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    Amidst a host of big-ticket releases set to hit the screens this season, Kajal Aggarwal is resolutely strengthening her position South of Bollywood.

    Meeting Kajal Aggarwal at Bengaluru’s Forum Mall meant we had to wade through a mass gathering of fans, surpass numerous bouncers and flash our ID cards repeatedly. The popularity of the 31-year-old actress in South India is tangible. Dressed in a Pankaj & Nidhi outfit—pristine white trousers and a floral bell sleeves top—Aggarwal looked at home amidst the hullabaloo and the flashing bulbs. Her upcoming films with names like Chiranjeevi (Khaidi No. 150) and Ajith (Thala 57) Aggarwal is in the league of top heroines in the South. Currently, her kitty is full with films that include an untitled political drama with Rana Daggubati, besides a special appearance in Soundarya Rajnikanth’s next venture with Dhanush. Born and raised in Mumbai, the fit and candid Aggarwal stays politically correct, as she shares her thoughts on the different film industries, her upcoming projects and lesser-known facts from her personal life.

    Your film Kavalai Vendam is gearing up for release. Tell us a little about your role in the film.
    The film is a rom-com, predominantly about relationships. I play the role of Divya who is a contemporary, independent, strong-headed and career-oriented successful young girl. She isn’t the stereotypical perfect heroine, but is closer to a real-life girl who falls in love, makes mistakes, has regrets and is heartbroken. I am glad that I have been able to get such a good mix of roles. It’s not something that everyone gets to do. Though, I am comfortable playing both, I prefer intense roles.

    This is your first pairing with Jiiva. How is he as a co-star?
    He is a fun person to work with, full of energy, lively and a great companion. We got along like a house on fire. Though we were at work, it didn’t feel like it at all. It felt like we were on a holiday in Coonoor and Ooty (on location).

    Are you a director’s actor or do you like giving your characters a personal touch?
    I always discuss my role with the director before I get down to giving a personal touch. But yes, all the directors I have worked with have welcomed my ideas. Who wouldn’t want to give their own inputs in whatever they are doing? The role I play is like my baby, and I shall definitely be happy if it has my special touch.

    How do you prepare for a character?
    For the role of a visually impaired girl in Do Lafzon Ki Kahaani (which released this June), I did my homework by spending time at a blind school in Mumbai. I observed the movements of blind children, and how they went about their day. Additionally, I also ask many questions to my directors, as it’s important to understand what they have in mind.

    Among movies in the recent past, which ones have inspired you? Any memorable incident that you took back from the shoots?
    My role in Brahmotsavam is unforgettable. I thought a lot about the character even after I completed the shoot. Then, there is a political drama coming up with Rana (Daggubati)… it’s still untitled, but my role is strong and has political overtones. This is another role that’s playing on my mind. Also, my introduction scene in Sardaar Gabbar Singh, which was shot at Palli Falls, is special to me. It was a slow-motion shot of 48 frames per second. I cannot put it in words, but certain shots strike a chord and give immense satisfaction.

    Do you think actresses are taken seriously in Indian films?
    Times are changing now. It’s not like how it was earlier. Take the example of films like Kahaani, Sultan and the upcoming Dangal. Women have played strong characters earlier too, but I strongly feel that more actresses are getting roles that are defined and written for them now; and this is not just in Hindi films. I think all industries are welcoming this change. If not for new-age thinking, then the likes of Kajol and Vidya Balan wouldn’t have bagged such lead roles.

    Your foothold in the South is really strong, and you’ve starred in successful films up North as well. Will we see you more in Hindi films?
    I am blessed to have a lot of work in the South, and won’t be able to give time to Hindi films right now. But yes, if I get roles where my character is significant in the script and if there is a strong story, then I shall give it a thought. But as of now, South Indian films are my priority.

    You’re doing Ajith’s next film, and you’re also working with Chiru. What is it like on set?
    It’s an action-packed, pacey film. I am very happy with my role, the way Siva (the director) visualised it, and the way he helped me deliver. We have just wrapped up two major schedules of the film and we are shooting the remaining parts. Chiranjeevi and Ajith come with a lot of experience and that makes a huge difference. Everything on sets gets done on time, nothing is delayed. They command a lot of respect, but are not intimidating at all. Instead, they go that extra step to ensure that everyone is comfortable. I feel at home shooting with both actors.

    You’ve reportedly gone bold in your upcoming Telugu movie, Enthavaraku E Prema. Have your confidence levels risen to try things out of your comfort zone?
    That’s not true. I do not understand what people mean by saying ‘I have gone bold in the film’. There are different insinuations from different people, but I just want to say that this is a clean U/A certified film, and there is nothing ‘bold’ about it.

    Your directors wish list.
    Shankar, Gautam Menon, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Imtiaz Ali, Anubhav Sinha. And yes, I would like to team up again with all the directors I have worked with.

    How do you manage to strike a balance between all your projects, in various languages?
    I have to put in a lot of effort to learn languages. I don’t have a natural flair or knack for languages. I can now say that I am pretty fluent in speaking Telugu, because when I started, I would communicate with everyone on sets—right from the spot boy to the director—in Telugu. So I was able to pick up faster. I have spent close to a decade in Hyderabad, so that helped me as well.

    What about professionalism, in terms of getting the script ahead of the shoot and preparing for it?
    I would like to take the credit of being an extremely proactive professional (laughs). I like to get things done in advance. I am always behind the team to send me the script before the shoot, so I can prepare, and I insist on meeting the director a couple of times to understand the role before we start shooting.

    You wanted to pursue an MBA but turned to modelling. If not for acting, what would you be pursuing?
    It’s my dream to have an MBA stamp on my CV, and someday, I would definitely like to earn that degree. If not acting, I would have definitely been in the corporate sector.

    One actor and actress you’d like to work with in future.
    I have worked with many actresses already. Among actors, I admire Aamir Khan the most and someday would like to work with him.

    Will you try your hand at parallel cinema?
    Why not? If there is a good script and a good role, I will definitely try.

    Aside from cinema, what have you been up to?
    I started a premium jewellery brand with my sister Nisha, called Marsala. That keeps me busy when not filming.

    What do you do when not shooting, for leisure?
    I love travelling, particularly adventure trips. I make sure I go on at least one adventure trip every year. I enjoy deep sea diving in Maldives and sky diving in Chicago. My favourite destinations are Bali, New York, Caribbean Islands, Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera and the French Riviera.

    You’re in Bengaluru promoting Ponds and Health & Glow. Is there a Kajal style mantra?
    I like comfort over vanity. When at work or at events, I dress appropriately. Otherwise, I am always in jeans and a tank top or tracks and T-shirt.

    Your workout regimen?
    It depends on where I am. If I am in a city shooting for a couple of days, I take my trainer along with me. I usually train in cardio and lift weights. Cardio can get super boring, but I like weight training, as it makes me feel stronger. Otherwise, when I am travelling, I work out on my own, usually yoga. I do about 40 surya namaskarams. Earlier, I used to do 108, but now, the number has plummeted.  Honestly, I keep changing my workouts, because I get bored too easily.

    What’s a typical day like in Kajal’s life?
    I am up by 5 am and squeeze in a quick cardio workout of about 40 minutes. I usually start filming by 7 am. I need an hour’s lunch break between 1-2 pm. Later in the afternoon, I take a quick nap and I wrap up by 6 pm. If I haven’t worked out in the morning, I work out after the shoot. If I am in India, I try to meet friends or catch a movie in the evening.

    By Ayesha Tabassum

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