By Jigar Shah
When one sees Pooja Hegde, one sees her working with the best possible names in the business, from Salman Khan to Allu Arjun to Mahesh Babu. But the girl is battle-hardened. Success didn’t come easy to her, despite being crowned second runner-up at the 2010 I Am She- Miss Universe India Pageant.
She has often spoken about her journey, that she would go for rounds and rounds of auditions, but nothing would play out. But things started to change when she worked on a bike ad with Ranbir Kapoor. The ad got noticed, and that made her life a little easy.
Her first film was Mugamoodi (Tamil, 2012), opposite Jiva got mixed reviews, but she followed it up with Oka Laila Kosam (Telugu, 2014), which was a runaway success. She was now preparing for her Hindi debut with Mohenjo Daro (2016) with Ashutosh Gowariker opposite Hrithik Roshan. The film hardly made a whisper, and things finally started to change for her when her film DJ: Duvvada Jagannadham (Telugu, 2017) with Allu Arjunwas released. It had a box office of more than 150 crores. From then on, she’s cemented her place in the Telugu industry and is now ready to take on the Hindi industry. Read on to know more.
You always have such a happy vibe. Where does that come from, and how do you protect it? Because today, it doesn’t take a second for anyone to say something nasty, be it in person or on social media?
Pooja : Inherently, I am a happy soul, and I feel there is enough negativity on social media. My job is to put out positivity. As for trolls, being an actor, you learn and grow a thick skin as your life and work progress. I discovered that these people don’t have anything productive to do hence spreading negativity. The fact that they spend time discussing me is a great compliment.
You are one actor for whom language hasn’t been a barrier, be it Hindi or Telugu, and you have fans across the board; how does that feel?
Pooja : It feels great. I’ve always wanted to be an ‘Indian’ actor for whom language is not a barrier. In the near future, I want to squeeze in as many languages as possible because I don’t want to be boxed in any way, and I want to explore a lot.
Over the years, you’ve shown versatility from a glamorous role to extremely de-glam roles; each requires a lot of skill. How did you develop these chameleonesque skills, and how was that learning process?
Pooja : In real and reel life, you are constantly learning. Every role comes with a challenge. As an actor, I always look forward to learning new skills and evolving into a completely different person. The procedure is challenging but fruitful, with audiences accepting the variety of roles I am able to perform.
We are at a major inflection point where streaming services have become a major power centre. According to you, have things changed for actors since the advent of this new platform in India. And are you willing to take up something for just streaming services?
Pooja : I would also want to explore different avenues to hone my craft for streaming services content because, as an artist, the script and the people I am working with matter the most; therefore, if I get a wonderful team and story, I would love to do something for streaming services as well. In any case, it’s a fantastic platform. Take your personal theatre with you everywhere you go and relax.
What would be the dream role for Pooja? Which actors were your idols while you were growing up?
Pooja : My dream role would be that of Princess Gayatri Devi, a monarch in Cooch Behar, and my idol would have to be Madhuri Dixit. I have admired her ever since I was a kid. It’s wonderful to watch her perform because of the way she acts, her expressions, her skills, and her dancing.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business, like Mahesh Babu, Allu Arjun, Prabhas, Ram Charan, Ranveer, and Salman Khan. Is it overwhelming when you share screen space with them, given their stardom, or do these actors take extra effort to make things normal around them?
Pooja : It was always very welcoming when I was working with these actors. They have all been super supportive, and it’s been a great experience. I have always learned so much with each film and each co-actor. It’s been a wonderful time, and I look forward to many such projects in the future.
How does your family react to your success or when people recognize you on the streets abroad?
Pooja : I can see happiness and pride in their eyes for sure. Especially when people compliment my character traits too. They just feel very proud of me.
You made your debut at Cannes Last Year as an Indian Representative; how was your experience at the prestigious film festival?
Pooja : I must say that it was a wonderful experience. It has always been a dream to walk at Cannes, and I think what’s amazing is that I went there to represent our country “India” which is the biggest brand itself. I don’t think there is any bigger honour for me than attending such a prestigious festival celebrating and honouring our Indian movies.
You recently worked with the biggest superstar Amitabh Bachchan for commercials; how was the experience? Any learnings?
Pooja : Working with Amit ji has always been on my bucket list. It was truly an amazing experience where I learned so much from him. He is by far the most diligent and hardworking person I have seen. He truly is very inspiring, and the overall experience was overwhelming. I can finally cross something off my bucket list.
Netizens have praised your chemistry with Salman Khan in the Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan teaser. Can you tell us about your role in the film and other upcoming projects?
Pooja : I am happy after seeing the response that is coming our way. It feels amazing. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal many details about the films at this moment, but you will soon know about my character and the film.