I want to be an entrepreneur, dancer, actor & whatever else I chose to do
The pretty Pernia Qureshi is a famous fashion icon and, now, she is all set to make her mark in the realm of movies. In an exclusive conversation, the danseuse, entrepreneur and actor talks about her experience working with the artistic filmmaker, Muzaffar Ali, and the journey to become a courtesan in his forthcoming period drama, Jaanisaar.
What was the brief given to you by the director about this character?
Actually it wasn’t just one brief, usually the director gives you a narration which is like a brief. I have had so many conversations with Muzaffar (Ali) sir about my character, Noor, over a period of few months, starting from the time he approached me for the film till the shooting. I have had so many teas, dinners, phone conversations with him. We would discuss about my character – how she is, what she feels, why she feels a certain way, why she acts the way she does, what was happening at that time, how the youngsters were influenced at that time (the film is set in 1877). Through these multiple conversations I accumulated enough information to figure out how I would play this character. The process of me becoming her was very organic. I think that’s how Muzaffar sir likes to familiarise his actors with the part and not by giving a brief. We never had typical workshops or training in acting.
Did you go through any internal preparation for the character of Noor?
Internally I paid attention to everything Muzaffar sir had told me about Noor. Simultaneously, I would put myself in her shoes to understand the difference between how Noor and the real me would react. Then I would have conversations with myself to understand the character’s perspective. Then of course I underwent external training for the character.I took Kathak training under Pandit Birju Maharaj and Kumudini Lakhiya Guru. I also trained in horse-riding and martial arts because my character demanded it. All this training also helped in the transformation. Then the dialogues, which are in Urdu, helped too. The best part is that I didn’t realise through these training I just became Noor.
Jaanisaar is set in a different era and you are nothing like Noor so what was going through your mind while doing the film?
Isn’t that the best part? Actually not many people know that I am a dramatic, old-fashioned girl because I guess I dress very modern. I am a classic dancer and have told ancient stories of Radha and Krishna, so I am used to dressing up and playing a character that is from another time. As a dancer I have been doing that for a long time.
Being a leading fashion icon what was your contribution in conceptualising your costumes for Jaanisaar?
None. First time in my life I didn’t have to think or worry about what I have to wear. That is because I knew I was in very good hands. I really respect Meera Muzaffar Ali for the kind of designers they are and am a fan of their label Kotwara. Just from fashion perspective they make such elegant, sophisticated and well-tailored clothes. My mother, my whole family and I are such big fans of their clothes. Plus, it’s not a film where you just go and put on something pretty, it requires intensive research to know the fabric, style, trend, etc. from that time period. Neither am I skilled enough nor did I have the time to get into that kind of research. They know Awadh and Lucknow culture better than anybody else. So, I knew the costumes would be stunning and really authentic. Very rarely you can trust people on such things, but when I was doing fittings for this film I was so excited because every costume surpassed my expectations. I was extremely happy with the costumes and had nothing to do with it.
Being your first film as an actor did you look up to or refer any actor for inspiration?
I didn’t take any references from any existing actors. I think it is really important to have your style and to be unique, not just in acting. I think, if you ever want to stand out or achieve something then you must have your own pehchan / identity. Even as a dancer I am a very free dancer, I am not a perfect dancer. As an audience I don’t like watching people who dance like robots or are perfect. I have my own style, I am a little imperfect. I would do my own improvisations even if my guruji got annoyed. But even he understood that I have my own quirks. People who like watching me like that about me. Even for this movie I knew I had to be myself. I had to play Noor from my perspective and with my style. If you don’t develop your own style people won’t identify with you as a performer. So I didn’t take any references. But that doesn’t mean I am not a fan of the million actors and people in this field. I am a huge movie buff and there are so many people I admire. The one person I really admire and have to talk about is Vyjayanthimala is because I am in similar situation like her. She was able to have a career as a dancer and a parallel film career. I love the fact that she was able to do both and do justice to it. Later she went on to be in politics too. She was a multi-tasker. I loved watching her, she was a feminine, delicate, sexy and articulate dancer. So I look up to her but I am a fan of many more people. I love watching natural actors, those who don’t look have to put in efforts acting. It just comes from within.
What kinds of films do you like to watch and look forward to work in?
I like all kinds of films. I am a big movie buff. I go watch a lot of movies when I have time. I love family dramas. I am a big Sooraj Barjatya fan. I love all his films and have seen it all a billion times. Of course, I also love comedy films, who does not like it! I loved Baahubali. As an actor, because I like watching every genre, I would like to work in each kind of genre. After seeing my action sequences, Muzaffar sir said I should do action films (laughs out loud).
Is there any other film in the pipeline after Jaanisaar?
No, I haven’t gotten into it. Two people offered me films but I don’t why because they have never seen me act so I was wondering. But Muzaffar sir had seen me dance, he was very familiar with me on stage. I had danced at his Sufi festival; he had seen me rehearse, on stage and onscreen through a video made for Doordarshan. He got familiar with me through my dancing over a year and then offered me Jaanisaar. Also, I just wanted to focus on this film. As it is I am very busy and doing so many things so I didn’t want to lose focus. What’s the hurry, anyway?
How does it feel to have a decent fan following even before the film is out?
I don’t think about that kind of stuff. You just can’t because that’s not why I did it.
Don’t you think it will help the film?
Does it? I hope so! I seriously haven’t thought about it. My character in this film is so different from what I am at work or personal. So I don’t know. But I hope it helps the film.
Where do you see yourself ten years down the line – an actor or an entrepreneur?
Both. And a dancer. And if I get to do anything else then that as well. Why not? Why do have to be just one thing? Like I said Vyjayanthimala has five careers and is great at it all, so why not!