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    BOLLYWOOD actress Anushka Sharma has always had our attention for many reasons. Besides her racy shoot for GQ and her guarded relationship with cricketer Virat Kohli, the actress has kept us fully engaged with hits like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Band Baaja Baarat, PK and NH10. Now Sharma dons the role of a sportsperson for the first time in her next film Sultan, co-starring Salman Khan (releasing on July 6), written and directed by Ali Abbas Zafar. Meanwhile the actress  is also juggling the shooting of her home production Phillauri (with co-stars Diljit Dosanjh and Suraj Sharma).
    When asked what drew her to the role of a wrestler, the 28-year-old says, “Apart from the character itself — who is strong, contemporary yet rooted and desi — this was the first time I was playing an athlete on screen, and that too a female wrestler. This was a novelty and as an actor I am always looking out for different and exciting roles.” Unfortunately her late addition to the cast left her with just six weeks to prepare for the part, and she shares, “I trained with Jagdish Kaliraman, a pehelwan(wrestler) from Delhi. He taught me the sport. I had to build muscles, did weight lifting and learned to wrestle so that the bouts and fights on the mat looked real.”

    The Salman factor
    Sharma has previously worked with Shah Rukh Khan (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) and Aamir Khan (PK) but this is the first time she has worked with Salman Khan. In previous interviews Sharma admitted that she felt intimidated by her senior, and mercurial, co-star Salman Khan but working with him is different, she says, because of his attitude towards those  around him. “He treats everyone the same. You have to take him at face value. That’s maybe why he intimidates both you and me. I am very shy and not very talkative so I had my own awkwardness around him. However, over time I understood a bit of his personality,” she says.
    A Salman Khan film comes with added pressure. The hype. The expectation. The crazy fan following. The Eid release. “So many people are looking forward to the film that I am a little worried. I hope people like Sultan. We have made a good film so I am not worried in that sense. I am sure it will be worth the time and money. I am mostly unaware of the madness around a Salman/ Eid release. It didn’t occur to me. It’s only as we are getting closer to the release that I am understanding the gravity of the situation.”

    Three’s company
    And how different is it working with the three Khans, an experience not many Bollywood leading ladies can claim to have had in just nine years in the industry? Sharma says the main difference is in the way they talk and handle their careers. “I really know them as professionals,” she says. “Aamir is planned, strategic and handles his life in one way. Salman is very spontaneous. Shah Rukh is a mix of both – he is planned and spontaneous.”

    Days ahead
    Sharma made her debut in 2008 as Taani in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and has acted in 12 films since. Her more prolific contemporaries like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra are making inroads into Hollywood. Does she have any such aspiration? “The world is becoming a smaller place. Even TV shows and movies have a more realistic representation of Asian characters. I am not actively doing anything about Hollywood. What’s important for me is the role I am playing and how significant it is – whether it is Kannada or Bengali or Hollywood films. Priyanka and Deepika are doing amazing things representing our country across the world. I feel happy for them.”
    Besides Sultan and Phillauri, Sharma will also be seen in Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil  later this year with her Bombay Velvet co-star Ranbir Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Now shuffling between the role of actor and that of actor-producer, one wonders if there is greater pressure in the latter role. Sharma says there is. “You do feel a bit more involved as an actor and producer. In terms of performance and choices you have to be true to your fans and your work, but as a producer you are more answerable for monetary reasons. There is an added responsibility because you are invested at every stage, and there is a greater sense of ownership.”
    The Bangalore girl who moved to Mumbai in 2007 and had a dream debut in the Yash Raj film has come a long way in a short time. High profile romances, hits and flops, turning producer, facing heartless criticism, personal attacks, she’s weathered them all. “After NH10 came Bombay Velvet and after that     Dil    Dhadakne Do and now Sultan. These different roles and this varied work makes me happy. I see this not just as good experience but also as a reward for my patience,” she concludes.

    Sultan releases on July 6.

    —Udita Jhunjhunwala

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