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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ileana D’Cruz on Pagalpanti, Film Career & Overcoming Depression

Ileana D’Cruz has stunning looks, a warm personality and a talent that has developed with time. 

Initially, she established herself in Telugu cinema with such commercially successful films as Pokiri, Jalsa, Kick and Julayi.  

Even in Tamil cinema, she witnessed success through projects like Nanban and Kedi.

The Bollywood debut in Barfi! got her immense recognition including awards galore. 

She then went on to star as the female lead in such commercially successful films as Main Tera Hero, Rustom and Raid.

Post recent personal incidents, she opened up about her ordeal of dealing with depression and coming out of the dark space.

Now, we are set to see the 33-year-old actor make us laugh in the ensemble Bollywood comedy movie Pagalpanti, where she shares screen space with John Abraham for the first time. 

In a candid chat with Filme Shilmy, Ileana reflects on the forthcoming movie, her career and mental health.

Pagalpanti is your second collaboration with Anil Kapoor and Anees Bazmee, post-Mubarakan. How did this former exposure help you with your overall filming experience?

It was great because of the familiarity, it was a developed territory working with Anees ji again. Working with him was fantastic.

The first time I worked with him, I thought he would be extremely serious on set, wouldn’t talk too much but he was really lovely.

He is always talking about previous films he’s done and shares his anecdotes. He is always super chatty and fun.

AK (Anil Kapoor) himself is a rockstar, I absolutely adore him. He’s just lovely working with him entirely and doesn’t actually feel like work.

He always brings great energy on set, is always happy and every day feels like it’s his first shot/film every single day.

The trailers seem to be focused more on the male protagonists. In what way do the female actors contribute to the film’s crux, rather than just enhance the glamour quotient?

I think it’s far more than the glamour really. We’re all playing respective better-halves of the male protagonists.

My role is the most normal and sane out of the lot. Sanjana is trying to make sense of it all and get her money back.

It’s a super sweet character. I think Raj Kishore (John Abraham’s character) is the funniest of the lot because he’s the big beefy guy but the biggest coward you’d ever meet!

We each have a great relationship with our respective on-screen love interests… That is something to watch out for.

You’ve done several comedies since your initial days in the Hindi film industry. Would you say you’ve mastered the craft of tickling the funny bones?

Oh god no. Absolutely not. I don’t think I ever want to ever master the craft of tickling bone because I feel you need to be a little bit rough around the edges.

If you feel like you’ve mastered it, you probably won’t be doing as good a job at it or working as hard at it.

I believe that it’s important to be a little bit unsure about how to play a part. I like to look at things without being completely prepared… I prefer the uncertainty.

That’s what sometimes I think adds to the performance.

Despite living in a progressive era, Bollywood comedies still seem to be dominated by men. Why do you feel there are very few such films that are led by female actors?

I’m not sure… Nowadays, we have a great mix of films coming out.

There was a point in time when we didn’t have as many films that were experimenting and different, but I think there are different ones like Veere Di Wedding.

However, for this particular film, I do feel like you needed them to be the kind of male characters they are.

When you watch the movie, it all makes sense. But I feel the women are fairly significant as well.

I can’t really answer for all the other films, I can just answer for me.

I’ve been very comfortable with the role I’ve got and sometimes the length of a character doesn’t matter as much.

You can have a 10 minute part and still be far more memorable and significant to the audience, than if you were in a film from start to finish.

You began your acting career with South Indian cinema and have been in some iconic projects. Has the Hindi choices has lived up to the calibre of the Telugu and Tamil filmography?

That’s an interesting question actually.

I have done some really interesting work in the South, some of the films that I did then was because I wasn’t good as an actor I would’ve liked to be in those films… Because I was new and raw.

I wish I could go back and do some of those movies again now that I’m a lot more seasoned as an actor.

I like the choices and the way they turned out. But I feel that I have so much more to do in Bollywood… I’ve only just begun.

When I began in Bollywood, I only went with whatever felt right in the moment. I don’t regret any of them at all.

I wish there were some better offers or the films came out closer together rather than spread out.

I have been picky about the roles, maybe I just need bigger and better roles coming my way.

After the huge success of Barfi, post this we were expecting to see more prominent work from you…

Weirdly the film offers I got soon after Barfi were very similar to the one I played. There were so many offers about playing a Bengali girl and I didn’t want to repeat that.

It got to a point where people just viewed me like that because maybe I was convincing enough.

But I was being selfish which is why I was waiting for something different.

That’s always been my motive in a way… I’ve always wanted to play characters that are different.

You’ve courageously opened up on your struggles against depression and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. How can you as a public figure use this experience to help others?

Initially, when I spoke about it, I didn’t look at it as to whether it will help somebody else or not. I didn’t think too much about it.

I spoke from a very vulnerable space which was just a frank conversation with the interviewer.

After the first time I spoke about it, a lot of people sent me messages on Instagram.

I was surprised at how much of my experiences were relatable to others. I didn’t realise that I could help somebody by talking about it.

I’m aware that it is a personal space and some people aren’t comfortable about it, which is understandable.

However, I’m open about it. I think it’s important and could actually help someone.

Once one becomes aware that there’s an issue, that is the first step towards healing.

What helped you get out of that phase?

I’m in a lovely space right now. During that period, you have your good and bad days. I feel go through that even now.

It’s important to have your own ‘me time’. Doing something for yourself sometimes can be so therapeutic.

A lot of things like painting, listening to music really helped. I’m in a far better place right now.

It’s completely okay to not be okay. Regarding the lives of public figures, the keyword is ‘seemingly’ perfect.

Whilst it seems like a perfect, privileged world and life that we have, but we all are just human beings.

We’re all a bit flawed in various ways. Sometimes you just falter and don’t do so well so one has to look after oneself.

It is important that one takes steps to also fix the problem.

It’s nice that public figures are coming out and talking about such issues. It shouldn’t be considered ‘taboo’ to go to a therapist and seek help.

What style of roles will you be keen on exploring now and why?

Oh boy! Doing dark/layered roles as well as comedy is equally challenging.

I get personal satisfaction from doing twisted grey characters… Baadshaho was so much fun and enjoyed playing a character that people would be completely surprised to see me in. 

I feel films like those thrill me a lot more.

I love my job and being able to play different roles. That’s the best part of it.

I would love to play someone twisted… Not a grey character, but a completely black character!

Listen to the full interview with Illeana D’Cruz here:


Directed by Anees Bazmee, produced by Bhushan Kumar and Kumar Mangat Pathak, Pagalpanti releases on 22nd November.

It also stars John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Arshad Warsi, Pulkit Samrat, Urvashi Rautela, Saurabh Shukla and Kirti Kharbanda.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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