In conversation with actress Preity Zinta who’s all set to return to the silver screen after nearly five years with Bhaiaji Superhit.
Now that you’re living in America, do you miss doing films and the IPL?
Whatever plans you make, God has his own plans. When I got into the IPL, I wanted to be taken seriously. It was a male-dominated sport and business, and I was the only woman there. But I took it up because I wanted to be financially independent for the rest of my life.
Did you face any discrimination?
On the first day, I showed up in a glamorous outfit, but after that, I wore jeans and oversized T-shirts because I was with 40 boys and I didn’t want to be the quintessential heroine. If you want to earn respect, it has to be beyond your sexuality, and it was important for me to understand the business and the game.
But yes, there was still a lot of discrimination. When the KKR team won, Shoaib Akhtar lifted SRK in his arms, and that was fine. But when my team won and Yuvraj lifted me up, they all said that I was having an affair with him. Whatever I did and said made news.
You mentioned that you took up the IPL because you wanted to be financially independent, but was money ever an issue for you?
Even as an actress, I was independent because I had invested well. Right from when I was a kid, my dad would tell me that I had to be financially independent, the master of my own life. That's why I ran away from home – because I didn’t want to get married. I came from a well-to-do but conservative Rajput family where we were allowed to educate ourselves, but not allowed to work. We didn’t have the freedom of choice. But I wanted something different, I wanted freedom and financial stability. When I was doing films, this great opportunity to get into cricket came my way, and I felt like quitting my profession when I was at the top.
So what made you come out of retirement and take up Bhaiaji Superhit?
Sunny Deol called me and said that he wanted me to do the film. I tried to tell him that I had quit films and I didn’t want to do it, but he asked me to hear the script before making a decision. I heard it and I told him that it was not my type of movie, but it was a funny film, unlike any that I had ever done before, so I decided to do it. We shot for two days and then nothing happened for three years.
Then, Sunny called me again on my wedding day. I was so nervous that I threw my phone into the garden. I gave him the numbers of all heroines I knew and told him that I couldn’t do the film.
But when Gene (my husband) heard about it, he encouraged me to do it. When he came to India, he met a lot of my fans, and he told me to do it for them. He also said that my face lit up when I spoke about the role. Before he could say anything else, I came to India and finished shooting the film.
Any regrets about turning down films, especially Jab We Met?
I always feel that for every three regrets, there are four even better things that have happened to me. If I had done any of the films I refused, I probably wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been able to focus on cricket. So I have no regrets because IPL has given me stability for the rest of my life. I can now do whatever I want. And as far as Jab We Met is concerned, Imtiaz wanted to make it with me and Bobby Deol, but I think Kareena did a fantastic job.
How was your experience acting after so long?
I have to thank Sunny sir for knowingly or unknowingly reigniting my love for acting, I am planning to do more films now. On my first day on set, I was shaking. I thought I had forgotten how to act, and I hadn’t worn a sari for a long time. After that first shot, I just went to my room and sat down. I remembered how fun acting used to be.
Do you believe that the film industry is a safe place for women?
The film industry is one of the safest places for women because there is such a big spotlight here. Other industries are much worse. Today, if an actress says that something has happened to her, at least people listen. But if a woman in some other industry says something, it will probably end her career.
Regarding the #MeToo movement, I believe that not all men are jerks, and not all women are sati savitris. But there are some people who feel like they can take advantage of their position, and that needs to stop. It's good that this movement has started. Until now, we never admitted that there was a problem, we just brushed it under the carpet.
Have you faced any untoward situation yourself?
I have never faced such a situation — neither in the film industry nor in the field of cricket. I came into the industry at a very young age, but I was a no-nonsense karate kid, so nobody troubled me or tried to take advantage of me. And I didn’t do things that didn’t agree with me. For instance, If I found some dance steps vulgar, I simply refused to do them.
When I was playing a prostitute in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, I was lucky to have Salman Khan around. He was like a Censor Board on set – if my outfit or dialogues were too revealing, he would ask the filmmaker to make the necessary changes.
But just because I didn't face the problem of sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.