They say you cannot have it all. You might think twice about this when you meet the eloquent actor Lara Dutta. Smart, charming, elegant, and beautiful–she is all that and more. We met her at the Fair & Lovely Foundation’s finale event 2016. Here are a few excerpts from the interview.
Academics has been a major part of your life. How important do you think it is?
I think I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be educated and be encouraged to reach for the sky. I had financial support from my family, something which most girls in the country cannot even think of. I truly believe that if you educate a woman then it is as good as educating a village. I read this wonderful quote by Dalai Lama and it has stuck with me – “The change in the world cannot come from just prayer and religious teachings; it has to come from education” and I couldn’t agree more with it.
You have a degree in economics and a minor in communication. So, if not an actor then what profession would you have pursued?
I was one of those people who always wanted to do so many different things in life. I wanted to be a ballerina, an astronaut, an archaeologist, an actor and more. It never was just one thing until the moment I became an actor. I think I would have excelled at all of them, should I have chosen to be any of them (laughs).
What according to you defines a strong and new-age woman?
I don’t think I have ever come across a woman who is not a strong, powerful or new-age woman. Women in the villages, who are faceless and voiceless, undergo several sacrifices, every single day. There are sacrifices and choices that you make as a woman that don’t come easy and that most men don’t have to make. So for me there is no definition that says this is the epitome of a powerful woman. I think today every single woman makes herself efficient and has the opportunity to be an incredibly powerful woman.
You always seem so calm and collected. We really wish to know how much of that is work and how much of it is just who you are?
Self-confidence comes with experience. The more you experience in life, the more comfortable you get with yourself and accepting of who you are. Age is wonderful. I know that at 21 when I won the Miss Universe title, I was definitely a bundle of nerves. I may have come across differently on stage and I could probably attribute that to the training we received at the time. I am a very different person today as compared to what I was back then. (Coyly) I think I was amazing at that time as well but I am just saying… I am different now. I am more mature. When you are happy and at peace with yourself, it radiates on your persona. And that is confidence.
How do you feel about the term ‘Yummy mummy’ even though such tags are never associated with male actors?
I don’t ever take these tags seriously. When I became Miss Universe, I never took ‘the most beautiful woman in the universe’ tag seriously, because I knew that I wasn’t. Yummy mummy is just another one of those. There are times when you don’t feel yummy at all. It is a lot of hard work to be a mother, a working woman, and a wife. Every role in my life is equally exciting and you have to work extremely hard for it.
Your comeback into films has been with unconventional roles unlike other actors like Kajol Devgan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who made their comebacks with lead roles. Is this a conscious decision?
It is very conscious. It is quite exhausting to spend a decade of your life playing only the conventional female lead. You constantly have to worry about your clothes, your hair, your make-up, how good you are looking and if you have danced enough. I am fed up of it all. I have had a wonderful run in playing the leading lady in many films with success in quite a few of them but I never got into the industry for such roles. I got into it because I truly love the art of acting. Now, I finally have the opportunity to work some of my acting muscles and have some fun without worrying too much about my appearance. People enjoy looking at your work because of the character you are playing on screen and not because of how you are looking. I have moved beyond the ‘Oh my God she is looking amazing’ or ‘Oh no, she doesn’t look that great in this’ to ‘Oh my God, we love this character!’ I think that is what is important as an actor and makes me feel on par with my male counterparts, who I think are talented actors and not just stars. It gives me a feeling that I have never had before.
So when you look at a script, is there something in particular that you look for?
I have nothing pre-set in my mind. When a script comes to me, I see if the character excites me, if it’s different from what I have done before and am I going to have fun with it. The most important consideration is if I am going to enjoy playing the character or not (laughs).
How was your experience of being the co-producer for the film Chalo Dilli like?
The experience was extremely enriching and, at the same time very difficult too, as I was also acting in the film. Being a producer and also an actor is exhausting. At the end, I was really proud seeing what we created. In the future I will focus more on producing a film and do less acting in it. It is something that we are already doing with our upcoming project.
Tell us about your next project?
We were always determined and committed to doing films that are content laden. It is what we did with Chalo Dilli. It was a small-budget film but high on content. We are doing the same thing with our upcoming film. It is a sports-based film about the Chhattisgarh women’s basketball team. The film is about empowering women and achieving their dreams. A dream that, for most women, is considered secondary to their family, home, husband and children.
Finally, how was your experience of playing a lawyer in the movie Azhar?
I had done a movie Bardaasht, years ago, where I was playing a lawyer. It was a completely different setup and now when I look back at the film, I realize how theatrical and cinematically overdone it was. We were catering to the storyline. as per the director’s instructions. But with Azhar, it was a lot more real and we were portraying a real-life event, a scandal that rocked the nation. It was a difficult character to play. Millions of fans want to know from Azhar as to what really happened. I represent all those questions in this film, so it was indeed a big responsibility.