Pooja Kumar

“I always imagined my picture on billboards and posters in Manhattan” – Pooja Kumar

Pooja Kumar
has already bagged the Screen Actors Guild Award for Emerging Actress. And if that isn’t enough to wow you, she will soon be seen in a mini-series, Bollywood Hero, on the IFC channel, alongside Bollywood’s Neha Dhupia and Hollywood’s Chris Kattan of Saturday Night Live fame. Besides modeling, dancing and television hosting, the gal also takes pride in the production side to the entertainment arena too. Her short film “1001 Auditions,” was nominated in the Best Short Film category at the Stuttgart Film Festival, Germany. Add to the list the fact that she has been the “IT” girl for various companies, Verizon, Dodge, AOL Time Warner and Bombay Dreams, and what you have is perhaps one of the most rounded gals in the industry. The bundle of talent speaks to Roshni Magazine just a week before the release of her IFC mini-series to discuss acting, the better –wood (Holly vs. Bolly) and her dreams ahead.

Your career seems to have gone from strength to strength after being crowned Miss India USA in 1995. What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?
I still have yet to achieve it and hopefully my upcoming mini-series “Bollywood Hero” gets me one step closer!

Flavors of course, gained you massive accolades and won you the SAG Award for Emerging Actress. How has life changed since then?
It was certainly a great moment in my life to be recognized for the hard work I put into “Flavors.” After winning the award, new opportunities arose which included many tours with various artists throughout the US and India, the chance to be the face of “Bombay Dreams,” and most importantly I’ve been able to capitalize and work on nine more feature films. As an actor, your main goal is to work on as many amazing projects as you can so that it can one day lead you to that elusive big break. For me “Bollywood Hero” is that project. To be honest, I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed to wake up every morning and do what I love the most and that is acting.

You have many titles to your name: model, actress, television host, spokesperson being just a few. How do you manage to keep up with the many responsibilities that come with these titles?
Whether you’re an actor or a business person, time management is the one skill you need to master in order to be successful and get ahead in life. That is something that I’ve began doing a few years back and it has helped me tremendously – especially now that my life is more hectic than ever. Whether I am acting, modeling, or producing, I always give 200% in whatever the project requires. With responsibility come enormous expectations. I only agree to projects in which I can give it my all and not compromise on quality. This ensures everyone’s happiness and willingness to work hard.

Growing up in the U.S., how have you managed to stay close to your Indian roots?
I was very lucky that my family took my brother and me to India every year during our summer vacations. All the credit goes to them!  I’ve traveled extensively throughout India to various cities – learning Kathak in Allahabad and Bharatnatyam in Chennai, learning to read and write in Hindi, to name a few.  In the US I’ve also participated in our annual Diwali and Holi night functions at our local Gandhi Center. Plus, till this day I continue to read a lot about India, the culture, history and etc. As an actor, I watch a lot of hindi films and listen to hindi music to keep the attachment to my roots even stronger.

Let’s talk about Bollywood Hero. The film is of course a television miniseries for the IFC channel. What is your role in the film and how did you land the part?
I play the character of Priya Kapoor, a film producer who manages the famous family business Kapoor Studios. I was visiting India in January when a colleague of mine, Anjula Bach, from Desi Hits emailed me and told me about this project with Chris Kattan - she insisted that I do it. Anjula thought I’d be perfect for the role and would work well with Chris. I was about to catch the flight back to New York but then decided to stay behind and not pass up on this wonderful opportunity.  Here we are 6 months later about to see this highly anticipated TV mini-series.

What was your experience of working with Chris Kattan and Neha Dhupia?
I was very fortunate to work with an amazing cast and crew. From Hollywood, We had Chris Kattan from Saturday Night Live, Julian Sands (A Room with A View), Keanu Reeves, Maya Rudolf, and David Allen Grier doing cameos. From Bollywood we had Neha Dhupia, Rachna Shah, Ali Faizel, as well as the same line production team as Slumdog Millionaire which included our line producer Tabrez Noorani. Furthermore, our Director of Photography was from Israel and our director was from Australia! What a phenomenal ensemble of cast and crew. Chris, Neha and I were a great team and always in synch. Acting with them seemed effortless. They are both professionals and extremely talented. We all learned a great deal from each other while working on this amazing international project. Furthermore since the entire production team was a tightly knit group, the chemistry between us was very comfortable and we were able to finish the shooting five days ahead of schedule.

Who are some actors from both Hollywood and Bollywood that you admire?
Lucille Ball because of her comedic timing, Sophia Loren for her beauty, Audrey Hepburn for her grace, and Meryl Streep for everything! Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, and Al Pacino for their on screen presence.  From Bollywood – Smita Patil for her intensity, Madhubala- her on screen presence, Madhuri Dixit for her dancing, and Shabana Azmi for her command over the language.   Bollywood actors include Amitabh Bachchan, he can do any role and we love it,  Aamir Khan – dedication,  Rishi Kapoor for his comedic timing and Akshaye Khanna who has everything.

What made you choose pursuing a career in Hollywood rather than Bollywood?
I received a great foundation from working with ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited) and Roshan Taneja (acting guru) in India - then I decided that we needed a larger South Asian presence in North America. We as artists have to create, produce, and showcase our talents as a community here in the US and Canada. Some of us have to be the pioneers and lead the way. I’ve taken on that responsibility along with other artists in our fraternity.  There is a lot of struggling involved, but our commitment and passion for the arts is well worth it.

You are also a producer. Which role is easier—acting or producing and why?
I would have to say acting is easier and that’s because it’s my first love. When you adore something, then it becomes much easier to understand and execute.  Acting is all about sharing your feelings with an audience and helping them relate to it. When that happens and the audience resonates with my character, then I know I have fulfilled my job. That gives me great satisfaction. Producing is a completely different ball game which requires a lot of expertise and knowledge in putting a project together. I am slowly learning to enjoy that as well.

Is getting into the entertainment business something you always wanted to do?
While growing up, I always performed in musicals and plays but never thought of it as a full time career.  Somehow, my destiny took another direction and drew me towards acting - I embraced it unconditionally despite the naysayers and never looked back. Otherwise, I’d be working in Washington DC with my political science background.

What was it like seeing yourself up on huge billboards of New York for “Bombay Dreams”?
Like the title, it was truly a dream come true! I always imagined my picture on billboards and posters in Manhattan. One day when it finally became a reality, I couldn’t believe it!!! This was a proud moment not only for me, but also for the entire South Asian community. I thought this was a stepping stone for other artists as well and hoped this would open the doors for us to work on bigger international projects!

What will be coming up for you after Bollywood Hero?
I have two other feature films coming out very soon. One is called “Bollywood Beats” starring Lillette Dubey, Sarita Joshi, Sachin Bhatt, Mehul Shah, and Mansi Patel. I play the character of Laxmi, a South Indian who’s had an arranged marriage and comes to the United States for the first time and learns about the harsh realities of life abroad. The other film is called “Drawing with Chalk” - it’s about an Indian woman married to an American musician and how they struggle between choosing their career and family. Currently, I am involved in producing a Bollywood romantic comedy shot in English and filmed in New York. In addition, I also have a few offers regarding various film projects– each is unique in genre and style. I will share them all with you very soon!

What do you do afterhours?
I love to do yoga, dance, read, watch movies, and spend time with my family.

And a goal you have yet to accomplish?
Win an Oscar!

~ Roshni M.
(August 2009)

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