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“I wanted my 50th film to be special”

Raai Laxmi, a well-known actress from the South industry, who’s acted in all four South languages (Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada), will be making a full-fledged Hindi debut with Julie 2 next week. Here’s the actress in conversation with Team Box Office India

Laxmi, you’ve done 49 films in the South industry and your 50th one marks your entry into Bollywood. Do you still feel like a debutante?

It’s even more, actually. I have no exposure in Bollywood, and I still have to feel and receive love from here. I did not feel this way when I was actually a newcomer. Already having an identity (in the South) and then becoming a newcomer somewhere else carries a lot more responsibility.

Do you find any difference in the way the South and Bollywood film industries work?

The working pattern is definitely different; they work in a different format down South. You cannot stop once they start rolling. On the other hand, in Bollywood, the work flow and schedule is much more planned and organised. In the South, we do four to five scenes a day but here, I am just chilling and doing one scene a day. It’s more about taking it easy, knowing your lines, doing your homework, etc. There, we don’t have the time to do all this. We just go in, rehearse the scene on the set, on the spot, and go for it. The two approaches are very different.

Did you have to unlearn anything you had learnt in the South industry?

I had the opportunity to learn about a new field, which is something I love. It’s always great to learn something new. But in terms of my experience as an actor, it is more or less the same. No, there was nothing I had to leave behind, so to speak.

Julie 2 is regarded as a bold choice for a first film. What prompted you to say yes to this script?

Julie 2 happened to me all of a sudden. I was in search of a good, strong, woman-centric film for my 50th venture. I have done 49 films in the South and I wanted to do something very memorable at this point, something I could cherish when I looked back. Suddenly, Julie 2 happened to come my way and I don’t think it could have been more special. Being my 50th film, my debut in a new industry, and my first film in Bollywood… it is all very overwhelming. This script had everything I was looking for including the commercial element. It came to me through a well-known South Indian cameraman, who is part of Julie 2 now. He approached me through a South director and that’s how it found its way to me.

I went in, heard the narration and I remembered how strong the impact of the first Julie was, when it released in 2004. When it came to being erotic, I was in two minds about signing this film. I thought that if it was of the same genre, should I pick it up as my first Bollywood film? Would it be right or wrong?

But when I heard the narration and the story, it changed my perception of the film. It was very different from what I had assumed it to be. I loved the film because it is based on something realistic. I was also looking for a script that sent out a message, and Julie 2 had a message. I must admit that I was still a little hesitant because carrying an entire film on my shoulders is a lot of responsibility. But I thought I have to do this, I cannot let this go. That’s how Julie 2 happened.

In what ways do you relate to the character of Julie?

The struggle that she goes through in the film is in different phases, and there are some that I can relate to myself. It is basically the struggle of a girl, every girl. Just to make things easier and for the audience to grasp it better, we have made her into an actress. When we talk about things like the casting couch, having a regular protagonist would not have worked. The story had to be filmy, entertaining and glamorous. Julie goes through multiple struggles and every woman who watches this film will relate to her. The things she goes through could happen to anybody, and that’s why I felt it was a situation that could happen to me. It was very easy to relate to her and because of that, it touched my heart.

As you said, the subject of the casting couch is addressed in this film. Do you think it will shed some light on the reality in the entertainment industry?

Julie 2 is not the first film to address this issue. Other movies like Fashion, Heroine, The Dirty Picture etc. have also dealt with this subject but in a very indirect way. It hasn’t been stretched out like this before or been portrayed in a realistic way like this before.

However, this is not the only subject we are highlighting through this film. The casting couch is limited to one area of work in the film industry; women are exploited in many different ways. Moreover, people think this happens routinely only in the film industry but it is present in every field today.

You mentioned you had apprehensions about this role. Do you think that doing a role like this will typecast you with this genre?

That apprehension is still very much present in my mind. That’s how our industry works and you can’t change that. But after the movie releases, I will be relieved when people come out of the theatres, surprised that the film was not what they had seen in the trailer. It is a thriller with a lot more story. Coming back to being typecast, I have already got a lot of offers similar to this one! I am still to decide whether to consider these roles or do something drastically different.

I am not in a hurry. I want this movie to be special and for people to think that I have gone all out for this film. I don’t want people to assume that I do films only in this particular genre. I am not terribly scared, though, as I have already done so many films down South and so people can see me from a different perspective. But, yes, I am afraid of being typecast in Bollywood.

What challenges did you encounter while portraying this character?

The entire film was a challenge. We shot for more than one and half years and I had to sacrifice a lot of South projects. There was a lot of prep that went into the film. Putting on weight is the easiest thing but losing the extra kilos is hard work. Moreover, I am a foodie and I had only a month to get into shape. This was a huge challenge and I would not want to do this again because it takes a toll on your health.

I was literally starving and working out three times a day. I was so tired all day. I set aside everything and just kept at it. It’s been a great experience for me, though, but I would never want to go through this again. When people watch the masala songs in the film, they might wonder why I look so voluptuous. The reason for this is that Julie is presented as a South Indian actress, and they have a persona like this.

But Bollywood believes you need to look slimmer than you are. So that’s the look they wanted. There is also an ultra-modern sequence, where there is a display of the body transformation. So the most challenging part of this film, i.e, losing weight, is there for only a few minutes; the idea is to see the change. It takes a lot of hard work and time to do roles like these, to shoulder the responsibility of an entire film, and play a character like this. Moreover, I am portraying a film star and the audience looks up to the stars as being pretty. So, yes, you will see me in all sizes in this film!

The previous Julie was a sleeper hit and drew a lot of attention. Did this put any pressure on you and did you watch the first film?

Yes, I saw the previous Julie, and that’s the reason I heard the script of this film. It had this impact on me and I kept wondering whether this was the right film for me to make my Bollywood debut, because it was a very bold film, and the character that Neha (Dhupia) played was that of a prostitute. I would love to try every kind of role but people are very judgmental about how you enter the industry, with whom you enter the industry, what kind of mark you create in the industry. Some people take time, some people become stars overnight! A lot depends on how you make your entry, and what kind of impact you create.

Julie comes across as a bold film even today as it broke through inhibitions, and kind of stood out. An actress needs courage to do a role like that. I think Julie is tagged as being an erotic film but this Julie is a mix of everything along with the right dose of emotions. It has a very strong storyline. It is a thriller. It has a lot of entertainment value. I want to clarify that it is not a sequel.

Pahlaj Nihalani has been a part of the film. How supportive has he been?

When Pahlajji came on board, it was all over the news. What a time for him to associate with the film. I don’t know his back story, what he did when it came to censoring a film, but I believe that when somebody is given a job and a rule book, as a professional, you have to follow that book. You have very little choice.

When I met him after he became associated with Julie, the first thing I asked him, just to clarify things for myself, was this… I said, ‘I know you are here for Julie, I am more than happy to welcome you, but what is this hullabaloo about you having issues with kissing scenes and you being against this and that?’ He said, ‘Nobody really tried to understand. I was not the one who watched the films or passed the films. Sure, my signature was required but there are a lot of board members who watch the films and they pass them on to me for approval. But, at the end of the day, people question the head of the board, and that’s what happened.’

As I mentioned earlier, some people may believe Julie 2 is an erotic film but the audience will be surprised. When a man like him distributes this film, it clearly indicates that there is something more.

Also, people should remember that he is a distributor, not a member of the censor board. So he needs to do what a distributor would do for his film. There is no point questioning him as a member of the censor board. It is a very sensitive topic and he is not answerable to the media. If my film was certified U/A, it would have been unfair but we got an ‘A’ certificate. Then why is he being questioned? We happily accepted what the censor gave us. As a distributor, he is doing the right thing for the film, and has not broken any rules or guidelines.

What kinds of genres are you looking forward to and what are your future projects?

I would love to play a commercial, bubbly Punjabi girl or do a family-oriented script or a comedy film. A comedy film has an altogether different kind of energy. I have gone back to the South and started about three films, and maybe after three to four months, I will take up a project here. I am looking for a script that will be different from Julie.

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