By Subhash K. Jha
Look at it this way. Preity Zinta must be the only woman actor in the world who has played the unwed mother twice, once at the beginning of her career in "Kya Kehna" and then again in the middle of her career...presuming "Salaam Namaste" and "Jhoom Barabaar Jhoom" are the midriff of her body of work.
Preity has always made it clear she would never stay on after marriage. "Once I'll be out, I'll be out," she has told me a number of times.That's one thing about Preity. She has remained consistent in her beliefs, thoroughly unconfused about what she wants from life. Like all Aquarians, Preity is a very gregarious soul. Like Abhishek Bachchan she chatters like no Chatter-ji except perhaps Moushumi. But like Abhishek, Preity pulls down a don't-mess-with-me warning sign the minute anyone tries to act over-familiar with her.
Having known both of them for some years I can tell you one thing. Neither Abhishek nor Preity will tell you anything they don't want to. So do not try to cross their lakshman-rekhas.
Is Preity seeing Ness Wadia? Of course she is! And she's certainly not hiding her love under coy pretences (being coy is just not Preity's scene). She loves to be in love. And she doesn't need to hide it. But there's just that little bit of reserve and restraint about her private life.
"It isn't right for me to let the world know what I'm doing every minute ofthe day. Every human being is entitled to a space where no one comes between me and myself, not even a spouse," says Preity.
A private person, yet so exuberant and boisterous... Preity is almost like a twin sister to fellow-Aquarian Urmila Matondkar. They're strikingly alike in their reserved gregariousness.
When I first got to know Preity she was seeing model Marc Robinson. Before she could 'graduate' into being Mrs Robinson, Preity had moved on in life, had acquired a new poise and a new set of friends.
Preity instinctively makes all the right choices in life without compromising with her principles.
For five years after Mani Ratnam's "Dil Se" (where she unabashedly asked Shah Rukh if he was a virgin) Preity and Shah Rukh didn't star together because of a difference of opinion.
"My first release 'Dil Se' was with him. We didn't work together thereafter. There was a bit ofmisunderstanding. We weren't fighting or anything. We both stood our ground. I think we just let each other be," Preity told me after she signed "Kal Ho Naa Ho" with Shah Rukh.
This lady likes to stand her ground. She did so when she was supposed to testifyagainst underworld threat in Bollywood. Almost every witness in the extortion cases against the underworld turned hostile. Not Preity. At the risk of being caused immense bodily harm she did the right thing in court.
Doing the right thing is imperative to Preity's existence as a human being and a professional. "No compromises on principles and on quality of the work," has always been her motto.
"There have been times when I've had to tell the director, 'Sorry, Sir'. But the same emotion can be done differently. Why do we have to be so tacky?' But such problems hardly prop up. When they do, my directors have invariably sambhaloed my character. For me as an actor, it's very important to have the complete script with me before I agree to do a film. Most of the time I do get my way.
"And I'm thankful to god for that. There have been lots of times when I've said no to seemingly lucrative offers. I've been told what a fool I am. But I'd rather go by my convictions. This is me, and I've to be true to myself. I've to be comfortable with what I do. When I become old I want my children and grandchildren to look proudly at my body of work. Imagine my kids turning to me and saying, 'Oh god! Why did you do that?'"
Question her about her indomitable stance against the underworld, and she shrugs off the role of a crusader. "There're times when you've to do things not to prove anything to others, but to yourself. This was one of those times. I didn't do it to feel brave. But because I thought it was about time someone stood up to speak against what's bothering all of us in the film industry."
Actor, crusader and columnist (she was writing a column on the film industry for BBC.com), Preity waltzes through all her roles in life spontaneously. Whether playing the martyr in "The Hero" or the vamp in "Armaan", she seems to enjoy every minute of her character's existence.
Repressed ("Kal Ho Naa Ho") or boisterous ("Salaam Namaste"), here's an actress who knows her mind and exercises it constantly to improve herself.
"I love to live for the moment. But I don't let the moment take over my life. I love a clean city, home and heart...not necessarily in that order," she giggles pleasurably.