Diana Penty: I don’t want long gaps between my films – Diana Penty managed to impress critics and audiences alike with her portrayal of a gregarious, fun-loving Punjabi kudi in Happy Bhag Jayegi (HBJ, 2016). Now, she is back in its sequel Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi (HPBJ), handing over the mantle to Sonakshi Sinha. After staying away from the arclights for almost four years following her debut film Cocktail, it seems the leggy beauty is making up for lost time with a spate of releases such as Lucknow Central (2017) and Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, which opened in cinemas this May. In a freewheeling chat, the model-turned-actress tells us why being a part of HPBJ is like homecoming for her and how she is no longer nervous while facing the camera. Excerpts…
How does it feel to return as Happy?
It’s a proud feeling that part one did so well that it prompted the makers to consider a sequel. It’s always great to go back to the ‘Happy’ family because we had such a blast working on the first film. It was a total laugh riot. And of course, my association with producer Aanand L Rai and director Mudassar Aziz has been amazing. This outing, too, has almost all members of the old cast including new additions like Sonakshi and Jassie Gill, so it was fun working with them.
Were you apprehensive about passing on the baton to Sonakshi as you were the protagonist in the first part?
To be honest, when I heard the story I understood how our characters come together. It was essential to take the plot forward. And why not make the film bigger and happier? This time, there are two Happys, so it’s double trouble. It just adds to the script and the audience’s curiosity. I was integral to the first part, so I wouldn’t want to hold the makers back. I would want the second part to be even better. The earlier movie was about my character, while this one is Sonakshi’s story, which I help to take forward. Wherever Happy goes, trouble follows. So, in the sequel as well, I have caused some trouble and Sonakshi has to bear the brunt of it (smiles).
Within a year, you have had three releases. Have you changed your strategy or do you feel you need to make up for lost time?
My strategy was always the same, which was to do good films. It was just that initially, I didn’t know which route to take and what kind of subjects I should do. It took me a while to figure out what my next step should be. After Cocktail, people had automatically categorised me as the shy, quiet, girl-next-door because of the character, Mira, that I played in it. I wanted to do something different in my later films. That is why I thought I should wait till I find a good script. That’s when HBJ came about. I realised this was the perfect way to make people sit up and take notice of me.
Along the way, I have learnt a lot about what I like to do and what I don’t. As I didn’t have any guidance or mentor, I was trying to figure out things on my own, which took a little longer than it should have. Now, that I’ve managed to do that, things have become easier.
I don’t want to break the momentum. I genuinely don’t want any more long gaps between my films. Today, my focus is to try and do as many movies as I can.
Also, for some reason, people have presumed that I don’t want to do commercial cinema, which is not true at all. All the movies that I have done to date are mainstream. In fact, Happy Bhag Jayegi (HBJ) was even more commercial than Cocktail as it was set in a small town.
So, what is your criteria while signing a film?
For me, it’s just the story that matters. It’s the heart and soul of every film. I’m happy to experiment with characters and genres. I want to do diverse kinds of cinema, which is what I have consciously tried to do along the way. In Parmanu, I had a slight action role, Lucknow Central was a drama, HBJ was an out-and-out comedy while Cocktail was a rom-com. I have tried to do something different each time because it’s more exciting that way.
Are you keen to explore any particular kind of genre?
I would love to do a thriller and explore the action zone more. It’s challenging and that’s what I like about it. I would also like to do another comedy because I have realised how much I enjoy it. And who doesn’t like to watch a light-hearted fun film at the end of a long day?
When you look back, how do you think you have grown as an actress?
Each film that I do, I take something away from it, which helps me grow as an actor. Now, I’m definitely more at ease in front of the camera. I remember in my first two films that wasn’t the case at all. Each time I faced the camera, I would get nervous. My approach towards acting, too, has changed a bit. It helps to work with diverse filmmakers because you get a different perspective as an actor. I have learnt something from all my directors. They have given me tips that have helped me carry a scene forward or enact a character better.
Right now, it’s a great time for cinema as a lot of off-beat subjects are being made. How do you perceive this scenario as an actress as well as a viewer?
Today, movies have become more relevant in terms of the subjects that are being addressed. The audience is beginning to accept this new kind of cinema. They are not going for typical movies that they were used to watching earlier. It gives us so much more to do as actors. We get to play diverse characters and explore more opportunities.
Are you keen to explore the digital space?
The web is truly the way forward. A couple of years from now, everyone will be going down that route. It seems to be quite the trend in the West already, but here, we are just beginning to discover it. And there is such high-quality work on it. So, I would love to act in a web series.