Expectations are a tricky thing: Gul

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From her role in the acclaimed serial Kashmir, to performances in Jurm and Dhoop, the vivacious Gul Panag talks about the road that brought her to Dor.

You’ve recently won the Stardust Breakthrough Performance–Female for Dor. How does that feel?
It’s immensely encouraging. I mean, newcomers to the industry need as much support as they can get. Once you’re an established actor, you have a better idea of the industry, but for newcomers such encouragement is vital early on.

What was it like working with Nagesh Kukunoor?
To be honest, the main reason I did Dor was because it was a chance to work with Nagesh, which is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I saw Rockford. Someone said that working with him would change my career, but to me, the experience was paramount. Expectations are a tricky thing, but having said that, Dor was a fulfilling experience.

Is staying friends with co-stars as impossible as it is made out to be?
I won’t deny that it does exist, and people can be manipulative. The point is, sometimes you do get along and sometimes you don’t. But all the women I have worked with so far have been fantastic. For example, during the shooting of Manorama-6 Feet Under (which we’ve just wrapped up), Raima Sen and I got on really well.

You have a bit of experience in theatre as well – what was that like?
I worked for a year with Pentabus, a touring theatre company in the UK. We toured Northern UK, putting up plays at venues like old castles, with audiences out in the open watching us.

We performed modern adaptations of Shakespearean plays, as well as dramatic adaptations, like Milton’s Comus. The reception to these events was wonderful. Unfortunately in India, many people hold notions of the atre being an elitist hobby, when in fact it’s still very actively pursued, especially at festivals like Ramleela.

So will we see you venture into theatre here?
Not really for now I’d prefer to stick, to films. With theatrical projects, there’s a lot on the line – the commitment, especially time wise, is huge. With films, the time frame for each project is more specific. Plus, in films, you act for the camera; in theatre, you act for an audience. I’ve always felt that film is more forgiving as a medium than theatre.

What about film production and direction?
Not in the near future, especially not direction, which is pretty complicated. It’s a standing joke among my friends that with my organized and analytical way of doing things, I have the makings of a great producer! But if I do venture into production, my experience as an actor will definitely help, especially in terms of relating to other actors, since I have been in their shoes too.

You’ve said, “It’s the intellect that will sustain you, not beauty. After all, how long will beauty last?” Do you think that the correlation made between beauty and acting is an unfair one?
To some extent, yes. A lot of the time, people don’t seem to realize that being a good actress does not always imply that you should only play ‘glamorous’ characters. Look at Charlize Theron. She was almost unrecognizable in Monster, but that ‘unglamorous’ role won her an Oscar.

I think this bias towards more attractive people exists in the hotel industry and airlines too. Having said that, beauty does have its disadvantages – people often tend not to take you seriously .

You’ve schooled across India, at the International School at Lusaka in Zambia, been part of a UK theatre company, and participated in the Miss Universe pageant. What brought you back to India, and Mumbai in specific?
At first, it was my role in Kashmir that brought me here, but Mumbai is a city that grows on you. And to be honest, people doing modestly well for themselves in Mumbai have the best of both worlds – a progressive lifestyle and the comfort of our old social structure.

How do you spend your time away from the world of movies?
I travel extensively – I’m a Lonely Planet kind of traveller, it’s one of my passions. The other is reading. I’m currently on Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. I’m also keen to get hold of The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple. I have a whole study of books at home… it’s where I hang out.

What’s next?
There’s Hello, an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s best-selling novel One Night at a Call Centre. It’s being made by Atul Agnihotri, and also stars Sohail Khan, Amrita Arora and Ishaa Koppikar with guest appearances by Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif. I’m really looking forward to working on it. I loved the book, and I’m sure that Hello will be a great film too.

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