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And she knows this. Yet, Prachi Desai stays charmingly small-town and down-to-earth.
Here she speaks to Aparajita Mukherjee about her life, her
relationships, her films, her journey so far and what keeps her
The first thing that strikes one about Prachi is how "normal" she is. (Of course, she is every bit as pretty as she appears in her latest hit, Once Upon a time in Mumbaai.) As she walks into photographer Dabboo's studio for the cover shoot, she says a cheery hello, but stops dead in her tracks - she's just seen Dabboo's dog - and nervously holds on to her manager's hand. She looks at the receptionist for confirmation that he doesn't bite and is not dangerous in any way. She says with a shy grin - 'Don't be surprised if I keep fidgeting during the shoot. Please stay near me. I am very scared of dogs!'
Prachi's poised, takes her time when faced with a question, and tries to be measured in her answers. But her natural exuberance comes through, despite the diplomacy. After all, she is all of 22. As her hair and makeup stylists work on her, they chatter along, and break out into giggles from time to time. What are they discussing? 'Oh nothing! Just some gossip, you know!' laughs Prachi.
Not much is known about Prachi Desai. She says that she is originally from Surat (that's where her father stays and works, even now), brought up in Panchgani by her homemaker mother, where she did part of her schooling, before moving to Pune to finish her studies. She was in Pune with her sister, and after school, dropped out of studies to pursue acting. She's been largely in the wings, coming out only when it's time for her movies to hit theatres, and then going back to the security of her home, friends and family - not for her the pirouetting for paparazzi. 'I have been very low-key.
I don't want to be talked about in any other context but my work. And that seems to be the most difficult task!' she declares. 'I look up to people such as Madhuri Dixit, Vidya Balan and Rani Mukerji. They're recognised for their work, not for who their parents were, or who they hang out with. I look back at the last couple of years and I realise how difficult my journey has been. Opportunities lost are lost forever. But I feel lucky to have made the choices that I have? now I'm going to play it safe!'The beginning?Prachi hit big time with a television show, Kasamh Se, where she played the role of Bani.
'I always wanted to become an actor. I used to watch a lot of movies and beauty pageants. I found them fascinating! But soon, I realised that I couldn't get into those pageants as they have certain criteria,' she says, and gestures at her height (she is 5'5", petite, and elfin-like.) 'So maybe not that, but I just knew that I wanted to be an actor. But I grew up in Panchgani, it is a simple place? My break came when my sister I and were in Pune - we were studying there.
Somebody told me about the Balaji auditions that were happening in the city. I was about to appear for my exams, so there was a confusion about priorities. But there is never a right time for these things. I was so fascinated that I went for the auditions and soon after, they called me to Mumbai?' Prachi was signed up to play the oldest, married sister in the show, even though she was the youngest of the cast members! She moved base to Mumbai, and was joined by her mother, who left Panchgani to be by her daughter's side.
They stayed at a relative's, and started out a new life.'When I began shooting in Mumbai, the first few days - or months? or I don't know how long - were really tough because not only was I way younger than everybody else, it was difficult for me to cope with situations, conditions of working and the schedules!' While she had always dreamt of being in front of the camera, she hadn't bargained for such a tough time. 'I used to cry in my sleep after I first started out in acting! I was looking forward to hanging around with young people and chatting in the canteen, (but) I was stuck with older, serious people!' But acting had been a conscious choice and she was not going to back out, no matter what.
What helped her cope? Prachi's prompt response - 'Being my mother's daughter!' She says that her mother has undergone as many tribulations as her for her success. 'She did everything - even waking up at 5am and travelling with me in local trains? These small things made all the difference. They should remove my name and put her name in the movie credits! When she is with me on the sets, even when people spot her, she never comes out? She just sits in the van - for 12-13 hours! Only when we are leaving, people actually get to greet her. She's never a disturbance during work,' she says.
Bollywood callingTelevision was followed by films. Released in 2008, Rock On! redefined the way the world looked at Prachi - it zoomed her from "prime time" to big time and got her a few awards for the best debut act as well. She says that it happened suddenly. 'I was doing Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa on TV when they called me for Rock On! auditions? I think the casting director had called me, and I didn't take him seriously.
I thought they were playing a joke on me - why would somebody want to make a TV actor a heroine of such a big film? I confided in a friend at Balaji and he said, "What's wrong with you? Why don't you go?" I did a screen test with Farhan and the casting directors thought we looked good together. I was then asked to choose between TV and movies; they asked me where I wanted to be. I had to leave television.'
Wise decision then, given that Rock On! was a hit as was her latest movie, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, which has been doing rounds at many award ceremonies, getting multiple-category nominations. 'I am still recovering from Once Upon?. It has been a fantastic feeling doing that movie. I gave my heart and soul to it and it did so well! We - me, Ajay, Emraan, Kangna - had a great time shooting the movie. But then, you know, shooting is like being on a shorttime project. You work together for a while and then move to other things in life. So, there wasn't much interaction for a while after the movie was released. But then, one way of reviving all the memories attached to the movie is through the award shows! So, we caught up and had a good time during these events,' she says. Now that recognition is there, she candidly admits, 'I yearned for this kind of recognition. It seems to be a sort of retribution for all those tears during my early days.'
She's now looking forward to Joker, where she is acting opposite Rajeev Khandelwal. 'It's a light-hearted movie about a father and son and I am the girlfriend. Compared to all the characters I have played, this was the lightest,' she says. Things seem to have worked "backwards" for Prachi. She started out by playing older characters; and has now come around to doing roles closer to her age. In her debut, she played wife to Farhan Akhtar, helping him find the musician that was sitting crouched in a banker's guise.
In her latest outing, she has played Emraan Hashmi's girlfriend. 'Well, this has given me the satisfaction that it's not the end? I do have age on my side, and that is going to help me do whatever I do next. But that's also a huge drawback because people had started perceiving me in a particular way.It's easy to convince yourself, but to make people believe that you could be a young woman, when they were used to seeing you in as an elder sister, a "bhabhiji", was difficult!'
Family tiesPrachi is very close to her mother. So close that it's often been whispered in tabloids that directors have a problem with her mother being on the sets. Prachi clears the air on the "celebrity mother" rumours. She says: 'She is there for me, because I force her to. She is alone at home when I leave for work and I am sure she would get worried thinking what is happening, what is going on? So, it is better that she accompanies me.' Her mother, and her sister keep her grounded. ' After a hard day at work, I go back home to my mother and sister. You always have to remember where you have come from, the people who have helped you on your way up. Forgetting your roots will make you a free-wheeling particle - you wouldn't know where you came from or where you're going!' says Prachi.
'If it was not for my mother, I would be just another lost chick looking for a way, looking for what to do. She's been a guiding force. She never forces us - me and my sister - to do anything. When I decided that I wanted to pursue acting, she was the only one who stood up for me? She told me, "Finish your studies and then do whatever you want". She used to look out for Mass Communication courses while we were in Panchgani - she was even more clueless than me but she was trying to help in whichever way she could. When I moved from Pune to Mumbai, she was the one who was with me here. The difficult times made us bond better than ever and made us understand each other.'
Prachi says she's a fighter like her mother: 'She saw more than her share of hardships while we were growing up. She's had a very tough life. I have just picked up from there.' So where is the father-figure in her life? Prachi looks a little nonplussed: 'He's always been there, but not physically. He is in Gujarat. He is the simplest man you could come across. I have very simple parents and both are very shy. He likes it that way. He's still working and I don't think he'll give up for the next few years even though my sister and I are both working.' Prod her a little further and this time, it is a measured, diplomatic response? 'He comes down to Mumbai whenever it's possible for him. When he's here, most of the time I am shooting or out of the house, so I don't really get to spend time with him.'
Staying in shapeAny particular beauty regime that she follows? 'Not really; mostly, it's just the makeup at shoots,' says Prachi. But surely, she must have a fitness regime, given her perfect frame? Prachi thinks this over before replying, 'The industry can be a ruthless place when it comes to how one looks. I was never fat or even overweight. But the whole size-zero phenomenon did hit me as well. So, then, there was the whole thing about becoming thinner than I already was. But I think I am at a very "agreeable" weight right now. I binge when I want to, but I usually balance it out as I am always fidgety and restless while at a shoot. Nothing should occupy my mind at that time. You are on your toes and you do require a lot of energy. I just stick to salads when on sets,' she says. Even while our cover shoot was on, she had salad 'Don't worry! I'll make up for this by having something really sinful when I get back home,' she laughed.
When at home?'I like to do what a normal girl would do. My best times are when I don't plan anything and do whatever I feel like? My friends (all "non-Bollywood") and I catch a movie. Or my sister and I just relax at home. She tries on my clothes as she is fascinated with the whole designer-glamour thing.'
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