‘I want to do cinema that interests me’: Diana Penty on Parmanu and more – Six years ago, Diana Penty won over audiences with her convincing portrayal of the shy and meek Meera in the Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone-starrer Cocktail. But much to everyone’s surprise, she didn’t do films back to back. Speculations were rife was that she was tying the knot with her diamond businessman beau Harsh Sagar. Finally, in 2016, she had her second release, Happy Bhag Jayegi (HBJ). Last year, she was seen in Lucknow Central. As the lissome lass gears up for her fourth cinema outing, Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran, we catch up with her for a chat. Excerpts…
Many newcomers would make the most of a hit debut. But you’ve had just three releases in five years…
There are multiple reasons. After Cocktail, I took my time trying to find my next project. I was unsure of which films I wanted to do. Also, I didn’t know how my life was going to change after my debut film. There were a few things that took me time to get used to. After that, I started reading scripts and came across HBJ. I thought it would be a nice challenge to break away from my earlier character of Meera. I wondered to myself if I could play Happy in HBJ who was the complete opposite of my real-life persona. She was a loud, moohfat girl. I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. I saw it as a challenge.
But director Mudassar Aziz had faith in me. It took me a while to find that second film which was perfect for me. After that, I signed a few more movies. Now, I’ve got my momentum (smiles).
Were you also being choosy?
I don’t wish to be too choosy. I want to do cinema that interests me, not something that I’m not passionate about. Why do it and waste other people’s time? Some people say a few films are good for visibility, but it’s better to do work that you genuinely believe in and are passionate enough to want to be a part of. I took that route which I’m 100 per cent sure of. I guess it’s a personal choice.
What appealed to you about Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran?
The script is tight and pacy. It engrossed me so much that I was turning pages at a great speed. I thought that the thriller is so good at the script level, it would get only better on screen. I play a strong female character in the male-dominated film. I was getting an opportunity to tell people a chapter that changed our history. I’m a proud Indian and after reading the script, I knew I had to be a part of it.
Is your character based on any real-life person?
If you ask director Abhishek Sharma, how much is fact and how much is fiction, he’d tell you that he’s stuck to facts as much possible. However, most characters are fictitious due to security and other reasons. Telling anyone anything at this point would be giving away the spoilers.
What kind of prep did you have to do?
I have some action scenes in the movie. It took a while to prepare for them as I had to train in kickboxing. As for the other aspects, Abhishek had done so much research that he knew the subject inside out. The nuclear tests were classified and had to be conducted when the CIA was not watching. The common knowledge was that the tests took place and sanctions were imposed on India. I got to know a lot more during the making of the film. When I asked Abhishek for a reference point, he suggested I should watch movies like Zero Dark Thirty, as it was not only a great reference, but also had the woman playing a central character. I made a list of women playing action leads in other movies and observed their body language.
How was it working with John as an actor and a producer?
This was the first time I actually met him. He’s great to work with as an actor but I also realised that he’s one of the best out there as a producer, too. He knows exactly what he wants and will give his 200 per cent to everything. If he takes up a movie, he’ll make sure nothing passes till it’s absolutely right. As an actor, you feel you’re in safe hands. John has his credibility about being particular about content and you’re assured that it will be a quality product. He really knows what he is doing as a producer.
You have Happy Phir Bhaag Jayegi lined up next with Sonakshi Sinha. Why would you do a two-heroine sequel after you’ve been the leading lady of HBJ?
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the story. The plot demanded it. It’s bigger and better. It makes me feel proud that I’m passing the baton to Sonakshi. Mudassar has outdone himself. Very few family films are romcoms; Happy Phir Bhaag Jayegi is a family comedy for the entire audience. I couldn’t stop laughing during the shoot.
What kind of films do you see yourself doing in the coming years? Do you have a career strategy?
For me, it’s all about the story. I feel that is the heart and soul of a film. Performance is important, yes; but you have to set the story in place for the performance to come into the picture. You can’t give the audience a mediocre film. The story has to be riveting for viewers to go and watch it in theatres.
When you weren’t doing films after Cocktail, reports were rife that you were getting married to your beau — diamond businessman, Harsh Sagar.
I never disappeared. People presumed and I never bothered to clarify as I didn’t pay attention to such news. When my second film released, they realised they were wrong. There is no point justifying because people will say whatever they want to.
But there were also rumours that you had broken up till you were spotted again with Harsh earlier this year.
I don’t see why we need to discuss that. I’m an extremely private person and so is he. I feel it’s not right to drag someone into this. What we do in our spare time is of no consequence. What I do in my workspace is what matters.