Gul Panag

“It’s better to sit on the benches and do stuff that really showcases you in every possible scenario” ~ Gul Panag

She isn’t one to minced words nor is she one to care about what anyone thinks about her. Gul Panag may have been a Miss India winner but she definitely doesn’t fit into the clichéd definition associated with pageant winners. Her fame rose after she played the “wife on a mission” in Dor making her one of the most reliable actors in the industry. Big on Twitter, you can follow her and be sure she will reply to your tweets, she has gained a reputation of being honest and true – no beating around the bush with this gal. While the rest of B-town chooses to keep their lovely locks long, Gul chose to cut it short and trendy. She then appeared on the cover of Maxim at her hottest causing temperatures to soar and adding the adjective sexy to her name. Gul speaks to Roshni Magazine about being an individual, an actress and different.

Let’s start at the beginning. How does a girl go from being crowned Miss India to a television actress and also a Bollywood star?
I’ve gone on record to say that most people because of the kind of work that former Miss India’s have started out with, and the operative word here is started out with. A lot of Miss India’s have gone on to achieve critical acclaim in their careers later. But because of what they normally start out with, which are basically air-headed, bimbette parts, where they don’t really have much of an opinion in the film, where they don’t have much of a contribution to the plot, they are just there to sing and dance, and look good. That is what makes serious filmmakers probably look at Miss India’s in a particular way. And till today, when a Miss India is cast, I don’t think a new Miss India is cast for her acting power. So yes, I didn’t encounter that degree difference which is why I chose to do television. I didn’t want to be a part of some preconceived situation that existed and that’s why TV happened.

So you’ve done a Dor, a Dhoop and a Manorama Six Feet Under but then you’ve also done a more commercial film like Hello. Which film do you feel helped your career the most?
Yeah, see in Hello my character was not a timeless mindless prop in the film. It’s not about commercial or art. Frankly speaking according there are only two kinds of cinema; it’s either good or its bad. Even a so-called Art Film is made with the intention of selling tickets. It could be a niche film, or a mass film. But every film is an art film; cinema comes under the category of art. I don’t think any film has been made to be kept as a private home edition. They are all made to sell. And by generation, you sell something to generate commerce; and that’s commercial. What’s important is what I think of the script, and what I am doing in it.

Yeah, your career graph is very interesting; no two films are the same nor are any of characters the same. Conscious decision?
It’s extremely conscious because once I’ve done a Dor, it is very easy to pull off the woman on a mission. And I constantly get parts like that. But if I do three Dor’s then that’s all I’ll ever do! And I’m not saying a Dor comes again and again but if you see the character I’ve played in Dor in isolation from the film, it was that of a strong woman who was on a mission, who had her complexities but yet she was clearly on a mission. Now if I were to play that same character again, ridng on the fact that I do find a character like that, I think I would definitely find myself being typecast. And then you cant break out of the typecast that easily. I know so many actors, very talented, but they are stuck in typecast and nobody is willing to give them a chance after a while to break that typecast. Very rarely you’ll find a director with a vision who will say, you know what, I think even though X has always played light parts in a blondish way, this time I’ll give her a chance to be a real actor – it doesn’t happen. Nobody wants to take a risk at their expense. So I think rather than being doing repetitive work, it’s better to sit on the benches and do stuff that really showcases you in every possible scenario.

What do you look for when signing a film?
I look for my relevance as a character to the plot, I look for the directors vision, what kind of co-actors there are because I’ve seen drab scripts being uplifted by good actors. Good actors bring so much to the table. When you’re working with good actors, the film becomes a collaborative effort. The trend in the past in Bollywood was actor would come on the set, give their lines and go back into their trailer. But an increasing number of actors are extremely collaborative with the director of the film; the most recent case of course being Shahid Kapur in Kaminey. When actors give feedback and they have a sense of script, the script gets uplifted. For me, who my co-stars are is really important because it uplifts my performance, it uplifts the film, and it uplifts the script. And lastly of course is a gut instinct that is very important.

Rumor has it you will be the next host for the popular show Jhalak Dhiklaja. Have you seen the show and how much of a dancer are you?
Not at all! They’ve already started shooting and somebody else is doing it.

When will we see you in a full-out-dance-filled film? Is that something you want to do?
See it’s not about whether I dance or not, it’s about the character I play. If the character convinces me to be a part of it, then dancing is secondary. There are still actors who ask, “How many songs do I have in the film?” In fact yesterday I had a meeting with a very talented director making his first film which in all likelihood I will be a part of; at the end of the script he said “And you’ll be a part of two songs.” But that is so irrelevant to me. He says, “You’d be surprised because the first the actresses ask a director is how many songs do I have?” They view song and dance as a way of gaining popularity or a means of generating income because after all, they later dance at shows which makes lots of money; which is fair to them. If that is what they are here for, then I’m really happy for them. But obviously no two people are alike and I’m not like them. And they are not like me. Which is why for me it’s not about whether I am dancing in a film or not. I’m doing a film where I doing a bit of a leg-shake but that was because the character is what drew me to the film. I didn’t choose to do this Mukta Art film, “Hello Darling” because it had a dance in it.

You tend to be in the news for many various reasons, whether it’s your racy photo shoot with Maxim or your open comments on the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Are you by nature very progressive and honest?
Well firstly, I’m never in the news for anything that is not related to my work or not related to me as an individual who is different from everybody else. I’m never in the news for who I’m out with. And if I’m in the news, it’s only for my work, or its for doing something nobody else does. For instance driving an F1 Car, riding an Nseries motorbike, or being open and candid about things India’s politicians are scared to speak about. There is the actor in me and then there is an individual who celebrates that individuality. And those are the only two reasons why I would personally like to be in the news. I don’t really give a damn about what people write in terms what who she came to the party with, what was she wearing, how good she was looking. These are irrelevant things in the larger frame of things. Somebody said once, “Small minds discuss people, mediocre minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.” I’m definitely not in the small minds. I am probably somewhere between mediocre and great. I don’t find it interesting to talk about anything other which is unique and refreshing, something which is new.

You’re big on Twitter too…you’re pretty net savvy right? What was the reason behind joining and how much have you been able to create an association with your fans?
Really big has reached a new definition because a Fashion Week has asked me to tweet my reviews at each show that I attend and they have actually invited me to come to the fashion week—microblog about it. This is obviously completely unheard of before and this just shows the power of Twitter.

What do you like to do afterhours?
Well I’m like everybody else! I surf the net, I watch movies, I catch up with friends, I do my paperwork, I write out my bills and that’s about it!

Words of wisdom for any budding actors?
I think it really helps to know your mind; what you really want to do. I’ve seen a lot of actors come in with one particular mind and then not quite sure if that is really want to really do. For starters it’s important to know your mind, and what you want to do.

~Roshni M.
(September 2009)

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