Another movie, another model. Now Shweta Menon too has fallen prey to the lure of Bollywood.
Mind you, she's no cast-off from the ramp; she only just failed to make Ms India. No harm in losing out to Sush and Ash, wot? Went down fighting, she did. Thereafter, she's bagged enough modelling assignments -- including a series for Kama Sutra condoms that would make Kalpana Iyer blush -- and refused a role offered by Vinod Khanna for his Himalaya Putra. Now she's decided that acting is her cup of tea, after all.
"I wasn't interested in slogging in Hindi films at that time" she says off-handedly. "One year ago I did a guest appearance in Inder Kumar's Ishq, and he and Aamir Khan and Baba Azmi were so supportive and they kept on telling me that I should take my career more seriously and join Hindi films, it is because of their influence that I took the step of joining the industry. And then I made a big mistake..."
It wasn't the box office bomb, Prithvi, where she played second fiddle to Shilpa Shetty, even doing a cabaret number. No one even thought of accusing her for the film's failure. "Prithvi is a nice film but it isn't that kind of launch pad I needed. My first film should have been with a fresh pair, without me playing the second fiddle to the lead pair." Sad thing, it wasn't.
She says when she entered the industry she did not understand how it functioned. But she refused to consult anyone, firm believer in individuality that she is.
"If anything happens in my life, good or bad, then only I am to blame. That's the way I would like it to be. I want to be responsible for my life," she laughs, explain why she chooses to blunder on blindly.
Today there is a tinge of regret in her voice, as she admits, "I'm getting offers, but not a single one for a good film with a good role in it. When you are a model, this is the way they see you," she says, explaining that a model is seen as Western which means she can''t act. "So give her jhatak (flashy) roles. And nobody I know has the courage to break the myth. They just keep on offering us western roles which are a so-called selling proposition. Nobody is ready to give us author-backed roles." No matter Sushmita Sen in Dastak.
"I'm not cynical or bitter. I'm just fighting against the odds. And why should I say anything good about them when they have nothing good to say to me? I'm a very practical person. And I'm a very calculating person."
So far her calculations have done her no good. Indeed, despite it almost pushing her into the Kalpana Iyer mould. She claims she is quite happy with her small roles, which ensure she is not solely responsible for the success or failure of the film.
"I want to become like Amitabh Bachchan. Maybe one day I will even carry him on my shoulders," says the lady whose current record hasn't got past flashing a leg and a calf. Does she intend to become something like Vijaya Shanti, dubbed the female Amitabh Bachchan down south?
"No. Like Amitabh Bachchan," she repeats firmly. "I don't want to earn what Vijaya Shanti earns," she says bursting into another round of laughter.
Shweta Menon, unconventional as she is, had an unconventional childhood, living in Punjab, Hyderabad, besides Bangalore and her native Calicut, following her dad, who was in the air force. Which, perhaps, is why lacks the accent, the defining element, that would help place her in any part of India. "You see, I'm an Indian." The last line catches her fancy and she starts crooning irrelevantly, I'm an Indian, the number by Noble Savages.
"You know everything in my life is upside down. Sab kuch ulta pulta hai."
"I was just a kid having fun. I had servants all around me to do anything I wanted. I would sit on my throne and say I want this and I want that. Today I'm a slave, being thrown on the ground seven times in row." She is referring to the scene she just shot, where she had to fall to the ground seven times before the director smiled, satisfied.
"I am basically from Kerala, though they call me the girl from Bangalore since I was Miss Bangalore for a while. I was in Kerala when I was browsing through Femina in a beauty parlour. My friend encouraged me to sign up for the pageant."
Even Aishwariya's presence did not faze her. She was there only for the kicks. "A lot of girls dropped out because Aishwariya was participating, but then Aishwariya is Aishwariya, she say placidly, if mystifyingly . I had only 12 days to prepare myself for the event. I was not bothered whether I won or not," she says. "It was a high in itself to be a part of the contest." In all events, Sushmita won, Aishwarya didn't, and the third place was left to Menon.
"I walked from Calicut to the third position in Miss India," she says proudly.
Shweta seems to have a natural ablity to seduce the camera, a trick she picked up from her modelling days.
"I'm very comfortable in front of the camera. As a model I had different phyiscal statistics; as an actress I have put on weight. My body language is not dependent on my curves. I can put on as much weight as possible but I still will be graceful." Vanity has this way of getting to actresses.
"If shedding clothes gave me name and fame, then no thank you, I don't want it. But it depends on the character I'm playing. If I'm in the swimming pool then I will have to wear a swimming costume. Though if I'm not comfortable with it I won't."
"Today I have learnt a lot. The whole industry is full of hypocrisy: they say something, they do something... I will learn that lesson fast." She tries to laugh to hide something, then settles for a hardening of her features.
So she plans on becoming a hypocrite too?
"Yes, absolutely. I mean, why should I reveal my self to any Tom, Dick and Harry? I will behave with them the way they behave with me."
The appointed hour comes to an end. She shakes your hand and, with a impish glint in her eye, adds, "Well it was nice meeting you." Filmi style.