Vasundhara Das, after her debut as an actress in Hey Ram, is currently paired opposite Ajith in Citizen. Also having signed a film with Mohan Lal, and a Tamil film with Madhavan, to be directed by Sivakumar, she is awaiting the release of Mira Nairs Monsoon Wedding. Her song Shakalaka Baby in Muthalvan launched her as a playback singer, now much in demand down South. While on a promotional tour of her first album Meri Jaan, she speaks about her acting and singing interests as she auditions dancers in Chennai along with her associate Preeti for the stage shows..
Are you playing the rich sophisticated westernised girl in all the forthcoming films?
I am a very independent strong willed girl in Citizen but yes it is the role of a modern girl. In the Mohan Lal film too, I play a rich girl but the difference is that each of these roles have a definite character. Unless the role is realistic and something that I can identify with or be convinced of, I shall never accept it because then I shall not be able to play it with conviction. The Mohan Lal film is also different and I am looking forward to working with a great artiste like him. I can not do films where I have to just dance or sing and be a beauty prop.
After Hey Ram, were you flooded with offers with the role of a sensuous girl in film after film?
I did get lots of offers from many directors but nothing interested me. I am looking to something else. My idea of an actress is different and acting was not something which I had planned. It just happened. Even the film opposite Abhishek Bachchan did not excite me because I felt I had nothing to do in the film. I want to be like Nargis who gave dignity to the roles she did and they had strength. Did you know that she sang too.
Are you happy with the way your playback singing is shaping up?
Actually, I am disappointed. I hit the pop charts with Shakalaka Baby and after that I have got only masala songs. Considering that I am trained in classical singing and my guru is Pandit Parameshwara Hegde of the Keherwana Gharana, the songs that I sing are not my type. In the forthcoming Tamil film Samurai, I have sung a very melodious songs composed by Harris Jayraj. Till date, I have sung for over seven Tamil and three Telugu films. In Hindi, I have recorded two songs for Aks and for Lagaan.
You are signing movies as well as singing. Is it because you want to see where you will hit the topspot first?
If I had wanted to be busy in films, I could have signed up everything that came my way and forgotten about singing. But singing is my first love.
What if your album becomes a hit and you make it to the world of music? Or vice versa?
Actually I am trying to stall the situation of choosing an option and now thinking of such an eventuality, I think I am also fond of acting.
What has been the response to your album Meri Jaan?
The response has been good in the South more than in the North but then I did not get time to do the promos for the album in any city because I was busy shooting. Now I did a promotional campaign in Delhi and am doing one in Chennai. Next I am doing the V Channel show in Bangalore. Whenever I get time off from shootings, in whichever city I am staying, I make it a point to visit the major audio showroom and promote the album. Actually the album is like a portfolio. I have Latin American and Spanish music, Arabic, Flamenco and Indian music. The song Mera nishaan has Arabic melody, Latin music in Bolare and all this because the lyrics are by Piyush Misra and Sukhwinder Singh. Both of them are composers too and this have given the songs a free flow. Even the video album shot by Shaad Ali (who comes from Mani Rathnam school) is visually and thematically in tune.
Are you planning another album?
I am under contract with Magnasound. But next time I plan to bring about a distinct style in my album.
Meet Vasundhara Das, the girl whom Kamal Haasan had one look at and signed, to play the lead in his magnum opus, Hey! Ram. So impressed was AR Rahman with her looks and voice that he persuaded Mani Ratnam to cast her in his film Alay Payudhe.
Not just that, he even made her croon the famous number shak-a-laka-baby for Shankars Mudhalvan. A candid chat with the new sensation.
How did it feel, acting in Kamal Haasans Hey! Ram and crooning for AR Rahman in Mudhalvan?
Good. Finally life is looking up for me. I have waited enough in life for opportunities to sing for some good composers. And now, things have begun to move, first with the offer to sing the Shaka laka baby track composed by AR Rahman, whom the world considers a genius. And then surprisingly being offered to act in a Tamil film Hey! Ram, directed by Kamal Haasan. I play the lead in the film as Kamals wife.
What was your first priority, acting or singing?
Singing, of course. No doubt. I have had a dream for as long as I can remember and this dream was to sing. When I was not in class at school or college I was invariably at singing practise. Thank God, I grew up in a cosmopolitan place like Bangalore, for I eventually got a multi-cultural exposure. Bangalore being a slower-paced city, has less scope for one who wants to get into the entertainment big time.
How did you bag the plum role in Kamal Haasans Hey! Ram?
I have a friend in Chennai, music composer Pravin Mani. I had worked with him on a project. His mother Indu Mani heard Kamal Haasan was looking for a new face to play his young wife in Hey! Ram. She let them know about me and when theyd seen my photographs, they called me over for a meeting and screen test and I was selected.
But is it true that Kamal Haasan had to request you to do the role?
He didnt actually request me, but his office definitely persuaded me to come over from Bangalore to Chennai to meet him. They even got me my flight tickets for the screen test.
How was it working in Hey! Ram?
Ecstasy is the only word to describe it. I consider myself lucky to be acting with and under the direction of arguably, the best actor in India. Also it provided me the opportunity to work with seasoned artistes like Hema Malini, Girish Karnad, Mohan Gokhale, Vikram Gokhale and Saurabh Shukla. I got an insight into a completely new world and a completely new proffession opened its doors for me.
Whats your role in Hey! Ram like?
I play an Iyengar girl an innocent, spontaneous yet strong person who comes to marry a very complicated man. The parts of the film in which I feature, show how we make compromises for each other, and come to influence the other in so many myriad ways.
Did anyone give you a raw deal, since you were a rank newcomer and others were seasoned pros?
No. In fact every one was so co-operative, even indulgent, that I could not quite believe my luck. Kamal Haasan himself was very understanding. He knew very well I wasnt quite as much of an actress as a singer, so he never once lost his temper, even when I knew Id goofed up badly. Hema Malini treated me like her own daughter. She would discuss her daughter Esha with me for hours. She would detail to me how filmdom works, and gave me tips on how to cope with it. Its hardly necessary for an artiste of her calibre to discuss her daughter with me. So that gives you a fair idea of how well I was treated.
Is it true you had to do revealing scenes?
I dont understand what you mean by revealing scenes. But yes, I have done a sex scene in Hey! Ram with Kamal Haasan. Hed already told me about it at the start. He told me it was very necessary for the story, and wasnt meant to arouse or titilate the audience. It was an integral part of the script. I agreed to it because of the trust I had in Kamal and he never betrayed my trust at any point.
Did it involve nudity?
It was a sex scene, which does involve some nudity, but in a dignified way. It will definitely not look cheap when seen by the audience.
Did Mani Ratnam want you to play the heroine in his venture Alay Payudhe?
Yes, Mani was looking for a new girl to play the lead in Alay Payudhe and AR Rahman told him about me. And so he called me up in Bangalore and asked me to come over. We met and had a screen test, but then, at that point, I was very much into singing, and so acting wasnt so seriously on my mind. Mani wanted me to totally concentrate on Alay Payudhe, which I could not promise. So he had to start his search for a new girl all over again, and finally zeroed in Shalin.
Did Khalid Mohammed want you to play the lead in his film Fizaa opposite Hrithik Roshan?
Who told you this? Its totally baseless. I agree I know Khalid well but he definitely did not offer me Fizaa. I was introduced to him by dance director Farah Khan, whos a good friend. Khalid has already signed Neha and Karisma Kapoor for Fizaa. I guess because people saw me meeting him at a time when he was casting for Fizaa, they probably thought hed signed me.
How did singing for AR Rahman happen?
I came to Chennai with the intention of doing some quality singing. My search led me to Pravin Mani, a Canada based music producer, as he calls himself. His main interest was that I sing in Spanish Fla, Emco Latino and Gypsy styles of Spanish music. I have been learning Spanish for a year now, and am still not fluent at speaking it but I sure can sing it. Pravin and I cut a demo, and saw that the music was flowing. Its he who introduced me to AR Rahman.
After Id finished shooting in Hey! Ram, Rahman called me in to sing Shakala Baby for the movie Mudhavan and its Telugu version Okke Okkudu. The song marks a guest appearnace by Sushmita Sen. I have also sung for Rhythm, a film directed by Vasanth and also a number in Rajeev Menons Kandu Konden.
Are you planning to release an album too.
Yes, I have been signed by Magnasound for an album. Pravin and I are working on it, and it should be completed shortly.
Why did you reject the offer by producer Vashu Bhagnani to play the lead opposite Abhishek Bachchan in Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya.
I did not find the script interesting.
But you lost out on a role opposite Amitabh Bachchans son. Dont you regret it?
Not at all. It was a very sensible decision, considering I wasnt it would make a good film.
What if it becomes a hit?
Id rather not look back. See, I dont mind doing a good film even if I know it wouldnt click at the box-office. But I definitely cant do a bad film just because it has a star son in it. Dont get me wrong, I dont mean to degrade Vashu Bhagnani in any way. Dont mistake me for that at all. I am really happy, deep down in my heart that Vashu at least thought of me, even when he wasnt sure as to how my first film in going to be received by the audience. I am really grateful to him.
Have you heard of the casting couch?
Yes, I have heard of it but I swear I have never faced such a situation. But I am not a person who will tolerate nonsence. Acting is just an extention of my dreams in singing. I am not so desperate to make it in the film world that I have to sleep with some one. If at all any one rubs me the wrong way I know how to handle them.
So whats next? Have you signed any other film?
Ive nothing concrete, as yet, to talk about. But yes, my album with Magnasound is in the offing and I hope it clicks in a big way.
And Im eagerly looking forward to working with directors like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and Shyam Benegal. I just love their brand of films.