Jacqueline Fernandez in conversation with Team Box Office India
From a newcomer who didn’t know anyone in the film industry to being one of the top contenders in commercial cinema today, what has your journey been like?
I think it was just a little more work in terms of adjusting to a new city, to a new language. I don’t see myself as any different from other people even though I started from scratch. I guess everyone has to learn a new skill, has to go through the process of understanding what it takes to become an actress, or a star, and learning the ropes. It’s funny but I don’t feel as if I have done anything different from other newcomers. The struggle is pretty much the same for everyone.
What is that one thing in a script that makes you say ‘yes’?
One thing… umm.. It has to be a film that I would, as a regular movie-goer, pay money to watch in the theatre. Would this be an actress I want to watch or is this a story I would enjoy watching? I think it really comes down to what my opinion is.
There is a lot of effort that goes into being a commercial actress, maintaining a certain reputation, physical form etc. What is your take on that?
Yeah, I think they do not realise, they take it for granted, and we have to make it look effortless. Most of the time, commercial actresses create an illusion of effortlessness, as if we wake up every morning like this! We are genuinely good at dancing, style and glamour. But the truth is we also spend hours and hours on ourselves, to make sure our styling is done by the best team, hours of training in dance, working on our lines, on our diction, the make-up, the hair… we have to look into all this consistently. That’s what the audience wants to see. That’s what the audience is expecting. And we make it look effortless. That’s why people think everything is flawless, which it is not.
Two of your films this year, A Gentleman and Judwaa 2, drew very different results at the box office. How do you handle the failure and success of a film?
Honestly, pretty much everyone goes through failure and success. It is not the most shocking thing that happens in an actor’s life or anyone’s life. And I am used to all kinds of ups and downs as every film has its own destiny. A film doesn’t determine who I am. Every film can be a success as long as you have done your part. You can’t dwell on something for too long, not even success! That too keeps you back because it puts you in a comfort zone. So, both ways, when a person starts to dwell on failure or success, it can be damaging.
Speaking of Judwaa 2, what was your first reaction when you heard the script? What was your reaction when you saw the response from the audience and industry?
My first reaction when I heard that Nadiad (Sajid Nadiadwala) was making Judwaa 2, and he told me that he wanted me to be a part of the film, I was like, I need to see the film first. Also, David (Dhawan) sir met me while we were shooting for Dishoom, and he told me that he wanted me to be a part of this film, and that Karishma had played this part so beautifully. He said, ‘It is going to be quite a challenge for you.’ He asked me to watch the film, and to watch her closely, and let her inspire me.
When we started promoting Judwaa 2, people were already treating it like a hit. There was so much positivity and curiosity coming in. So Varun and I were under a lot of pressure all the time! We shot for this film and thought it was going to be okay. But, all of a sudden, we realised that people’s expectations were very high. We began to feel that we might have bitten off more than we could chew, but it was just amazing. It did so well, and it was a load off our shoulders.
You have been part of many sequels, and you will be part of Race 3 as well.
I am always in a sequel; my life has become a sequel. I am Jacqueline 2.0! My very first success was a sequel, which was Murder 2. From there, it hasn’t ended. Race is a franchise; Housefull is a franchise. The cool thing about that is you get repeated in the franchise. In Housefull, I was there from the item song onwards; I was a part of Race 2, and now a part of Race 3. Also Judwaa 2! I hope they make a Judwaa 3, and I will be a part of that as well. It has always been rewarding to be able to work in franchises that are continuing.
Cinema is becoming more and more content-driven. Do you often face questions like, what’s stopping you from exploring dark, content-oriented films?
I don’t agree with that question. Commercial cinema and blockbusters have always been content-driven. You would not watch a film that will become a success unless it has good content. Dangal was a huge hit and a blockbuster and it had content. Sultan had the same thing going for it. You can’t segregate the two. Just because one is set in a commercial setting doesn’t mean it doesn’t have content, a backstory or a script.
You have learnt a lot of new skills thanks to all your films, like fencing for Race 3, and mixed martial arts. Tell us what drives you.
Yes, yes. What has been amazing for me is that with every single project, I am able to explore so many different things. I like to discover what they are as well. The process excites me. Like when we were doing Gentleman, I didn’t know what to do with this character. So I thought, let’s do something innovative. Since we were based in Miami and my character was very adventurous, I thought maybe she can do a pole dance. When you can add a dimension to your character, even if it hasn’t been handed to you, you can take it on.
But, at the end of the day, when you come back to being yourself, sometimes your character inspires you. So I took on pole dancing as a part of a cool fitness regime. I guess, maybe because I am fit and enjoy sports, I try and attach an element of fitness to all my characters.
Do you resonate with a character you play on-screen?
I have to. Of course, if you are playing a serial killer, you don’t have to resonate with the character but you need to know yourself, and understand psychology and people on so many levels, so that you can play a serial killer with determination and conviction. Understanding psychology really helps. I have got that from travelling all over the world from a young age.
Do you encourage healthy competition? Does it inspire you when you see a colleague excelling in their performance?
Yeah, absolutely! I always call or sometimes message and discuss it with them. I love seeing people trying different things, challenging themselves and doing things that are super unexpected. I just love seeing that. There should be something to motivate and encourage oneself because people in the industry tend to stereotype people. If you are glamorous, be glamorous; if you are sexy, be sexy; if you are funny, be funny! What people don’t do is encourage actors to come out of their comfort zone. But that also comes from the actors. I love it when my people do that, it is inspiring.
Do you feel that success brings popularity, and it enhances your image as an actor or a brand ambassador?
That happens with any kind of success. You responsibility, of course, increases, because people wait for what you are going to deliver next. After the success of Judwaa 2, I am wondering what else I can deliver in my next film. But box office success is beneficial because everyone benefits when a film does well.
Speaking of the box office, do you track the numbers of your films on a regular basis?
That depends. Even when I am not checking the numbers, I cannot run away from it because everyone is talking about it. Everyone wants to hear numbers. As much as there is an artistic side to cinema, there is also the business side. As a team, when we were promoting Judwaa 2, there were bets being placed from day one on the film’s opening numbers.
I personally do not like to work for numbers as it takes away from the beauty of what we do, but at the end of the day, we get paid for what we do. You have to pay attention to it, your producers need to make their money back, and the industry does need to thrive, and the economy as well. I pay attention for three days, and then I am, like, I don’t want to know. What is more important for me to know is, did people like it or not? Okay, they did? Then I am happy. I feel positive even when the film doesn’t open to the expected numbers. It’s just fine for me. What worries me more is when people do not like the film. That is more important.
Over time, have you acquired business sense? Do you understand the workings of the industry better now?
I do not know the workings of the industry, the business side of the industry; I feel I still do not understand. Just recently, I was with Varun, who comes from a film background. He has grown up seeing his dad work in the industry and probably talks numbers all the time. His dad, David sir, is someone I love talking to, about what’s happening, what is not working, what the numbers are. He knows everything and Varun has grown up in that environment. So it is ingrained in him and he looks at a film from every single angle like marketing, music, seeing things from the point of view of the fans, promotions, etc. It is a lot of pressure, work and stress. You will see him constantly biting his nails. But he just loves it, it makes him happy. He is happiest when he is doing this. For me, I don’t like getting involved in that part, I like to just come on the set, know what my job is, know that I am doing such as my lines, my scenes, my role. I just like to be in that moment. The minute you distract me with those things, I go off-track.
Small-budget films have done surprisingly well. Do you believe it is risky to back these films, and that if the stars associate themselves with these films, it would bring about a change?
I don’t think there is all that much risk involved in small-budget films. I mean, the budget and the risk in these films is not very high. It is not a large investment. But I like what Aamir did this year with Secret Superstar. He kind of backed it and also did a cameo. That was quite interesting. I mean, obviously, when it comes to small-budget films, you are basically talking about newcomers being given a chance and the audience has to decide whether to pay to watch the film. And, of course, newcomers should be encouraged.
At the end of the day, it is fantastic to promote small-budget films. We are in a business where everyone wants to make money. But people will not place their bets on just about anyone; the film has to be very convincing and it has to feature actors who are extremely good.
What is your take on the digital revolution? Would you like to make your debut in digital?
I think I have, we all have, and we are all on digital. We are all part of the digital world. We are watching people live, we are posting it live, from diets and exercise, to film promotions, everything is there on digital platforms. Superstars are almost born overnight on digital platforms. It is fantastic, it is creating so much more space for people to experiment and get noticed. Also, it is creating a sense of competition, which is very healthy. It is a growing platform, it is adding to the economy. It is really great.
You will be reuniting with Salman Khan after Kick and Race 3. How does it feel to work with him again?
It is really cool. I just shot my first scene with him a few weeks ago. I was like, ‘I know Salman and have worked with him before. He is like a friend and it is not going to be an issue.’ Then, during the first scene with him, I started sweating profusely. I fumbled all my lines and did not remember a thing. I did not know what was happening to me.
The thing is the energy on a Salman Khan set is very different, everyone is on their toes. Everyone is, like, bhai hai bhai hai, they are just so nervous. But the coolest thing about him is that, poor guy, he doesn’t do that on purpose. He naturally creates that energy on the set. He tries to calm everyone. He is so helpful on the set. I sometimes feel he has got a director in him. He is just amazing at what he does. He has cracked it so beautifully. That’s what makes him amazing.
Tell us something about your next film Drive.
Drive is something I am pretty much done with right now. We have got one more song. For both me and Sushant (Singh Rajput), the experience really has come from working with Tarun (Mansukhani). He is such a phenomenal director. He was so funny and entertaining. He has worked really closely with us. There are directors that push you because at the end of the day, you really want someone who is keeping an eye on you, on your performance. He will not let up until he is 100 per cent happy, also because he knows what he can get out from you. That’s what Sushant and I love about him. Sometimes, I am shocked at what he can get out of me.
Tell us about the prep you are doing for Race 3.
We have some really good action in the film. I am just dying to do action. I have been doing a bit of mixed martial arts for the sequences, to up the level; I have been getting trained for quite some time.
Your last thoughts about 2017, and your plans to welcome 2018.
2017 has been an amazing year and I am happy it is ending on such a good note. I am looking forward to two of my releases next year. Also looking forward to a holiday with my family.
Your next projects, apart from the two releases next year?
Right now we are working on a script called The Girl On The Train. It is in the scripting stage. It is an interesting role to take on. It is also a very new zone for me to step into.