Anushka Sharma, 24, owes her personality and success to the Indian Army with whom she retains a strong bond. Ahead of her upcoming film ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’, the feisty actress talks to TOI about values she retains from her father, her mentor Aditya Chopra and why she will always be proud of being an army officer’s daughter more than being an actor.
Tell us about your family.
My father was in the army until recently. He has been a part of every war since 1982, including the Bluestar operation and Kargil. I am extremely close to him and can talk to him what I can talk to no one else. If I am sad and he just comes and sits next to me, it has a calming effect on me. As a child, we did not have money to splurge but my older brother and I enjoyed the facilities that the army provides you with — be it a club where we could swim to playing badminton and tennis to access to the best libraries. I take pride in saying that I am an army officer’s daughter even more than being an actor. I was born in Ayodhya and was brought up in Bangalore. My father was given a number of field station postings, during which my mother stayed with us away from my father, so that we could get a good education.
Was it emotionally tough for you as a daughter when your father was fighting a war?
Kargil was a tough one. I was too young at that time but I was scared of seeing my mother. She would always have the news channel switched on throughout the day and would get upset when casualties were announced. When my dad called, he could not say much but I would go on talking about my school, boyfriends and everything else without realising that he was fighting a war.
Tell us about the influence of your father on you.
He always taught me to stand up for what was right. For instance, when I was in school, due to one kid’s mistake, my teacher made all of us sit on the floor for a month. It was completely unnecessary and my dad said I should complain to my principal even though it was against my teacher as she was wrong. I first complained to the teacher and told her that ‘I don’t think I am learning anything by sitting on the ground and I felt insulted’. Next day, we were back on our benches. Once I was coming back from school and there was this guy who was eve-teasing me and my friend. I had a Milton water bottle that I flung it at his face. My dad told me if you are in a crowded place and a guy eve-teases, you should make noise. I did exactly that and got people on the road to beat up the guy.
It seems that the army has played an important role of your life. Is that true?
The army has a huge role to play for shaping me as a person and contributing to my life reaching here. When I meet someone from the army background, there is an instant connection. We live in the best five-star hotels of the world but outside my home I will be equally comfortable in any army cantonment or army guest house. Telling my friends that my father was in the army was like telling them that he is the second richest man in the world.
How did you get into films?
When I was in class five, there was a daughter of an officer who was good looking and appeared in an ad for chicken pox. It was a trigger and I told my mom I wanted to model. I got my first break at the age of 15 and modelled for various national brands. Thereafter my mom took me to meet Prasad Bidapa who liked me and offered me to walk the ramp immediately. He was a friend and a guide to me. In fact, he and Aditya Chopra are the two men who changed my life.
At 18, I shifted with my mother to Mumbai and lived at Malad in the army area for about a year, during which I was modelling. I was shortlisted by a number of brands for ads, but not getting selected for any, which led to my frustration. I then auditioned for Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and was selected by Aditya Chopra. I was ambitious and wanted to be famous and a young achiever. That was the highest point in my life. I shook his hand and left crying all the way back home and feeling the maximum joy anybody can feel. Adi said to me ‘I have not taken you because you are the most beautiful girl, but I have taken you as you are the most talented girl’. That compliment reinstated the confidence in me that all that my father had taught me was right. I felt like the most important person on earth.
What is Aditya Chopra like?
Aditya is a principled man and is correct in the way he does things. His life is films and I don’t think he understands anything else. He keeps to himself but is extremely emotional. He is a tough taskmaster and a businessman but his people love him. To me, he is my mentor who envisioned more for me than I did for myself. I remember him telling me that the high point in my life would be when I would sign a Raju Hirani film. I called him after I signed P.K. and he said he knew it would happen.
You have been linked with many of your contemporaries. Are you dating anyone?
I have never been a girlie girl and have always been a boys’ girl with an equal amount of friends who were boys and girls. I swear on my parents I am not dating any guy. I have never dated anyone in the film industry yet, but even if I would, I’d not talk about it till I am sure.
Shah Rukh was your first co-star. Do you share a special bond with him?
Like any other girl, I have always had a mild crush on him. Shah Rukh will open the door for you and is courteous and intelligent. He would have his personal security who would take care of Katrina and me even though, in reality, people were pouncing on him. He is a gentleman and I have always been in awe of him and will never be able to get so friendly with him that I can slap his back like I do with Ranbir, who is a buddy. Due to my army background, for me, the hierarchy needs to be respected. Shah Rukh has never looked as hot as he looked as a soldier in Jab Tak Hain Jaan.
You have been a part of two fraternities — the army and the film industry. Do you find a difference between the two?
In the army, what is said is done and there is a system for everything whereas in the film industry, there is no system. In the army, there are men who go together and save their troops before saving themselves whereas here we have no unity. The army too has competition, but there is a decorum. Even in Hollywood, they compete, but they also respect each other. In the film industry, we lack respect for each other even though we try and forge it.