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Grit beneath glamour

She is down-to-earth about privacy, treats gossip with the contempt it deserves and is eager to move on with the three exciting films she has signed. Urmila Matondkar in conversation with SUBHASH K. JHA.

Growing out of the ``Rangeela'' image... Urmila Matondkar with Aamir Khan.

THE YEAR 2001 saw Urmila Matondkar blossom as an actress. Her performance as Riya Jaiswal, the obsessed won't-take-no-for-an-answer glamour girl in ``Pyar Tune Kya Kiya," silenced her critics. Now in 2002, Urmila is all set to stun audiences with another raw-and-real performance in Chandraprakash Diwedi s ``Pinjar," based on Amrita Pritam's celebrated novel on the Partition. Urmila plays a rape victim for whom life changes in the course of time. The Kambakht Ishq girl has lots to say about what life has offered so far.

While you've been keeping a low profile, the press has been busy giving its own stories about you.

Frankly, I've always kept away from the media. Now more than ever before, I feel it is just not worth my time and effort to entertain the media. Even leading newspapers have stooped to the level of carrying baseless titbits. Credibility, integrity and ethics are vanishing values.

But by keeping quiet you're stoking the fire?

Oh, but the day I decided to become a celebrity, privacy was something I threw in the ocean. I realise anyone can say anything about me just because I'm a public figure. I don't think there's any aspect of my life not under scrutiny. But I can't go around clarifying everything. Friends don't need it, and enemies won't believe it anyway. By refuting nasty rumours, articles, I feel I'm giving garbage the dignity it does not deserve.

Some stories about you have been very vicious.

I'd be lying if I said that they don't upset meInitially I was more shocked than upset. But now I'm simply amused. There are stars who bask in the media glare. And there are those who prefer to stay away. That's what I've done. Usually I give interviews when I have a release round the corner. There's no point in giving interviews when you only talk about what other people are doing.

Don't you feel you're being singled out for slander?

Why should I be spared from scandalous write-ups when even the biggest stars in the country haven't been spared? And why just this country? Main kiss-kiss ka naam loon? Scandals and rumours are part of my life.

Do you think it is better to have lies written than not to be written about at all?

Performance that silenced critics... Urmila with Fardeen Khan in "Pyar Tune Kya Kiya".

Of course not! Nowadays there's so much competition from television, Internet, etc. There are 3,000 programmes on television. Competition is too mild a term to describe it. So I can understand the hunger for titbits. Personally I never believe in negative publicity. I think work is the only real barometer of your success. The man or woman who sees me on screen just doesn't care about gossip.

When I wasn't doing well, the press wrote all kinds of nonsense about me. Later they had to eat their words. So what's the big deal? Today, I can walk into any seminar or beauty pageant and hold my own. I have my basic values and dignity. None can take away these things from me, no matter what the award or reward for the exchange. I won't barter away self-respect. Because finally that's all you're left with.

In ``Pinjar" you play a Punjabi girl from the past. What preparations have you undertaken?

I always find it hard to talk about preparation. Yes. ``Pinjar" is a period film and I do have to prepare thoroughly. Let me tell you this. My preparations for ``Pinjar" go far deeper than looks and clothes. Incidentally, Manish Malhotra will be doing my costumes in ``Pinjar."

Manish for a period film?

Why not? He's done ``Asoka" and my own authentic clothes in ``Satya." I'm very loyal to people who've been loyal to me.

Which do you find more challenging, the authentic or escapist cinema?

To me both are equally interesting. But the authentic role is more challenging. Movies are about dreams. When they try to touch real life, it is really challenging. And since I live in a world of dreams getting into a fantasy situation is far easier for me.

What do you mean, you live in a world of dreams?

Of course we all do. Those who say otherwise are just lying. But if my feet are firmly planted to the ground, I owe it to my upbringing. I can never sing, Aaj kal paaon zameen par nahin padte mere (laughs). I'm too sane to do anything crazy even when I'm tempted to do.

Now tell me, is ``Pinjar" going to have a Kambakht ishq?

(Chuckles) You should ask my director, Dr. Chandraprakash that. He'll probably faint in shock. Jokes apart, he is a great guy and I've a wonderful role in the film. But please, no Kambhakt ishq, only a kambakht role (laughs). But my other film, Anees Bazmi's ``Deewaangi," featuring me, Akshaye Khanna and Ajay Devgan, has me rocking and rolling. Not surprising since I play a pop star. I don't know how much I'll sizzle. But I've danced to a very hot number by Jaspinder Nirula. Another number in the same film is totally Indian. Very jhataank yet classical. I'm looking forward to it. Can you imagine my audacity? I've never learnt classical dancing and yet I was telling choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant that I was dying to do it. It is an exciting number, gets the adrenaline flowing.

How has ``Deewaangi'' shaped up?

It is looking really promising. It is a love triangle and relationships are handled with a lot of sensitivity. Anees Bazmi is the first writer-director I've worked with who isn't in love with every scene he writes. Anees doesn't go on and on. When a writer directs a film he tends to go overboard during shooting and then during the editing he makes cuts that leave the narrative jerky. Anees is ruthless with his scenes.

What I like about ``Deewaangi" is it includes a lot of interesting actors like Seema Biswas who plays a psychiatrist. Good actors automatically bring a certain refined sensitivity to a work. ``Deewaangi" will be a very sensible song and dance film.

Your films with Akshaye Khanna and Ajay Devgan haven't worked in the past...

But why should that affect a film? I just feel what people call on-screen chemistry is all about looking good together on screen. When the songs from my film, ``Deewaane," with Ajay Devgan were played on television, everyone commented on how good we were looking together.

Eventually when the film came out people changed their minds. How does one explain that? But let me tell you, both Akshaye and Ajay are damn good in ``Deewaangi." Then there's another film, ``Om Jai Jagdish" with Fardeen Khan. These three films are going to keep me occupied till the end of May.

Do you need enthusiastic co-stars to support your performances?

Actually, I'm too much in my own world to care. But yes, it is good to work with competent co-stars. That keeps me on my toes. It is a really lovely feeling because both of us are constantly trying to improvise and improve on the scenes.

Of course my co-star and I need to complement each other, so that there is no one-upmanship. In this context, Manoj Bajpai is an ideal co-star. After ``Satya" and ``Kaun... " I'm really looking forward to working with him in ``Pinjar."

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