Actress Gul Panag, who has only been in the industry since 2005, has made her mark in Hindi Cinema. Known for her versatility in becoming the character but also in changing her look for the role, she has appeared in Hello, Summer 2007, Dor, and Manorama Six Feet Under, to name a few. Each performance has garnered praise. In 2006, she won the Stardust Breakthrough Performance of the Year along with the Zee Cine Best Actor Female – Critics Choice for her outstanding performance in the critically acclaimed Dor. Coming up next for the actress is Ram Gopal Varma’s Rann. I got a chance to talk with the actress about the film, working with RGV and why acting…have a look.

How did you become part of Rann?

Well, Ram Gopal Varma is a director I have admired for some time for the intelligent films that he makes, for films that always have an interesting take on things. His view of things and the way he presents them is always unique. So, when he called me and told me he was making this film, I was interested of course. I knew it was a film where we would all play a part towards a larger picture. It is an ensemble piece, but for me it was more important to want to be a part of this large canvas, to be a part of this story, to be a part of what I think will be a very good film.

Who is your character and what motivates her?

I play the character of a girl called Nandita. Nandita is an assistant director, she is an aspiring filmmaker. She represents that section of the youth of India that understands that the system is bad and the “system” word is used loosely. Whether it is a system that governs people’s ethics, or whether the system requires you to go get a passport or ration card or whatever little thing that requires even an iota of government interference or any kind of civic society structure, is bad. She knows that the system has gone to the dogs, but unlike another section of the youth who believe they can change things, who believe they must participate to try and make a difference, Nandita believes that things are beyond change, things are beyond recovery and no matter how hard we try it is very difficult to try and evolve or change or make any kind of improvement. So, she would rather read tabloids and watch films and have a good time than worry about the future of the nation. It is this worrying section of India’s youth that Nandita represents. Exactly diametrically opposite to her is her boyfriend Riteish’s character. His name is Purab Shastri. He is an idealist, he believes like what Obama says, ‘Be the Change You Want’. So, he is an idealist that believes he can make a difference where Nandita is someone who is completely different. She just feels we shouldn’t waste our time taking on powers that are above us and beyond us. Yet they love each other, they live together and they are a couple.

Does she go through a change, to go more towards his way of thinking?

The film isn’t really about her changing. I suppose by the end of the film she is an evolved human being. She does understand that sometimes one man can fight it out and really make a difference. Having said that, the film is really more about what goes on in the work place, which is the studio, the news channel that this film is about. Everybody else, particularly the women in the film, are a part of the domestic lives of these men. I do not have any role to play in the channel or anything that goes on, [but] that is the main theater of action.

How was it working with Ram Gopal Varma?

It was a little unnerving on the first day or two, but then you realize that if you just cut the small talk with him he is all right. He is one person you just can’t make small talk with. You just can’t discuss the weather, you can’t discuss the heat. I think Ramu is the kind of person who will respect you more if you sit next to him silently, then sit next to him trying to find words to say so conversation can flow. I think it is about understanding him, and over the last year I have got to know him. Not as well as I would like to, of course I think I would like to get to know him better. I would like to work with him again and we are discussing something for me that may materialize out of that. I think he is by far one of the most talented people I have worked with.

How does he direct you? Does he guide you or does he just let you go, or is it a mixture of both?

It is a mixture of both. He tells you what is going on, and then he lets your judgment take over. If he feels what you are putting across is not what he wants, then he tells you how to change what you are doing.

How about acting opposite Riteish Deshmukh?

Riteish is someone I got to know for the first time working on this film. He is extremely humble considering he comes from a mighty political background. You would expect people from that background to be a little extra self aware, but he really takes you by surprise with his easy going, extremely humble, extremely down-to-earth demeanor. He is very easy to be with. He has a great sense of humor, and is very good at what he does.

How did you guys play off each other? Did it work well?

I think we as characters are essentially absolutely opposite of each other. I think Riteish’s character feeds off people like her who are apathetic and are indifferent to the future of the country, and I am using the word country in a very large manner – the future of different units of society. Of course, the country is the highest unit for us in society, but there are smaller units, like your workplace is a unit of society. She is the kind of person who is very indifferent to the kind of future and the well-being of the units of society that she interacts with. This is the kind of person that Riteish feeds off, and people like her want him to make a difference.

Did you have any scenes with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, and how was that experience?

I did have one scene with him. He is extremely talented and he has four decades of experience behind him, so to watch somebody who’s supremely talented and so experienced is a treat in itself. His craft, not only just over his character, but the overall film, the technique of it, the technique of his craft is phenomenal. It is absolutely phenomenal, and what is interesting is that he just makes the whole exercise looks so effortless.

Any memorable moments during shooting?

I think for me, every film I shoot, every moment is memorable. I don’t try and look back and say oh, that moment is better. I really enjoy what I do; I don’t think there is anything else I could probably do. So, for me it is very difficult look back and say oh, that moment was wonderful.

So why do you love acting, and why be an actress?

I don’t think I have an objective answer to that. I just enjoy the whole exercise of being able to express, being able to do different characters, to be able to live different lives even though it is only for a very short while. You know, for me, when I am playing a particular part, I really become that person. When I step onto that set I cease to be Gul. I just become that character and that to me is sort of an escape from reality, in a way a pleasant escape from reality. I think a lot of us are frustrated with ourselves for various reasons, and being an actor allows you to escape that frustration momentarily.

How do you decide on what roles you do?

I like to say, yes, it is the strength of the plot. It’s my role in the film, how critical it is to the film. Not necessarily the length of the role, but what I feel the film represents, what I feel it imparts. At the end of the day it all comes down to that instinct.

Tell us about what we will see you in next.

There are 3 films that are in various stages of post-production. There is a film called Fatso produced by Pritish Nandy Communications that is directed by Rajat Kapoor, followed by a Mukhta Arts presentation of Hello Darling. Then there is an untitled production with Prakash Jha, and I have just started work on Excel Entertainment’s next film with Abhishek Bachchan.

It was such a pleasure to talk with Gul and I wish we had had more time. I would have loved to find out much more about this intelligent actress … perhaps before one of her next films I can catch her again. I wish her the best of luck and can’t wait to see who she becomes next. You can see Gul’s Nandita when Rann opens on January 29th!

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