She is one of Bollywood’s leading actresses, and her recent appearance and subsequent victory on Celebrity Big Brother has earned her a large international audience. Her new movie is the first Indian film ever to receive the prestigious Leicester Square treatment. Shilpa Shetty talks to Pure Movies about her reality TV experience, racism, destiny and her new film, Life…in a Metro.
Shilpa, welcome back to Britain. Your character is a different role than that which you are used to taking on, how do you think your fans will respond to a role like this?
Shilpa Shetty: I wish I could answer that, it’d make me a clairvoyant rather than an actor. But I’m very grateful that Anurag Basu [director] believed in me to take on this role, and it is something different to the song and dance which is associated with Indian movies as it is realistic and unpretentious, and therefore I think it’s going to be very well accepted. And I think the audiences generally are looking for something different, and Metro will definitely be able to provide them with that, as it creates an amalgam between reality and entertainment, and that for me is the reason I wanted to do this film.
Were you at all daunted by the role? Presumably a role like this would still be seen as shocking in parts of India?
SS: No, it was such a good, meaty role, and I would not have any apprehensions about portraying this kind of character. Obviously, times have changed, and the bigger cities, the more modern cities, would not find this to be as shocking as people in rural India might find it. But the character of Shikka is quite a common character; therefore I am very proud to be playing her.
Is your character quite realistic and true to real-life Indian women?
SS: Definitely, she is a woman very-deeply rooted in Indian culture, and then suddenly has a hundred different reasons to get out of her marriage and depressing lifestyle, and chooses not to which very much portrays how culturally bound she actually is, and that is how 95% of married Indian women would have reacted. A lot of people fall in and out of love during marriage, and many go through unhappy marriages, but most women are usually the reason that the marriage stays together because of their strong emotions and resilience. And the fact that she’s a mother sways this decision for her. But you’re right; a woman like this in a big city is not uncommon.
How was it shooting in Mumbai?
I was okay shooting on the roads, but every time we were taken to a railway station, I wanted to kill Anurag! [laughs] And many scenes with me and my lover are shot about two hours away from Mumbai, so all of that was quite hectic. But Anurag and Ronny Screwvala [producer] saw nothing as impossible, and really made it all work.
Of course, especially since Metro is the first Indian film to receive a Leicester Square premiere…
Exactly [laughs], that in itself is a huge feat, let me tell you. It is a huge compliment to all of the cast and crew that worked on this movie, and they really deserved it. It obviously shows how hard everybody worked to achieve this.
With your new fanbase here, is it hard to please your fans here and in India?
Well, you can’t please everyone, and I try and do what’s right. Sometimes, you unknowingly offend people, but Metro is going to be a universally accepted film because it doesn’t offend any sensibilities, and the character I play is believable and real. But it is the people of Britain that have given me my newfound fame, and I am really grateful for them for voting for me [to win Big Brother] and wanting to see me.
Did you go into the Big Brother house hoping to break onto the British film scene?
No, who’d have thought I was going to win? I never thought I’d run into this kind of luck. It all happened and has turned my life around overnight, and opportunities are now knocking on my door and I’m just taking as many as I can. It was obviously predestined for me.
Predestined? Do you believe in karma?
I am a believer in destiny. I have seen the highs and the lows and I believe whatever happens does so for a reason, and its all for the best. Maybe this was all meant to be, maybe Big Brother merely worked as a catalyst to raise issues such as racism, which needed to be approached sooner or later, and I’m glad I was a part of the realisation. So yes, it was all karma.
Do you intend to move here and have a family at any point?
I will take that step in due course. For the moment, I’m merely shuttling between the two countries doing a number of different things, so I’m trying to take things slowly.
What is next for you then?
I am going to be launching my new perfume in the next two months. I’ll be the only Indian girl to do it on a mainstream level, so I hope everybody likes it. And my musical is also coming out as well as my book, and hopefully they will both be well received.