Princess-in-Waiting - The New Indian Express


Published: 15th December 2013 12:00 AM

Last Updated: 14th December 2013 07:15 PM

Mitali in Bullett Raja and Chanda in R...Rajkumar, with two of the most anticipated releases of 2013, Sonakshi Sinha has again proved that she can do little wrong when it comes to working the box office. Since this 26-year-old debuted opposite Salman Khan in 2010 in the blockbuster Dabangg, Sonakshi has grown from strength to strength. Shotgun Junior has a strike rate that Chris Gayle would be proud of! The track Desi Girl might have been filmed on Priyanka Chopra but it’s Sonakshi who has claimed the tag. Sonakshi, with her old-world sensuality and vows of ‘no kissing; no revealing clothes’, has looked the part in every single film in her three year career. And, the actress insists that that’s what differentiates her from her contemporaries. “I am comfortable doing the roles that I do. I am a desi girl and I don’t understand the fuss is about. Do actresses who only play urban woman also get asked this question,” she wonders. Cut back to a warm November evening of 2011, when director Vikramaditya Motwane announced the cast for his second feature film Lootera at an event held at the Yash Raj Studios in Mumbai.

Considering the buzz his debut film Udaan created at Cannes and its subsequent box office success, Vikramaditya’s next was highly anticipated. As Sonakshi was driven into the studio in a vintage car, Vikramaditya braced himself for a barrage of questions. “From that day, until the film’s release, the one question I would get asked most often was—“Why Sonakshi?” recalls Vikramaditya. When Lootera released to much critical acclaim, Vikramaditya felt vindicated. “I feel vindicated more for Sonakshi then for Ranveer (Singh). In Ranveer’s case, everyone knew that he is a good actor, but Sonakshi was stuck in a mould,” says the director. Interestingly, it was Sonakshi’s debut Dabangg that convinced Vikramaditya to cast her. “In Dabangg, you could see that she held her own opposite Salman Khan. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. That was a quality very few of our actresses have.”

She has been a part of four films in the `100 crore club—Dabangg, Rowdy Rathore, Son of Sardar and Dabangg 2. The only blips in her 10 film filmography have been Joker and Once Upon A Time in Mumbai Dobaraa. Lootera might not have sent the cash registers buzzing but Sonakshi made everyone take note of her acting chops. In three years, she had cemented her space at the top of the heroine pile in Bollywood.

The Debutante

To say that Sonakshi was a reluctant actress is an understatement. Even in the week after the release of Dabangg when the nation, much like Salman Khan was mesmerised with her Mast Mast Do Nain, Sonakshi wasn’t sure if she picked the right career. “While we were shooting Dabangg also, I didn’t know if I wanted to carry on acting. I did the film only because I was asked to do it. By the time Dabangg released, I had already signed Rowdy (Rathore) so I continued acting and somewhere along the way, I started enjoying myself. Slowly, I started getting used to the camera.”

Unlike other industry kids, growing up as the daughter of the hugely popular Shatrughan Sinha didn’t mean that Sonakshi or her twin brothers Luv and Kush spent a lot of time on movie sets. “I found film sets terribly boring. It just felt like they would take so much time to set up a shot. Also, there was nothing for a kid to do on the set. It’s not like I could play with anyone because everyone used to be super busy. How long can you sit and watch the same thing over and over. I know most kids those days would go for outdoors in the hills during their summer vacations. We didn’t.”

Before movies happened, it was fashion that Sonakshi was hugely interested in. “Fashion had always interested me. I wanted to start an affordable line that would suit Indian bodies, which aren’t size zero, and our climate. So, I gave three years of my life to learning about fashion and designing and then chucked all that to act,” she says, with a laugh.

Sonakshi studied at Arya Vidya Mandir in Mumbai’s Juhu and then went to SNDT University to study fashion designing. She is still very interested in fashion and has a Pinterest board where she pins outfits and make-up and hair references.

It was the Khan brothers—Salman, Arbaaz and Sohail who convinced her to give acting a shot. Dabangg happened and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Post Dabangg

Dabangg went on to rake in ` 150 crore at the box office and, as expected, directors and producers were clamouring to sign on the debutante. At a time when actresses are making headlines by wearing bikinis or kissing on screen, Sonakshi threw a googly at filmmakers. The actress was very clear that there were certain parameters that she’d work within. No kissing or exposing were guidelines that the actress was very clear about. “I am not comfortable doing either of the two things and I have always been very upfront about it. If a director has these requirements, he is welcome to approach someone else,” she says categorically.

Sonakshi is not losing any sleep over whether these rules are affecting her work. “I have had 10 releases in three years, two more are ready for release and I am shooting for two others. If these rules have affected work then I can’t see it.” Nor does she think that the rules are restricting her as an actress. “I don’t understand why it is such a big deal. No one asked the girls who do it, why they do it? What I wear or don’t is a personal choice. Considering my upbringing, I don’t want to do anything that I am not comfortable with. Also, I am very happy in my own space.”

Sonakshi’s traditional-girl-next-door image is also in keeping with the advice her father gave her before she joined the industry. “He told me “if you can’t be the best at what you do, be different”. This worked brilliantly for him. He was an unconventional looking actor, straight out of Patna, who started off as a villain. He managed to break the stereotype and became a successful hero. He stood out from rest. I am trying to do exactly that.”

Advantage Sonakshi

In an industry constantly looking for a ‘lucky mascot’, Sonakshi’s track record has made her a favourite among many. Akshay Kumar roped in Sonakshi for an item song in Oh My God and more recently in Boss. “Akshay thinks Sonakshi is lucky for him. Even though OMG was a hatke film, her item song Go Go Govinda made so much of a difference,” says a source close to the actor. Though only one of the three films Akshay and Sonakshi have been paired together has worked at the box office, Khiladi Kumar is an unabashed Sonakshi fan. “She has a great work ethic. She works around the clock and with minimum fuss. She is always on time and very disciplined,” says Akshay.

Ajay Devgn, who starred with Sonakshi in Son of Sardar, says, “After she gave her first shot for the film, I told her that after a very long time, I had seen such a natural in front of the camera. She is very spontaneous and that for me is the mark of an actress who will go far in the industry.” Interestingly, after the success of SoS, Ajay sent a handwritten note to Sonakshi thanking her for being ‘a dream to work with’. “I hadn’t done that ever before for any other actress,” he says with a laugh.

Arbaaz Khan, who produced Dabangg and then went on to direct her in the sequel compares Sonakshi to Kajol. “When I was doing Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kyun, Kajol would be engrossed in her book between shots and as soon as she heard the words ‘Lights, Camera…Action’, she would transform. Sonakshi is a lot like this. She would be listening to music or playing Scrabble on her iPad and then appear in front of the camera and give a crackling performance,” he remembers. Being Shatrughan Sinha’s daughter means that Sonakshi has her father’s invaluable advice on handling her career and films to pick. “My father has been in the industry for so long, his experience is a huge asset for me. In fact, my whole family is involved when a script comes to me,” says Sonakshi.

Achilles Heel

After Dabangg was declared a success, Sonakshi celebrated by ordering a Margherita Pizza for herself. Ask her what she thinks have been her sacrifices to achieve success and pat comes the reply—‘good food’. “Though, I have to admit that I haven’t completely given up on good food. I believe that it is important to be happy and if having something sinful makes me happy, I indulge and then burn off the calories in the gym,” she says.

Sonakshi, who has always been upfront about her battle of the bulge, used to be 25-30 kg overweight when Salman handpicked her to debut opposite him. The superstar kept track of her diet and exercise regime before and during the shoot of Dabangg. Regardless of what time the shoot for the film wrapped up, Salman would join Sonakshi in the gym at Ravine Hotel, in Panchgani. “Salman used to help me a lot but I guess he’s stopped after he started seeing progress,” she recalls.

Arbaaz believes that there is still room for Sonakshi to look her best. “She is a beautiful girl but I think she can look a lot better. You have to understand that this is a visual medium and you have to look your best in every single frame. Every actress whether a Karisma (Kapoor) or a Priyanka (Chopra) have transformed their image and that’s one of the reasons for their longevity. Sonakshi will have to get an image makeover at some point in her career,” he advises.

The Other Diva

Meanwhile, in the last one year, former Kingfisher model Deepika Padukone has effortlessly gone from playing the emotionally raw and needy poor-little-rich-girl Veronica in Cocktail to the spunky Meenamma of Chennai Express. With Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Chennai Express and Ram Leela raking in over Rs 100 crore each, 2013 has been Deepika’s Grand Slam year. “This has been an amazing year. The best part is that I’ve got to play drastically different characters. And, each one of them was appreciated,” she says.

While Deepika might underplay questions about being numero uno, Karan Johar, who produced Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, is very vocal. “Deepika has proved herself as an actor who can attempt all genres. She’s proved that she is more than just a pretty face. If you look at her filmography, she’s picked films that have taken her towards becoming the best in the business. I don’t believe in the numbers game because talent overrides ranking. And Deepika is a tremendous talent.”

It was almost six years ago, when Deepika made her debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om. Unlike most other ‘non-industry’ debutantes, Deepika doesn’t have any stories of struggle. “When Farah (Khan) was casting for OSO, she saw a music video that I had done (Himesh Reshammiya’s Naam Hai Tera). I guess I was just in the right place at the right time,” she says, with a shrug.

As most people who have worked with Deepika would attest, it’s her single-minded focus that’s got her where she is today. “Before we started shooting OSO, Deepika went for everything from diction to dance and acting lessons and she was so dedicated. When we started shooting for Happy New Year in Dubai recently, I thought she’s become a big star, so there is a possibility that she won’t be ready on time. But I couldn’t be more wrong. She was on the sets at 8 am and ready by 8.30,” says Farah.

In The Wings

It’s been a fairly low key year for Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra. While Katrina hasn’t had a release since last year’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Kareena and Priyanka haven’t tasted success with Satyagarh or Zanjeer. But all three had big ticket releases towards the end of the year. “A lot was and is expected from both Krissh 3 and Dhoom 3,” says trade analyst Vajir Singh of Boxoffice India.

Also waiting in the wings are Sonam Kapoor and Anushka Sharma. Sonam has been the undisputed queen among Bollywood’s fashionistas but she hadn’t been able to make her mark as an actress. Until this year. This summer, Sonam scored with not one but two films. First up was the small-town love story Raanjhanna, opposite South superstar Dhanush and then the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. “This has been an incredible year for me. I didn’t expect so much love from the audience for Raanjhanna. Even though my role was quite small in BMB, people really appreciated me,” says the actress. Anushka, on the other hand, had a disastrous start to the year with Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.

Among the ladies, who did make a mark in 2013 where Shraddha Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin and Huma Qureshi. Shakti Kapoor’s daughter Shraddha was catapulted into the big league after Aashiqui 2 went on to make over `100 crore at the box office. “You know, it’s been a few months since the release but it still hasn’t sunk it that people loved it enough for it to be a `100 crore film,” Shraddha giggled. Ek Thi Daayan co-stars Kalki and Huma were both praised by critics. While Kalki also had a Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Huma impressed as the hard-as-nails RAW agent in the hit D-Day.


In a League of Her Own

The comparisons with Smita Patil were inevitable though Smita died at an age when Vidya Balan started getting noticed. However different the two women and their acting careers may be, both have two things in common; they can act and they built their own space without a godfather.

Both won the National Film Award for Best Actress for films that were female centric. Smita’s films such as Manthan, Bhumika, Umbartha and Bazzar are known for her and so are Ishqiya, The Dirty Picture, Parineeta and Kahaani known for Vidya.

 However, while Smita consciously chose parallel cinema, thanks to changing times Vidya did not have to do that. While Vidya’s films would not be called parallel cinema, yet they are substance oriented and erase the fine line between commercialisation and story-oriented films. Paa, Ishqiya, and The Dirty Picture showed the Indian audience where commercial cinema and critical acclaim met.

Vidya, who ruled at the box office over the past three years with The Dirty Picture, Ishiqya and Kahaani, hasn’t had a very fruitful 2013. Her only release this year was the quirky Ghanchakkar opposite Emraan Hashmi. Unfortunately for her, the film bombed not only at the box office but also with the critics. But trade analyst Vajir Singh of Boxoffice India insists that one bad film can’t dethrone the actress. “Ghanchakkar wasn’t just Vidya’s flop. Emraan has an equal share in its misfortunes. Also, Vidya is not in the same race as the rest of the first. None of them have done what she has managed to do, which is carry a film on her own steam. And, she’s done that not once but three times in a row. That is not a fluke,” he explains.

Even her fellow actresses like Sonakshi and Sonam think that Vidya is a bonafide No. 1. “I don’t even have to think twice about this one. Vidya Balan is the best we have and no one comes close. She has been able to carry a film single-handedly and she is doing the kind of films that she wants to do. What more could one ask for,” Sonakshi says. Vidya’s next release will be the romcom Shaddi Ke Side Effects —opposite Farhan Akhtar in 2014. 

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