By Devansh Patel, Bollywood Hungama News Network
Gul Panag's early roles did not bode well for a future career as a 'serious' actress. Making her screen debut in Dhoop opposite Sanjay Suri, then committing a Jurm with Bobby Deol. So it was a surprise to most, especially the critics who said that she was all face n figure, no acting ability at all, when, in 2006, she made a sudden and decisive return with Nagesh Kukunoor's highly acclaimed Dor and an amazing comeback supported by a hard hitting thriller in 2007, Manorama Six Feet Under. Gul's abilities could no longer be denied. It's said that success tastes sweeter the longer you have to wait for it. Well, for a change, Panag can't wait for her biggest commercial film ever, Hello, to release in two days. Looks like she is busy preparing to drown herself in nectar after the films sweet success. Time will tell that, but what I can tell you now is that this gorgeous Gul is getting all geared up to talk about Salman Khan, Sharman Joshi, her passion to write, her marketing strategies, her dancing abilities, her angst with the Censor Board of India and much more with London correspondent Devansh Patel in this Bollywood Hungama exclusive. Hello...are you listening?
With some grounded performances in Dor and Manorama Six Feet Under, are you now ready to greet your critics by saying Hello?
I am definitely looking forward to this film for lots of reasons. Firstly, I am a huge fan of Chetan Bhagat ever since his first novel, which was listed as the top Indian best seller. I enjoyed the novel thoroughly. But Hello has come out very true to his next award winning novel 'One Night @ the Call Centre'. Secondly, because I will be seen in a never before seen role unlike my previous two films Dor and Manorama and thirdly because it's also a role which has a different portrayal from the many films I've played in the past. So I have a lot to look forward to in Hello.
Hello is also your first biggest overseas release yet. What expectations have you got from your audiences in the U.K and the U.S?
Well, I don't know. Both my previous films, Dor and Manorama Six Feet Under, though weren't released theatrically, did exceptionally well on the DVD. But it's not like they don't know who I am. The ones who do watch good cinema are definitely aware of me and for the ones who haven't, I am really interested to see how a wider reach of audience will react to me.
You seem to be very picky in the kind of roles you choose and the films you sign Gul. Why?
In the line of work that I am in, the kind of work which you do is what defines you and it's not what you do but what you don't do that actually sets you apart from the rest.
Now let's talk about this controversial news doing the rounds since yesterday - Your beeped dialogue where you used the word 'condom'.
I think that's very ridiculous. It's a very simple question I ask Sharman before we go into this lovemaking scene, 'Do you have a condom?' And that's the word 'condom' which the censor board is going to beep out. This is when the NACO, which is the National Aids Control Organisation which runs, adverts all over the country for prevention and awareness of aids. For family planning, we promote the use of condoms. We have ringtones that are being released by the public health department, which goes like 'Condom condom condom...' But when such a word is used within a film the censors have a problem. Even in my previous film Manorama Six Feet Under there was a word 'condom' used which was beeped out when I tell Abhay Deol to use one. In that, it was used in the context of family planning but in Hello it is used for safe sex. This is a continuation of India's hypocritical standards towards such things.
Have you then filed a complaint to the censor board?
I've been adviced to write about it but I will send the letter post the release of Hello.
But somehow all this is going to help market the film.
I have no idea. I don't know if you are aware but I've maintained a blog for which I haven't been that regular recently. I write a lot though and have been a guest columnist for lot of newspapers. I write a column for a magazine called 'Auto Car' for which I review cars. So I have a long relationship with writing. I am not someone who will write only for the sake of publicity. I've written fortnightly columns for three years to Hindustan Times. So if I strongly feel about any issue, I will just write it. You can even access my blog on the website called http://www.gulpanag.net/.
You've worked with critics favourite actors - Abhay Deol, Shreyas Talpade and now Sharman Joshi. Tell us a bit about the last one.
Well, I was extremely thrilled when I came to know that I've been cast opposite Sharman Joshi. He is a marvelous actor and by working with them you can only enhance your performance film after film. All my scenes with Sharman have come out very well. He is talented and puts in a lot of energy into every shot of his.
So what's Gul Panag playing in Hello?
I play the character of Priyanka who is a very glamorous and a modern girl of today. She is someone who is very attractive and is completely aware of the power of the looks of the opposite sex. There are grey elements to my role as well. She makes the quintessential choice of choosing to marry a well-settled NRI in an arranged marriage rather than marrying someone like Sharman who is the person she's been dating for quite some time but doesn't see any future in. This is a choice which today so many urban Indian women make. They think that it's all good to have a boyfriend but ultimately what matters is the guy who can give her a big house, pool, big cars, etc.
Is Salman Khan playing a major role in the film or is he just there in one particular song, which is being aired right now on the televisions?
He is. Infact, Salman is playing himself in the film and he is an integral part of Hello. He is the sutradhar (narrator) in the film. The film is seen through his eyes which is why you see him in all the major promotional campaigns on the television.
Are you guys visiting any call centres to promote your film?
We've done that in the past before we started filming. I don't think we will be doing that now. Amrita Arora and I did an appearance on one of the dance shows recently but that's about it. I am really not aware of any other shows that we're going on.
So what's the news that you guys will be visiting cities where the book 'One Night @ Call Centre' was one of the best sellers?
That is a part of the plan but I am not sure as of now which cities we are going to visit.
After his first flop, how confident does Atul Agnihotri look?
I don't feel the right to comment about someone who is very senior to me in age and in the profession of acting. But what I can say is that he has made a fantastic film. He has been very true to the script and I wish Atul all the very best. He has a very bright future ahead of him.
What about Sohail Khan? Prankster?
He was a complete revelation. I didn't know him much before I signed Hello. It was such a surprise to find him as a thorough gentleman. He is so cultured and so well brought up. I had a good time interacting with him.
We haven't seen Gul Panag shake a leg in most of her films. I can't remember seeing you dance. Will Hello be any different?
Because I was busy trying to prove myself as an actor. Not that some of it has been done, I can get on with other stuff which is less important. As an actor, one does all kinds of work. It was a very conscious decision for me to be able to do the films that take me seriously as an actor. But if there is a good script which requires me to dance, why not? I will not do something just for the sake of dancing and that's not going to happen.
Hello releases in two days now. Good for you as there doesn't seem to be any competition for three weeks till all the other biggies get released.
Good that you mentioned that because the two films, Kidnap and Drona that have just released last week haven't really got a great response neither at the box office nor by the critics. So I think we have a good week ahead.
Why should one go and watch Hello?
Well, watch a film that has actually got a story rather than just putting many stars together and enjoy it for its originality and its freshness. It is an interesting peep into the youth of India today, which I think people living out of India, has lost in touch with.