|You seem to be remarkably precocious for someone who's just 22.
I started working from the age of 15. Maybe that's why I'm precocious. And less judgmental. I can never make statements like, " This is bad." At most, I'll say, "Maybe this is wrong."
If I'd been in college, I would still have been in my final year, mugging for exams. Still worrying about acne, late nights and boyfriends.
Do the dictates of our male-dominated society stifle you?
Why did man create society? So he wouldn't be alone. He'd know people, have a family. Speaking for myself, I've chosen to lead my life the way I want to.
The ultimate truth is that a woman gives birth to man. In effect, she is his creator. So I think she' endowed with special qualities.
Like the words in the poem, The road less travelled, it's all about choices. Everyone's destination is the same, only the paths are different. I've chosen to take the road less travelled. Maybe that has made all the difference!
How do you react to the different set of rules for men and women in show business?
Let's not forget even for a moment that it's a male-dominated film industry. Fact is that every film is sold on the hero's name. Not too many heroines can claim that they call the shots. Another fact which I've learnt the hard way is that too much importance is given to the word success. Talent is secondary.
What about heroines being typecast?
To a certain extent, heroines are pigeonholed. A new actress is slotted immediately. Either she's said to be the next Hema Malini or Zeenat Aman. Initially, Madhuri Dixit was compared with Madhubala. If someone calls me another Zeenat Aman, that's okay by me. I'm flattered.
What about the emphasis on things like glamour and dancing?
Look, I've always enjoyed dancing in a disco. But in commercial cinema, the calibre of an actress is determined on how well she dances to a choreographer's programmed beats. I've realised that if that's the way they want it, I'll give it to them. And I think I've succeeded with the jhatkas and matkas in Zor. I'll go with the flow, but some day, I'll do my own thing.
Hasn't the audience been conditioned to accept amazingly puerile stuff in the name of entertainment?
You're mistaken there. Once films were an escape route towards a fantasy world. Where heroines displayed glamour and cleavage. But today, everyone's talking about backlighting and editing. Our audiences are getting film-literate. Soon we'll have lesser stars and more actors and actresses.
So what's the best thing about being an actress?
Acting is exhausting, a strain on the nerves. But to be able to live 1000 different identities and then retain your own at the end of the day is a grrrrreat feeling. Earlier I used to be edgy. The odd hours and the interminable delays on the sets would get to me. That's when Vikram (Bhatt) told me, I shouldn't let such occupational hazards affect me. Or else that would show on screen. Sure enough, that made sense to me.
Does it bother you that you're pretty tall for a Hindi film heroine, which prevents you from being paired with Aamir Khan or Akshaye Khanna?
That's unfortunate. Nicole Kidman acts with Danny De Vito and no one bats an eye-lid. It's sad that one has to lose out on a performance because of one's height. (Laughs) Maybe someone enterprising should make a comedy with Aamir and me about a man's fascination for a woman taller than him.
Let's flashback a bit. A woman teaches a man what loving, caring and sharing is all about. How did you think of that winning line at the Miss Universe pageant? Ever since, have you come close to that significant a moment?
When I was asked the question: What's the essence of a woman? -- I'd stopped thinking for a politically correct answer. To me a woman is complete because right from giving birth to a man, to nurturing him, to providing love and finally companionship, she's always there. I just articulated these thoughts.
Fortunately the words came out just right.
I was a bit worried, though, because most of the judge were men. I thought they'd take my statement amiss. But it turned out that those very men gave me the highest points.
Do you think you've given hope to the middle class girls because of your own background? Earlier, fashion and glamour appeared to be the monopoly of the bold and the beautiful.
I don't know about that. But yes, I was an average girl with average looks. The day I won, it was acknowledged that beauty is not always found in a penthouse on the 60th floor. Ever since Aishwarya and I came out tops, the traditional taboos associated with glamorous events have been broken to an extent.
What about this great media war between you and Aishwarya Rai? Were you in awe of her?
You said it. I was completely in awe of Ash. I'd seen her in all the top advertising campaigns, I was certain that the rest of us didn't have a ghost of a chance in the Miss India contest. She's just too beautiful to be true. When I got to know that Ash was in the Miss India contest, I got the jitters. I was about to opt out. That's when Ranjan Bakshi of The Times of India gave me all the moral support. He'd discovered me at a discotheque in Delhi and asked me to join the contest.