Former miss India Pooja Chopra, who made an impactful debut with ‘Commando’, has come a long way in Bollywood with her confidence, patience and hard work.  Pooja in a candid conversation with us speaks about her forthcoming film ‘Aiyaary’ and how fortunate she feels to be part of Neeraj Pandey’s film. Read on…

Once again working with Neeraj Pandey and this time with stronger impact, how is it to play captain Maya Semwal – tell us something about her? 

Captain Maya Semwal is a very strong woman, she is in the army,and she’s been through all her training. Physically also she is quite fit and she is even very quick and prompt, in fact she’s been chosen among the group of men who leads a few other men; that means she is better than the men. She and Jai Bakshi played by (Siddharth) they have been trained together, reports to our major that’s Manoj Bajpaayee. When Jai Bakshi turns vague and elopes, I am the one chosen to lead a team of men and follow his trail.  So I keep reporting his whereabouts and the damages he’s done. Basically she is a very intelligent girl, very calculative and smart. It is de-glam and completely performance orientated – and obviously it’s Neeraj Pandey’s film so all you expect is realistic roles and very real performances.  I am really happy after Neeraj sir watching me in ‘Ouch’, he repeated me and I think when a director repeats you  in his next venture, as an artist you feel extremely confident and good about it. There must be something that he must have seen in me or observed or liked my acting and believed in me to repeat me.  And a director like Neeraj Pandey doing that is a compliment for me, so I am extremely happy to be with the same people immediately after ‘Ouch’.  I couldn’t let him down, I trained myself really hard, and in fact I downed my fat percentage but when I knew I am playing the role of captain Maya Semwal who is in the army force so I took it upon myself even to look like an officer. So, I underwent hectic physically training to physically look like Maya Semwal.  It wasn’t easy at all when you have to do physical changes and for ‘Aiyaary’ I didn’t have lot of time to work on my body but whatever time I got, I made sure I did work out harder and twice the time; so that I look true to the character and do justice to the character.  My only all time intention was to make sure that after watching my performance as captain Maya Semwal, Neeraj sir should repeat me again for his next venture. And when the motivation is someone like Neeraj sir you don’t need to push yourself, you automatically get motivated and inspired and you do your best.

As you spoke about your character, it’s a performance oriented, is that one of the reasons you are choosy about your films or it’s a co-incidence that such strong headed roles happen to you?

I don’t know but I think from my first film itself which is ‘Commando’, the girl wasn’t a pretty girl running around the trees, she was the one who stood head on with the villain and wasn’t scared of the film.  Even in my short film ‘Ouch’, Priya who was strong enough and walked out of her relationship and leaves over a man. So, even in this captain Maya has been a strong minded lady.  I think the good part in all my films is that the character of a girl who is not a pretty looking character dancing around the trees, she has a lot of substance to her. She is confident; she is at par with the man whoever the male protagonist is opposite her. So, I am glad and I am genuinely attracted to such roles which portray women as not only Barbie doll but Barbie dolls who have brains. And I don’t just want to be just a Barbie doll who looks pretty, has a good body and who is dancing around.  Yes, I want to look pretty, yes, I want to dance around but as a girl who is also intelligent and she speaks her mind and confident to take on any circumstances head on.

 Collaborating again with Neeraj Pandey and Manoj Bajpayee must have been obviously a great experience altogether, how has the relation evolved in these years and also how was it working with Siddharth? 

Firstly, I feel extremely fortunate to be directed by Neeraj Pandey in a feature film and share the screen space with such amazing actors, it’s like an institution of acting, we have Naseeruddin Shah, we have Anupam Kher, we have Manoj Bajpayee, it’s a dream to share screen space with them.  The people I’ve been meeting they tell me they are so jealousy of me because I  am working with such brilliant actors and in a Neeraj Pandey film; it doesn’t get better than this.  Also, the experience working with Neeraj sir and Manoj Bajpaayee since I’ve known them and we just came from ‘Ouch’; so it was pretty comfortable than Siddharth, because I met Siddharth professionally on the film set for the first time.  With Neeraj sir I didn’t have to prepare as such in terms of acting, I just had to go on sets and he would tell me what to do and how he wanted me to do it –  he’s the man who knows  what he wants, he knows what the audience wants, he knows what works. Sidhharth is a cool co-star, extremely friendly, cool, he is not someone who will sit in the corner, we’ve mingled, have lunch together along with Manoj sir and Neeraj sir.  He is cool guy and a good co-star to work with.

With every film you grow and it has its own learning so what was the best part of ‘Aiyaary’ that you’ll cherish in your graph of work? 

To be honest there are so many things to cherish and take back from ‘Aiyaary’, especially things that Neeraj sir and Manoj sir has taught me and I have learnt from them. One is that to always be patient. I could have done two-three films in a matter of a year. One thing that I have understood and realized that patience pays off. I remember Neeraj sir telling me that I kept patience and not gone randomly and did films, because a lot of people do that for whatever reasons  and I think I take immense pride in saying that I haven’t gone in finding films which I wouldn’t want to be part of.  I have been choosy, I have been patience and I believe patience always pays off and ‘Aiyaary’, ‘Ouch’, ‘Commando’ is the result of my patience. So, ‘Aiyaary’ coming to me is the fact that patience always pays and even in the future I will be patient and be part of any good cinema. Also, Manoj sir by noticing him or by knowing him   I learnt – he is a man  who came from small town and today he is an epitome of acting, he is known as an actor par excellence. And everything comes out of hard believe and hard work, it doesn’t matter from where you come; this industry is extremely welcoming. And if you have the talent and potential it shows. Manoj sir also took a long time; like he was telling me the other day that he has been so patient and it’s only now that he is getting his due. He’s been acting since so long; I remember I was in school and now I am doing a film with him. Everyone has respect in their eyes for him. There is so much to learn from these people.  From Siddharth you understand that; he is a guy who has been launched by Karan Johar but he is so cool with no attitude, so you learn however high you go, you should always be humble. I believe every actor today wants to work with Neeraj Pandey, every producer wants to collaborate with him because he doing a film is like a full proof of a Bollywood blockbuster. His movies are realistic and the audience has so much of respect for him and his cinema.  He is extremely humble and down to earth; I mean there is so much to learn from him.  So I am extremely fortunate to be part of ‘Aiyaary’, for me it’s definitely going to be an unforgettable journey and a film that I am going to hold close to my heart throughout my life.

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