I want to be that actress who can do it all: Pooja Kumar

Features Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 05:30
By Prathibha Parameswaran  A trained classical dancer, certified scuba diver, producer of two short films-- Vishwaroopam actress Pooja Kumar wears many hats. The US based actress has played prominent roles in two of the most awaited films this year and is raring to go for more. A US born actress who has worked in 17 feature films, most of them cross cultural ones, Pooja Kumar is unlike many other actresses trying to find their feet in the Tamil film industry. Yet she shares a few similarities too. She has no roots in Tamil Nadu and can barely string a few words in the language. Her father was from Dehradun and her mother from Lucknow and relocated to the US back in the 70s. Ironically enough, in her second film with Kamal Haasan--Utthama Villain, Pooja’s character is much like herself, a modern day-actress who cannot speak Tamil. She will be seen mouthing dialogues in pure, archaic Tamil, in the role of Karpagavalli. A challenge she overcame with some help from actor Kamal Haasan. “You don’t pass off an opportunity to work with someone like Kamal Haasan. And he writes such interesting female characters. They have a story to tell, they have a purpose in the film. So for me it was a new challenge to be speaking in this sort of archaic Tamil at the same time portraying a modern day actress. I had to really work on my Tamil but I’m being shown in multiple ways and looks in the film-it’s a life time opportunity for any actress,” Pooja reasons. “I think my character is the comic relief in the film,” she divulges, when queried about her role. The drama interspersed with comedy and emotions will be fully devoid of violence, it’s promised. Utthama Villian also features Urvashi, Andreah Jeremiah and Parvathi Menon in important roles.  Pooja with other actors in Utthama Villain 2 “They are so talented,” she pauses. “We got along so well it was almost like a family unit with Gauthamiji doing the costume design for us. All these women had a voice, they have their own emotions and they bring something to their roles and enhance whatever he (Kamal Haasan) had written. I also got to share the screen with K. Balachandar, so it’s been a very emotional experience, because we made this film like a big family.” Pooja explains. Pooja has joined the coveted league of Kamal Haasan’s lead ladies who have romanced the actor more than once on screen, after starring with him in three successive films. Yet with all that, she says, she’s still all nerves if asked to do a scene with him. “Working with someone with over 50 years of experience was rather nerve-racking because I’m just starting out. He guides so well that he knows how to extract the best you can give the role. He’s my producer, director and my love interest—so I need to switch on and switch off—it’s been a great challenge,” she confides. A dancer trained in Bharathanatyam and Kathak, she also gets to shake a leg with Kamal Haasan in Utthama Villain, an opportunity she missed inVishwaroopam. “He’s THE best dancer I have ever seen; he has an amazing sense of rhythm,” she affirms. Vishwaroopam and controversy Back in 2000 Kaadhal Rojave wasn’t exactly the debut that she was perhaps hoping for, with the film failing to make the cut at the box office. Nevertheless, offers were still flooding in. She surprised many by letting go of them and flying back to the US to complete her undergraduate degree in Political Science and Finance and to later attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts’. “I realised I needed to finish my studies. And learn more about acting if I wanted to be good at it and be in it long enough. Then I started getting offers in the US and I did different roles in films like Night of Henna, Hiding Divya and Flavours and produced a couple of short films.” Years later Gautami and Kamal Haasan would discover her through these films and offer her a role in a movie that has now become her identity. “After Vishwaroopam, people have obviously recognised my work and they’ve appreciated it. It gives you that drive to do more,” says Pooja. It was much after she started working in Vishwaroopam that she learned about the plans of a sequel. “I was very happy when he asked me to be part of the sequel. It’s a continuation, but it also has a lot of new parts in it,” says Pooja, careful not to disclose much on the project. “I get to do my own stunts in it. I think I’m the first actress to do under- water action sequences. I’m a certified scuba diver, so to be able to do that convincingly was a fantastic experience,” she adds excitedly.   ooja says she was equally affected when Vishwaroopam was mired in controversies, even facing a state-government ban. “I was really saddened. Cinema is a place where you can showcase your emotions in a non-invasive way. Kamal sir’s films are never hurtful, they just deal with engaging subjects making people sit up and think. It was hard to see him go through all that,” she recalls. Going Forward In an industry where most heroes choose to romance actresses half their age in films that barely offers them scope to perform, Pooja knows it’s a tall order to find her dream roles to play. “I would like to do something like what Nargis did in Mother India or Sharmila in Amar Prem.” “I think every journey is different and every artiste has their own journey. Tamil cinema is evolving and is offering more opportunities to actresses, I don’t know where my career is going to go, but I just want to do more films. I love what I do, whether it’s glamourous or performance-oriented—I want to be that actress who can do it all, in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi—everywhere,” she states resolutely. “These days they do have strong roles being written for women. Watch films of Karthik Subburaj, Vishnu Vardhan, Nalan, Gautham Menon, Mani Rathnam and Anjali Menon. They are all on my wish list,” she winks.   Pooja already has a couple of film offers each from Bollywood and Tamil and is still considering them. She's busy settling down in Chennai meanwhile. “I’m learning Tamil so I can do more Tamil films,” she beams. Tweet
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