Pooja Hegde is living out a fairytale. The young actor could not have dreamt of a more celebrated debut. As Hrithik Roshan’s beloved in Ashutosh Gowariker’s Mohenjo Daro, it’s nothing short of an epic unveiling. The Miss India contestant feels blessed. “It’s been more than a decade since Deepika Padukone or Anushka Sharma had such a big launch,” she says.
She plays princess Chaani in Mohenjo Daro. But it’s a character that seems tailor made for the new-age actor. She reveals, “According to Ashu sir, I was everything that he had pictured for Chaani. His suggestion was to just be myself and not act at all. That made my life easier.” Unlike Pooja, Chaani’s character is bound by her situations and that’s what made the role challenging. She explains, “Chaani is suppressed because there’s a prophecy about her. They call her the Navlokini, which means the chosen one. And the belief is that Chaani will usher in a new way of life in Mohenjo Daro. Everyone believes that she has magical powers. So when she steps out in public, she has to be elegant and correct. She has to be the Navlokini.” She adds, “But at heart she’s childlike and just someone who wants to be nobody. She doesn’t want people to recognise her.”
Pooja has always been a Hrithik Roshan fan. After working with him she’s now found a close friend in him. She shares, “When Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai had released my cousins were raving about this new guy. They kept saying, ‘He’s so hot!’ I too went wow! I couldn’t believe how good-looking he was. Now having worked with him I can call him a friend… it’s such a different feeling.” She’s all praise for her superstar colleague. “You realise he’s so down to earth. He has a big heart,” she says hiding her blushes. Recalling her first meeting with Hrithik she says, “My first reaction was that he looks even better in person. Hrithik is a thorough gentleman. He made me feel comfortable and at ease. I was shy and nervous. He calmed me down. For some reason he thought that I’m from the South. He was surprised to know I’m a Mumbai girl and that I had grown up in Versova. Just six years ago I shifted to a new home
Ashutosh Gowariker’s wife Sunita Gowariker (who’s also the producer of Mohenjo Daro) spotted Pooja in a TV commercial with Ranbir Kapoor and that’s where the ball started rolling. It was the director’s obsession with perfection that honed Pooja’s talent. “Ashu sir’s attention to detail makes him such a great director. That’s why every frame in his films looks beautiful… almost like a painting. He pushes you until he gets the shot he wants. So as a debut actor, if you have a director like that, you know he’ll ensure the best from you.”
Her journey has been a special one. She was first rejected at the Miss India competition. She applied again in 2010 and this time she finished second runner-up in the Miss Universe India competition. “I don’t know if it happened by accident or design but I was a complete tomboy in school. I wore sneakers, I had short hair and I was not a people’s person. I wanted to change that about myself when I turned 15,” she confides. “When I went to college (MMK College, Bandra), I participated in all college functions and festivals to overcome my shyness. I didn’t
know any other way to change my personality.
I remember when I had to dance on Madhuri Dixit’s Aaja Nachle number I saw some 15,000 people in the audience and I froze on stage. But from then on my confidence just got better,” she shares. And then she got an invitation for the Miss India pageant and her life changed forever. The Miss India experience opened up new horizons for her. For someone who hails from a South Indian family that places a premium on education, this was a whole new world for her. She smiles, “My elder brother’s a doctor. My dad is a criminal lawyer. My mother has studied Law and also has an MBA degree. I come from a non-film background.”
She continues, “I was never the sort of girl, who dabbled with her mother’s make-up. At Miss India, other contestants were prim and proper, while I was being tutored to walk in heels. But I learnt so much from the pageant, I owe a lot to the Times Group. It was here that I got offers to walk the ramp, which eventually led me to films.” Pooja then went down South and debuted with the Tamil film Mugamoodi (2012). She followed it up with the Telugu hits Oka Laila Kosam and Mukunda (2014). When quizzed about her South rendezvous she retorts, “Everyone does that. You should ask why Deepika did it? Why Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra did it? Generally, you make a mark in South films and then make the transition to Hindi cinema.” Initially, Pooja wasn’t too sure about her ability as an actor. But her mother instilled faith in her. She reveals, “Mom said that I should experience it firsthand to actually find out if I’m cut out for it or not. That piece of advice made perfect sense. That’s when I went ahead and gave it my best shot.”
Working in the South was a great learning experience for the young actress. She had the opportunity of working with such directors like Mysskin, Vijay Kumar Konda and Srikanth Addala. Her high point came when she was nominated in the Best Actress category for her debut film Mugamoodi at the Filmfare Awards. She smiles, “It was a definite confidence booster. Whether you win it or not, at the end of the day it was your debut film and your name featured along with the great names in the South.” Right now, her focus has shifted to Hindi movies. She isn’t doing South Indian films nor is she doing any movie with South superstar Allu Arjun. Her future plans? She grins, “I want to do a nice fun film. I want to wear jeans to the set. I’ve been wearing the Mohenjo Daro costumes, which take 25 minutes to get into. But of course, I enjoyed wearing them. Most actresses die without doing a period film. This is my first film and I got the chance to appear in a periodic drama.” Yes, it’s a momentous move.