‘Honestly, I was bad in Jannat 2′

The many moods of Esha Gupta
When Esha Gupta first faced the celluloid camera, some were quick to note her resemblance to Angelina Jolie while others called her a poor man’s Lara Dutta. Her carefully sculpted jawline, her sparkling eyes and her supermodel body was enough to ensure that she bagged a couple of Bhatt films. But like every model who has attempted acting, she wasn’t spared from being discarded for being, well, just a pretty face. Two films old in the industry, Esha Gupta is awaiting the release of her most promising and challenging acting performance ever, in Prakash Jha’s next, ‘Chakravyuh’. In this film, she plays an astute cop who manages to keep her calm even when she is ferociously angry. Want to know more about how Esha managed all this? We did too. That is exactly why we caught up with her for a quick chat. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

So what was the most exciting thing about ‘Chakravyuh’ that made you consider this film?
Let me be completely honest. For me the most exciting thing about this film was Prakash Jha. When I first got a call about this film, I called up Mahesh Sir (Bhatt) to discuss it as I was shooting for ‘Raaz 3’ at the time. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we will sort it out and I will speak to Mukesh (Bhatt) to manage the time.’ He added, ‘If you’re getting the opportunity to do a 2-minute role or a 20-minute role or a 2-hour role in a Prakash Jha film, just go for it’. For me, it was like, if I don’t have the dates why should I even go and meet him. But when I met him a couple of times, in his head he had already imagined me as Riya (Esha’s character in the film). Prakash sir (Jha) has a character outline and when he meets someone, he tries to see if the person can be that character. So I asked Prakash sir, ‘Why me?’ since a lot of people will not take a chance with me, honestly. First of all, I am an outsider since my parents don’t know anyone in the industry. Secondly, I was a complete fashion model prior to acting. I’ve done everything from bikini shoots to going topless, I’ve done anything any good model would do. So I’ve always had a glamourous image. But here, I play an IPS officer who is the head of the Intelligence department. So Prakash sir told me that he wanted a woman and not a girl. So when I met him before going on the sets, I went wearing shorts and a t-shirt and he said that I was very different from the character. But then he asked me about my past and about my knowledge of Naxals and I told him that my dad was a Wing Commander with the Airforce and I knew a lot about it. Even my grandfather was in the RSS. So I know a lot about our nation and that is just what he wanted in the character.
Good cop means no expressions?

So did you have any workshops to help you become Riya?
We had lots of them. In his workshops, Prakasha sir (Jha) will see how Esha can be Riya and then he writes our dialogues in the film. He gave me every tiny detail about how he wanted Riya to be. I would meet him before and after my daily shoot schedule for ‘Raaz 3’. So I would do readings with him at 7 am or at 11pm. I was shooting at Madh Island at the time and I had to balance my life between this and that.

How was Riya similar to you and how was she unlike you?
Riya is a very strong outspoken no-nonsense girl. If you’ve seen the promos, there is a scene where I am interrogating Om Puri sir and I am urging him to reveal his identity. That is the time when you see a sample of her anger. As a person, even I feel very strongly about things and when I feel someone is wrong then I am firm about my opinion. But Riya is not a girl but a woman. So she is also very compassionate and she wants Abhay (Deol) and Arjun’s (Rampal) character to get along in the film.

Cops in Prakash Jha films are always portrayed in their most realistic avatar, so did you take cues from any real cops or references from characters from his previous films?
Not really. I think Kiran Bedi is the only one that I know of in this country. But the role is not inspired by her. Firstly the character is that of a young woman who represents the woman of today who is in her early thirties and is married.  Prakash Sir told me everything about the character, even about the body language. So when I am sitting, I will be sitting like this (straightens her back and parts her legs) but only when I am interrogating someone. At other times, I am a regular woman and my posture would say just that. When I have to make my point, I am very composed, even when I am angry. So you will see me breathing heavily in many scenes. This is because Prakash sir (Jha) said that when you’re angry, you can grind your teeth but then I cannot do that in certain scenes when I am actually speaking to my seniors. He also told me that when I am angry, I should be calm and not agitated by little things and yet be firm. So you see a maturity in my character.
Esha means business

Did you get any pointers from your co-actors to aid your performance?
Abhay and Arjun were very nice and helpful to work with. My first scene and the strongest scene in the movie for me has to be the one that I must tell you about. My part is important but the role isn’t that lengthy in the movie. So this scene involved Om Puri sir and I. I was very intimidated since I consider him to be a living legend of the industry and definitely the best actor in this movie. So the day when I had to do this scene with him, I was (takes a brief pause) petrified, since I can’t use the word that would describe how I felt. I was very scared and I am very good with my lines and when I memorize them, I do it well. But when I was practicing them in the van, I couldn’t remember my lines. But the moment I saw him, I just greeted him and told him that it was a big honour to be working with him and that I was a huge fan. I also apologized in advance since I was sure I would need a lot of retakes that day. He was so amazing and he gave me a lot of pointers on how I should deliver my lines. He even helped me acquire a mindset and mood to perform my scene and he helped me get my character and the emotions that were required for the scene.

The obvious question to ask you would be, why would you want to accept a performance-driven role that asks you to shed your glamourous image?
You know that this industry is all about taking risks. If I didn’t want to take them, I would’ve gone ahead and become a lawyer, since I was studying to be one. There, I would win some cases and lose some but it would still be better since it’s not in the public. Today, the audience is very smart and accepting. If people don’t like a performance, then they don’t like a performance. I can look ahead to the next one and try something different.

Do you think that people are harsh to model-turned-actors and consider them to be non-actors?
Of course I have been subjected to all that. To be honest, I don’t think I performed well in ‘Jannat 2’. Plus I hated the fact that I couldn’t lend my own voice in the film. I love Vikram (Bhatt) for giving me a chance to dub for my own character in ‘Raaz 3’. I know for a fact that so many people came up and said that I am only glamourous and this is even before they saw the film. But then when people saw my film, so many of them called me to congratulate me and said that they couldn’t believe that it was my second film.

So how do you feel about the stereotype that good looking people can’t act?
That is truer than ever when you’re a model. And in ‘Jannat 3’, I proved them right (laughs). I think when a beautiful woman is crying, her tears make her ugly but when an ugly woman is crying, her tears make her beautiful. So that is exactly what I did in ‘Raaz 3’. When my character was in a coma and was being haunted by all the evil spirits, I made sure that I look that distraught and my makeup and hair was in line with that. That is when people sympathize more. If you’re looking pretty and crying, people won’t sympathize with you.

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