Ileana D’Cruz thinks she couldn’t have made a better choice than Barfi! to begin her stint in Bollywood. The 24-year-old has been acting since 2006 in the Telugu film industry, winning a devout following for her roles in films such as Pokiri. But the unique challenges presented by her role as Shruti in Barfi! made her Bollywood debut a challenge, she said recently at an interview.
“It is set in the 1970s, and I play a Bengali. I asked Anurag (Basu) if he wanted me to take inspiration from someone, but he said no. We found Shruti along the way.” She characterises the process as “a lot of chaos”, and contrasts this with a more predictable fare down south. “In the south, it’s more masala fare, with typical girl-next-door roles.”
Ileana is quick to acknowledge that her beginnings in the Telugu and Tamil industries (this year, she acted in the hugely-successful Nanban) shaped her. So while she’s excited about her foray into Bollywood, she’s not breaking away from the south yet. “Once you’re part of the industry, you’re part of the industry. Be it in the south, or Bollywood.”
Contrary to the fan frenzies now associated with her, Ileana (her name comes from Greek mythology, as a variant of ‘Helen’) had a relaxed childhood growing up in Mumbai and Goa. “Living in Goa, you inevitably become a bum,” she said. “I was a very shy child. Films were never my agenda — I wasn’t too comfortable in the limelight.”
When the films did happen, she was caught up in the flurry of offers and success. It began to slowly take its toll. “I started working when I was 18. I was young and naive.” She also wasn’t necessarily thinking seriously about her work. “I would just come on the set, put on makeup, say my lines and leave.” She slowly began to take her work more seriously and concentrate on her acting.
There seems to be an unavoidable fixation from her fans on her appearance: skin, height, legs. Ileana puts this to “stereotype”, but isn’t sure how to take it. “I don’t know whether to think of it as a compliment or not.” She’s also aware that in some films, she isn’t required for her acting ability. “There are certain films that require me just to look good, which don’t give you scope to act or perform.”