girls like Vidya Balan and Kareena Kapoor who can boast of some amazing roles and amazing collections at the box office. Every character they play stays back with you. You talk about it long after the film finishes. That’s what I am aiming for.”