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Poised for pretty good times!

A bundle of energy. A vivacious child-woman. Preity Zinta leaves you groping for expressions with her relentless enthusiasm, as RANA A. SIDDIQUI discovers in the course of this chat in Delhi this past week... .

SHE IS among the few film stars not to keep a distance from the media and her fans. Far from throwing a tantrum or nurturing arrogance, she keeps cracking jokes with press personnel and often at conferences shoulders the responsibility of cracking jokes, spreading good cheer. It was just the same the other day when this child-woman blessed with the proverbial million-dollar smile, lots of energy and what the new generation calls `attitude' landed in Delhi to promote Kundan Shah's "Dil hai Tumhaara". Yes, Preity Zinta may not be the most beautiful girl around but she has got loads talent and an uncanny ability to laugh at herself. And take in her youthful stride a thing or two.

Initially, she earned rave reviews from guys still coming to terms with the charms of her innocence. Her dimpled chin and bright eyes attracted many. "Soldier" gave her a showcase to parade her talent. As did "Dil Se" and a little later "Mission Kashmir". Remember "Bhumro, bhumro"? The film flopped, the song was a hit and Preity Zinta was the new young loveable girl around. She has stayed that way. In between she managed to hold her own amidst three guys in Farhan Akhtar's "Dil Chahta Hai" and mustered enough courage to do "Kya Kehna". Now, she is back with the same director - Kundan Shah - hoping that her dimpled chin, rosy lips and pearly smile will illuminate the silver screen. And establish her as the brightest star around. No pretensions, simple aspiration.

The other day in Delhi she stole the show from her co-stars Mahima Chaudhury, Arjun Rampal and Jimmy Shergil when she visited Grand Intercontinental to promote "Dil Hai Tumhara" - released at cinema halls across Delhi this past week.

On one hand, she requests all present to switch off their mobiles as it irritates those on the dais, on the other she requests media to keep their microphones off her face - "People must see me, you know?" and she giggles while others enjoy the good cheer she spreads on the stage.

But this child-woman does not fall short of grey matter when it comes to lapping up roles that give her a chance to go beyond looking-good and feeling-great. In her debut appearance in Mani Ratnam's "Dil Se" Preity won many hearts with "Jia Jale Jaan Jale" song. Her vulnerability attracted many. However, it was her second film " Soldier" that paved the way to roles more substantial. In "Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega", she played a sacrificing beloved. A little she was a bold and beautiful, yet an innocent girl who conceives out of wedlock and decides to give birth to the child in "Kya Kehna". Last year, she essayed the role of a call girl turned surrogate mother in "Chori-Chori, Chupke, Chupke" and a beloved who silently yearns to win over her man in "Dil Chahta Hai" - no role is alike. Yet she definitely is the central character who keeps running around trees with her heroes. "I would not do any more running around trees in my future films," she had proclaimed some six months back. She is fast in her defence with humour intact, "When I said that, I did not mean that I would not even go near trees. In any case, all Hindi films have lots of trees. I meant that I would do roles where my talent does not go waste singing songs and standing behind heroes. And see, I have proved myself. I sign one film at a time, so it takes at least one-and-half- year for my next film to see the silver screen. `Dil Hai Tumhara' comes after more than an year."

In forthcoming films also, she has chosen roles carefully. In Anil Sharma's "The Hero" with Sunny Deol, she plays girl who is much younger than the protagonist, Rakesh Roshan's "Koi Mil Gaya" she is the central character with Hrithik Roshan. And in Honey Irani's "Armaan"? Well, she refuses to reveal anything except that "it is too difficult a role -- so far the best in my career," and repeats "too" at least seven times to emphasise the role's significance! The discussion is getting longer and Preity is hungry as it is close to midnight. "No, no it's okay. I will have it later, please carry on." And she keeps licking the dry coconut spread in between chocolates on a plate and offers chocolates in between.

She is happy to talk of her role in "Dil Hai Tumhaara". "I play a naughty girl who would do anything to seek attention, specially from her mother - Rekha, the mayor of the town. She is a rebel, a seeker in whom there is a great sense of insecurity," and you soon gauge why she finds herself so identical to the role. She has always remained in a boarding school -- Jesus and Mary, Simla. "Living among strangers in boarding was a nightmare. I know what loneliness is. I always had a great sense of insecurity," she is bold enough to admit.

But she is not the kind who would let ambition rule her. "Films are a part of my life but not vice-versa. I know where I have to stop. Each year, I take a few weeks off in winters and summers. Come what may, I never shoot those days. People close to me say that I should not take time off like that. This is the age I must work and lap up best of opportunities but I do what I deem best for myself," she says, brimming with, well, `attitude'.

And she defines her indulgent nature in film as her USP. "I always feel fresh -- regular rests recharge me, give me enough energy to work throughout the year. For me that is my USP. People say that I look very fresh in films. They are right, no?' and she laughs heartily spreading herself like a small kid in a toy store.

But she turns serious when you ask her plans on personal front. "Marriage is not on cards. Currently, I am married to films and not likely to divorce it in the near future." Yet she is honest enough to say it straight. "Look, I know I can't be in films forever playing roles plum. I also want to get married and have children. I don't want to marry when I am not young. I don't want to have children when I am too old to handle them. But at present even if I get the perfect man, I would straightaway say no as I am too obsessed with films. And I know I will not be able to carry films and marriage together. I want to enjoy things fully and properly." Here she feels comfortable enough to reveal a negative bit of herself, "You know what? I am crazy, crazy enough to cling to something I love -- to the extent of making it a bore for myself. If I am hungry, I will eat too much till its wonder loses its charm for me. Maybe, in films I am at that stage where I feel hungry to have it more and more. I might quit it altogether, at once and settle down. I am an extremist that way."

Her sudden, serious countenance makes you yearn for her dimpled smile once again. You have it once you whisper "Bend it Like Beckham" and "Devdas" to her. "Oh! It's great, it gala, its glamorous, its just terrific! You know what? When I was watching `Devdas' I was not batting an eyelid -- its screen presence is marvellous." But it is "Bend it... ." that brings sparkle to her ever-shifting eyes, full of energy. "Such a cute film! I felt like being a part of this girl's personality. I can watch this film seven times a week, no, no, at least twice a week, right, right... " and she makes you nod in affirmative.

Sweet, cute and sensible are the attributes that you feel like dedicating to her once you leave her to resume her rice and curry preparation. Her voice rings in your ears and her magnetic charms accompany you all the way.

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