This is the complete version of the phone interview with Pooja Kumar (supporting actress in Anjaana Anjaani) which I conducted on 20th May 2010 at 10 am. An edited version was published in South Asian Generation Next on 26th May 2010:
“Believe in Your Dreams”: Actress Pooja Kumar Makes Her Dreams Come True
Growing up, I had always been under the impression that actresses and models were self-centered beings that co-existed with mere mortals only because they had to. However, a former Miss India USA, and an upcoming actress in Sajid Nadiadwala’s Anjaana Anjaani, Pooja Kumar is anything but stuck up. And thus, I was quite unprepared for a friendly voice that greeted me at the other end of the line when I called her for our phone interview.
Thirty-three year old Kumar hails from an immigrant family with no connections in the film industry. Yet, she has managed to make a name for herself in a field few South Asians would willingly venture into. When asked why she chose acting, “of all things”, she laughs and answers, “I used to always play in musicals while growing up and Indian-Americans … were not inclined, motivated or inspired to go into the arts as a profession. It is sort of understood that entertainment is sort of unpredictable and our parents came here to have us have better opportunities… I understand their predicament for not gearing us to go into the entertainment field… so I set [acting] on the side and never thought of it as a full time profession.” However, it was the title of Miss India USA that brought her to the notice of Amitabh Bachchan Corp. Ltd. She managed to get chosen out of 60,000 contestants. However, she contends that despite her success, “[a]t that time the opportunities were opening up but it wasn’t full fledged available”.
But there is more to Kumar than what meets the eye. Kumar, whose parents hail from Uttar Pradesh, speaks Hindi and Urdu at home. And yet, this fearless actress started her acting career with a Tamil movie (Kaadhal Rojave), a language that she has no knowledge of. How did she do it? “It’s really funny that you [ask this question]” Kumar answers, “they wrote the dialogues phonetically in English… But Tamil I can’t speak, or read, or write… it was difficult at first. But the first two weeks the writer would sit with me and practice with me… I kind of got used to it. I will tell you the biggest test of an actor is if you can act without knowing the language… It was very challenging… Basically, it was memorizing gibberish”. But she also adds that she has “a strong affiliation towards South India… [having] learnt Bharatnatyam in Chennai”.
But acting aside, Kumar has also been a VJ for Channel V in India. What made her leave her job? “I wanted a great experience in India and transcend and move over to the US. Over here, there is so few of us who are actually doing it professionally and on a full time basis… I wanted to be one of the people to pioneer and get more people involved in the entertainment business. As Indians, we are so talented… Five years ago… I took a risk and left a real good opportunity and came over here to encourage South Asians to write… and create more projects”.
Kumar has also donned the producer’s hat in the past with her two short films “1001 Auditions” and “Shoot My Life”. Did she feel more responsible because she was financially invested in them? “Producing a film is a whole other realm of film-making. As an actor, you learn your lines… as a producer you start the project from basically a piece of paper. And then, you see the journey of this project all the way up to the screen. It’s almost like a baby. You see it from its birth and then you see it grow up. I am very much invested in all my projects… as an actor, not all of the things are in your hands… but as a producer… you can add so many different layers to [the project]… it’s a whole other level of investment. Financial, emotional or artistic.”
On Kal Penn, and her work with him in Law and Order, Kumar immediately responds, “oh, Kal is amazing! He is talented, wonderful and a humble human being. Just working two days with him was fantastic… he is someone that I definitely look up to and get inspired by because he is one man who has been able to make a name in the international arena. He is… one of the few people as an Indian-American we have that we can try to be”.
And Anjaana Anjaani? Have you started working for it already? “Yes” she pauses tentatively and adds, “We are not supposed to talk too much about it because its releasing pretty soon”. Having read about Nadiadwala’s strict instructions to his stars to not tweet about the upcoming movie, I was well aware of this fact, but I had to persist. To avoid putting Kumar under duress, I asked instead, how was it working with Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor? “I really admire Priyanka. I think Priyanka and Ranbir are probably the two of the most finest actors in Bollywood to work with right now… I was very lucky to work with a woman like that. She is extremely hardworking and very talented. She knows exactly what her role is and how to handle it in many situations… she has a versatility about her”.
And what about the future? Kumar has her hands full with two scripts and a play. She says, “I am reading two scripts right now. One is from Bollywood and one is from Hollywood… I am producing a play later on this year, but you have to just wait and see”.
Born in St. Louis, Kumar expresses no disconnect as an Indian-American while growing up. She feels “fortunate… to have gone back to India every summer”. She insists “I have never experienced any disconnect and I think it was primarily because my family and my extended family were very close… we were involved in the community that made a difference… My parents opened the Mahatma Gandhi Center” as a way for people to come together to celebrate festivals such as Holi, Janmashtami and so on.
She also has a deep ardor for her profession, “I love what I do and I want the younger generation… to go out and have the confidence to do what they want to do. If you are passionate and confident, you can achieve anything”.
We concluded the interview with her personal mantra: “Always follow and believe in your dreams and your dreams will come true”. I believe so, too, Pooja. I believe so, too.
Photo credits (Pooja’s pics): Anokhi magazine; Taken from Gallery at www.poojakumar.com