Azhar, the biopic on cricketer Muhammad Azharuddin’s life starring Emraan Hashmi in the titular role, is a much awaited film. Having been in the works for almost two years, the film features two very important female lead roles – that of Azhar’s love interest, Sangeeta Bijlani and his first wife, Naureen. Asian Style Magazine caught up with both the leading ladies to speak about their careers, aspirations and of course, Azhar.

Nargis Fakhri is destiny’s child in many ways. Known for her frank attitude, she is often dubbed the ‘Queen of Cool’ in an industry that is otherwise known for its diva-esque actresses.

Nargis Fakhri
Nargis Fakhri

Ayesha: Congratulations – you complete 5 years in Bollywood this year (can you believe it?!). Your first film Rockstar came out in 2011. How would you describe your journey so far?

Nargis: Ummm – tumultuous!! (Laughs) Yes, that would be a good word. It has really been an up and down journey for me in Bollywood.

Ayesha: Five years ago, when you first debuted in Rockstar, you received a mixed reception. While most people agreed that you were one of the most beautiful faces to hit our screens in the recent past, critics gave you a lot of flak for your acting skills. Was it difficult then to find your footing in this business when the response might not have been what you had hoped for?

Nargis: Well, actually I didn’t expect anything because I just came into this very naïve and blind. I had decided to come to India to act just because it felt like a new adventure at that time. For me, everything was a surprise. I didn’t even know what to expect! At that time, when Rockstar was released, suddenly I got bombarded with so much negativity that it was a little bit scary!

It was only much later that I realised I had so many fans and to be honest, they are the ones who are most important – no offense to the critics!

Ayesha: When you chose Madras Café as your second film, there was scepticism as to whether you would be able to pull it off, which was something that you did with much aplomb. Was the decision also based on a desire to showcase your acting a little bit more?

Nargis: I really feel weird saying this, because I know so many people keep saying the same thing, but I am the kind of person who literally goes with the flow and lives each day as it comes and I mostly decide things without really planning or looking for anything in particular! Like a free-flowing energy mantra. That’s how I initially got into Bollywood – by being open-minded, free flowing and accepting different opportunities in life. So when people ask me, ’what is your strategy’ or how have you made these selections, I really don’t know what to say! When I listen to narrations, I will get a pretty good feeling. If I am excited about a role, I will do it, if not then not! That’s it! It sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

Ayesha: Is that an easy thing to do?

Nargis: I always feel that if you are too calculating or stressing or think too much, or being too closed, it doesn’t really work out in anyone’s favour. I often say, if it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t!

Ayesha: Does it help to be this detached then when, for example, when dealing with critics?

Nargis: I think in the beginning with Rockstar, I was just shocked! I had never experienced anything like that. I was a regular person and I had never been in to spotlight before like that so it was a new experience, so overwhelming and it took me a while to find my footing. What I did and where I was and what was happening was a bit of a blur. Only afterwards, did I realise that this is pretty much how a film in made and released. From that moment on, nothing else could really shake me. It really helped me understand that that is the way things and that is just the way it is and you have to accept it.

Ayesha: Your role in Spy was spoken about so much and it was genuinely one of the most interesting characters in the story. Spy, itself, was a very mainstream Hollywood film and a commercial success too. How was that experience?

Nargis: You know there’s always that friend or that person that you know – where the weirdest, strangest things, happen to them by accident – I am THAT person! Maybe because I am an open and accepting person and I put an intention out into the universe, and I didn’t stress about it and I was open to opportunity (perhaps most importantly) – because a lot of people, they get opportunities but hold themselves back. Even when I got Rockstar, I could have been like other people and said, oh no I don’t have enough money, oh no I can’t afford to fly down there, or oh no, it’s too scary or oh no, I am not ready! I could have had all these apprehensions which could have prevented me from giving this a shot, but I had this logic that ‘oh, this looks like a really cool opportunity, let’s give it a try!’That attitude helped me get Spy and work in such a cool project.

Ayesha: Coming to Azhar – the trailer and the stills look fabulous! Your character is based on the life of Sangeeta Bijlani. How did you approach the character and get under its skin? Were you able to meet Sangeeta?

Nargis Fakhri and Emraan Hashmi in 'Azhar'
Nargis Fakhri and Emraan Hashmi in ‘Azhar’

Nargis: No unfortunately, I couldn’t meet her. I was probably the only one who couldn’t meet the person on whom their character was based. But thankfully, I had the help of the director, Tony D’Souza. He gave me some Sangeeta Bijlani films including Tridev to watch and I really enjoyed that! Also, I relied heavily on the internet, I googled lots of stuff. And I think for the most part it was the director helping a lot. Because he knew the story and the character very well.

I also had to fit a certain look. My stature, my height, my slenderness – the model look. Sangeeta was also a model and really beautiful. So we dressed me up to be totally like the character. I had the 90’s styling, I had big wig hair. She has amazing hair. I did the best with what I had and what I got and now, I guess, it is up to the audiences to judge or compare, and decide how they feel about it.

Ayesha: Was it difficult to play a non-fictional character? Is the responsibility greater?

Nargis: It’s funny because I didn’t think about all this until now whilst I am doing the promotions. I was just doing my job! I was acting a role. I think it was better because I wouldn’t have wanted to worry about the responsibility while shooting. But during the promotions, it hit me and I am like oh yeah – it is true, people are going to draw all sorts of comparisons and you are right, it is more difficult! It is harder to portray a living person, who people have seen and watched over the years. To imbibe their mannerisms, the way they talk or the way they walk or how they behave. It all has to come through because you want the character and the actor playing the character to be believable! So again the director played a huge part in correcting me if he thought I was straying from the character at all. There was a lot of work on this from the director. I think Emraan had the hardest part though! Azhar was always in the public eye and has all these quirks in his mannerisms. So you have to get into the body movements and how they speak and all of that – it’s really hard. I was lucky, my character was very graceful, elegant and sophisticated. Which is not me!

Ayesha: Coming to your own self – in your interaction with fans on social media and in your interviews, you come across as being so grounded and yet so effortlessly cool. You seem like such a normal person and I guess people don’t really expect that from a Bollywood celebrity, especially an actress. How do you manage to stay level-headed?

Nargis: I just have friends who are normal! So I have to be normal otherwise they wouldn’t be very happy with me! I don’t have any friends here really, and all my friends from before are all regular people! So I am regular and it makes me stay regular.

It’s also my nature. I am an easy-going person and super-friendly. I am like this with everyone, even strangers. For example, if I am on the subway in New York and someone talks to me, I will have a conversation with them! We are all humans! I have even counselled people on their love problems on the subway!!

Ayesha: What’s next in the pipeline for Nargis Fakhri?

Nargis: This year is back-to-back-to-back! Azhar, Housefull 3, Ganjo and a cameo in Dishoom! So you might probably get tired of seeing me on the screen (laughs). After all of this, I am going to take a long vacation!

I have experienced so much in the past five years – I feel so good about myself. I have worked hard and made a name for myself. I have a niche that I have carved out and this year is super huge with four films. So yes, I feel very happy!

Ayesha: Thank you! All the best for Azhar and the rest of the year!

Prachi Desai entered the industry with a splash. Her first role in Rock On, as Farhan Akhtar’s wife made the actress, who had previously worked extensively on television, a film star. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the beautiful actress, but she is back with Azhar and is all set to put her career back on track!

Ayesha: You started your journey in Bollywood with Rock On almost 8 years ago!– where your role received a great reception. since then you have done many quite different roles – how has your Bollywood journey been so far?

Prachi: It has been one hell of a journey. Really, I havent really planned much from my side and took each day as it came. There have been lots of very interesting experiences along the way. I don’t come from a film family myself, so there hasn’t been a grand plan or anyone’s path that I could follow into the industry. Having said that however, acting is my passion and it is something that I love doing and I am so grateful that I get to do what I love every single day!

All my different experiences in this industry have taught me so much – today I feel I am so much more evolved as a person. It has been a journey of a lifetime!

Ayesha: We are extremely excited to see you back on the big screen after a gap of almost two years – were you waiting for the right script to come along?

Prachi: After Awaari and around that time too in 2014, I was working on a couple of projects and these were still in the pre-production stage. And required a lot of time from me – people actually don’t realise how lengthy the process to make a film is. So I was involved in these projects for almost a year, most of 2014 and early 2015 and then they didn’t see the light of the day. It happens to many films and I guess it was just unlucky that it happened with my projects then. Most of 2015, I was preparing for and shooting for Azhar and then Rock On 2 so now I am back on track and have really put my heart and soul into these projects!

Prachi Desai
Prachi Desai

Ayesha: Azhar will be your second film with Emraan Hashmi after the very successful Once Upon a Time in Mumbai – how was the experience of working with him again? How is he as a co-star?

Prachi: It has been absolutely great. I know in OUATIM, our chemistry was really really appreciated and the song that we did together, Pee Loun, became the love anthem of the year in many ways. Even I am surprised as why no one cast us opposite each other earlier! I definitely think that I look the best with him and he looks the best with me and we have an undeniable onscreen chemistry.

The second film was a lot easier, then, because we both already had a sense of familiarity with each other and that is something that really does come across on screen.

The roles we play and the context out characters are presented in in Azhar is much different to OUATIM. It was fun working with him again and I cant wait to do more work with him. I think someone needs to make a movie with us but a love story!

Ayesha: Do you share an screentime with Nargis Fakhri in the film and how has your equation with her been?

Prachi: Well, I will keep the fact of them meeting or not in the fim a secret. But we got along isntantly when I met Nargis and we have also done some promotional events together. She’s an easy-going person who is unabashedly herself and I think that is a great quality.

Ayesha: Your role in Azhar is based on the life of Azharuddin’s first wife, Naureen. Unlike Azhar and Sangeeta, not that much is known about Naureen’s story publically. Was there a huge burden on you, then to get the story right?

Prachi: Yeah, you are absolutely right. My role had to be approached slightly differently to the others because while the others had some sort of a reference point to look towards, because Naureen has always been such a private person, I had to construct her from scratch. I tried looking up more information but to be honest, even now if you google her, it is actually my face that pops us (laughs). There was just such little information out there about her.

Ayesha: How did you prepare for the role?

Prachi: I depended greatly on the director. I saw the story and the character from his eyes. There was a point where I think we were all a little lost and were trying to meet with Naureen to learn more about her and it wasn’t working out. Then Naureen graciously agreed to meet us and I think that meeting was a game-changer. Although I met her at a much later stage in her life than the one I have played, it was still so useful to see the person. I was able to pick up on certain nuances and I could really see her story and where she was coming from. We took that inspiration and asked ourselves – how would she be when she was much younger? We added some quirks to our interpretation to make it reflect the life of the person who had had an arranged marriage with Azhar and saw the highs and lows of his career and early years first-hand with him. It really is a complex character, being thrown into the limelight and into an alien world, knowing nothing about it and yet holding on to your own dignity. I am so thankful to Naureen for letting us into her life and story!

Ayesha: One question that has been on everyone’s mind – will you be reprising your role as Farhan Akhtar’s wife in Rock On 2?

Prachi: Rock On was such a special film for all of us – it marked the acting debut for both Farhan and myself and was a milestone in the lives of everyone involved. Even in terms of the industry, it set a different trend. Rock On 2 is a sequel and the story becomes even more interesting. There are a couple of new characters and it has been such an incredible process to be making the second film. When we were making the original, none of us ever thought that 8 years on, we would be working on a sequel. I am really looking forward to the release of Rock On 2. 2016 has been an exciting year for me and I hope that it only gets better!

Ayesha: We love seeing you on the big screen – and wish you all the best for Azhar and all your other projects!