x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

India's Preeti Desai: from beauty queen to rising star

The model talks about what it's like to be a Bollywood newcomer.

When Preeti Desai was approached to play the lead female protagonist in the Bollywood thriller Shor in the City, the former Miss Great Britain 2006 felt she was fulfilling a childhood dream. Set in contemporary Mumbai, the film, which paired Desai with the Indian-American actor Sendhil Ramamurthy (of the TV series Heroes), was released last April to critical acclaim.

Born and raised in north Yorkshire, England, Desai left the UK in 2007 following her pageant success and moved to Mumbai to explore her opportunities in film.

"Winning the Miss Great Britain title has really helped me. It gave me a platform," she says. "That's how I got into the industry to start with - because I was the first Indian girl to win. India is really big on its pageants and a lot of the pageant queens go on to do film roles. I got approached this way, but the only down side was trying to determine what was genuine and what was not."

It didn't take long for Desai to find her way into the Bollywood scene. Within a year of settling in the bustling city, she landed her first big projects: a L'Officiel magazine cover shoot with Shah Rukh Khan and a feature in the award-winning international Kingfisher calendar.

Numerous fashion shows, advertising campaigns and more cover shoots followed. Within two years of focusing on her acting career, Desai landed the role in Shor in the City.

In an industry that places a high regard on beauty and good looks, one can see how the Briton - born of Gujarati decent - had an advantageous starting point. The 26-year-old is not ashamed to acknowledge this.

"I think I've been treated well," she says. "As a newbie, you are trying to get your foot through the door. It's almost like you're a kid again and you are going to school for the first time."

When asked how her Bollywood colleagues have treated her as an outsider and a new face, Desai laughs off industry jealousy: "I am sure there is competitiveness, but because I am so new I don't think people see me as a threat ... yet!"

Quizzed on what attributes budding actors need to possess to make it in Bollywood, Desai takes on a serious timbre: "The main thing is passion. You have to be passionate," she says. "It's a huge industry and it's not easy. You have to be persistent and it usually isn't something that can just happen overnight."

She says she feels lucky to be an actress in an industry that continues to evolve: "Bollywood is growing and changing. It may not be changing fast enough, but at least it's not all about blockbuster movies now. Independent movies are working, too. It's gradually adapting and giving the audiences something different."

Desai insists that fame doesn't interest her - something she knows a lot people may find hard to believe. She says that contrary to her public persona, she's a shy individual.

"When I won Miss Great Britain, I was like a hermit. I freaked out and was not used to the attention ... I hid for a full month and the managers were like, 'Where have you been?' But then I learnt to deal with it. I can still be that hermit sometimes, though. I quite often keep to myself and it takes me a while to open up."

The actress is currently in Goa, attending this week's International Film Festival of India. She says she'd love to attend next week's Dubai International Film Festival. "Hopefully I'll get an invitation!" she says. "Shor in the City showed in the festival last year and I love it there."

Desai is tight-lipped about her forthcoming project, but clued us in on the role she's set to play: "I have a very funny character to work on," she says. (Sources reveal Desai is referring to a role in Bollywood's first ever zombie comedy, in which her boyfriend - the actor Abhay Deol - is also rumoured to be starring.)

When asked about the best thing she's learnt from her new industry, Desai pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath and says: "You have to wait for the right opportunities. Don't just jump at anything. You also can't be too influenced by what other people think.

"Have a goal and go for it. I used to daydream about being an actress and never thought I would get the opportunity to be here and now here I am."

artslife@thenational.ae

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