Scrolling through her Instagram posts, as we wait to hear from the very photogenic actress, one cannot help but notice her lively profile that mirrors glimpses of her projects across different film industries. A perfect marriage between seduction and innocence, the down-to-earth and hard-working Pooja Hegde (PH) feels grateful to her fans as she opens up to Shruti Sharma for Wedding Affair (WA) through some happy notes and a sweet voice.
WA: On your Instagram, you seem like a happy, positive ‘Panda’ who loves to eat, travel, smile, pose and care for the causes close to her heart. Our readers would like to know who the real Pooja is and what is her mantra in life?
PH: Whatever I upload on Instagram, is what I am in real life. I consciously made this decision to put out stuff that is real and not get into the trap of being fake. I feel that when people know who you really are and when you’re truer to yourself, the more people fall in love with you. And if someone loves me for who I am, then there’s nothing greater than that. Of course, there are days when I need to recharge myself and am not active on Instagram. I prefer to fight negativity. I don’t want to be just another person spreading it. I look at most negative things in a positive way and that is what my Instagram speaks of. Otherwise, yes, I love to travel, I am a panda (smiles), I love to eat and I love to spread love. Even when I am really upset, I just try to brush it off and smile. I am a happy person.
WA: You made your acting debut with Mysskin’s directorial ‘Mugamoodi’. Can you make us a part of the journey of how you bagged the role?
PH: I was getting a lot of film offers from South (film industries) after the Miss India pageant, and then this Tamil film (Mugamoodi) came and the director wanted me to be a part of the project. I was modelling at that time, a bit apprehensive if I could act. Neither had I attempted it before nor attended any acting class or a film school. But my mother convinced me. She said, “Until you are a part of it, you will never know if you like it or not. If you look at the sunny side of it, most people pay to learn acting, whereas you will be getting paid for your first acting stint.” That is how I got my first movie.
WA: You have also worked in Tamil and Telugu industries. Did the thought of working in a language alien to you ever deter you from signing a project?
PH: It’s a different ball game shooting for Telugu or Tamil films because these are not the languages I speak. A Telugu-speaking girl will have different mannerisms for the same lines as compared to a Hindi-speaking girl. You have to understand the place you’re working in, the character you’re going to play and act accordingly. Of course, the entire process is very tough. I get my dialogues, understand them, and then I record the assistant director saying the dialogues. I listen to that recording a couple of times so that the words with their correct pronunciation start to roll out easier from my mouth. Today, I have reached a stage where I dub in Telugu. It’s motivating when people perceive that someone else dubs for my Telugu films. It has only been possible due to my hard work. If you lack a skill, compensate by working hard. I have always believed that the world belongs to hard-working people rather than the bookish-smart ones. I am grateful to the Telugu audience for having accepted me and I think it is their love that makes one a bigger person.
WA: You have worked with Hrithik Roshan, Allu Arjun and also in the multi-starrer ‘Housefull 4’ with Akshay Kumar; each having their own unique style. What did you observe in or learn from your co-stars?
PH: All of them do have a very unique style of working. Akshay (Kumar) sir has a very fun vibe. Hrithik has a very methodical approach with his characters and it is very inspiring to see how seriously he takes every single role he does. You have to take the best from each person you are working with and see what suits your personal working style. You have to adapt and learn. Whenever I work with some established name, I try to absorb what I admire in them and apply that to my life and working style. So learning is a never-ending process.
WA: Digital platforms have blurred the boundaries between regional and mainstream cinema. Do you think we need to make stories that cater to the audience globally?
PH: Films should only be made to tell a story. Whether it connects with people across the world is a secondary thing. If the story is powerful enough and strikes a chord with the audience, it will be successful globally, irrespective of the primary audience base. If the film is being made purely for commercial purposes, it won’t turn out that well.
WA: One myth that you wish to break about the Telugu film industry.
PH: One myth is that it is a regional film industry. I don’t agree with that anymore. Our content has gone pan India and people of non-Telugu descent too watch our films. I think we have a global audience now.
WA: What entices you to choose a movie? Any check-list or must-haves on your mind?
PH: There are multiple factors. Mostly, it is the character. Will I be playing something new? Is it going to be fun and challenging for me? Sometimes we want to work with a particular director. At times you have faith in the script, even though your role may be small. I have been very picky with all my projects. I never do a film just for the sake of it.
WA: Actors or people associated with cinema are the trendsetters and influencers. To what extent is it the responsibility of cinema or a protagonist to produce socially relevant/conscious content, in shaping the youth or society?
PH: As we have a following, we ought to have greater responsibility. It could be as simple as driving a car with the seat belt on even if it ruins the outfit. I don’t want to portray an impression that it is okay not to wear a seat belt while driving. I am someone who is very particular about it in my own way. I always tell my director if some dialogue or a scene is bothering me. A lot of people watch us for what we do or how we behave; they get influenced and emulate. So, we should take our social responsibilities very seriously.
WA: You have worked in a period drama ‘Mohenjo Daro’ so early in your career. Not many actors have attempted the unconventional, period-film genre as their first. How did the role approach you?
PH: They (filmmakers) saw my work in an advertisement and called me up for the role. Many actors spend their entire career waiting for one period film. I am fortunate in having received that opportunity in my first Hindi film and then another film (Housefull 4); which is a period comedy. I am blessed.
WA: Your upcoming movie, ‘Ala Vaikunthapurramloo’ opposite Allu Arjun is slated to release January next year. Your fans would love to know more about the movie and how different is it from your other projects?
PH: This is a comedy film, a genre that I have never tried before in Telugu. It is going to be a fun film, one that needs to be enjoyed with a big bucket of popcorn. A light-hearted comedy with a message. I am going to play Allu Arjun’s boss, so you are going to see me in a new avatar.
WA: What would be the qualities of your life-partner?
PH: He has to be kind, caring, respectful and must have a positive outlook.
WA: What would be your dream wedding like?
PH: My dream wedding would be intimate with just close friends and family in attendance, in a beautiful location — away from the buzz, hustle and bustle of our daily lives.
WA: A piece of advice, an industry insider gave you that helped you overcome a situation or helped you in general.
PH: Someone once told me to just have patience as an actor. You will realise that when you are an actor, you spend most of your time waiting. Whether it is on set or between shots. One can maximise and utilise that time.
De-Stress Activity: Watching T.V.
Favourite Fragrance: Hermès Elixir des Merveilles
Favourite Shopping Destination: London
Lesser-Known Fact: My parents and I were born and brought up in Mumbai. Whereas people think that I moved to Mumbai from someplace in the South India.
Favourite Series: Friends
Favourite Co-Stars: Hrithik Roshan, Allu Arjun and Prabhas.
Best Childhood Memory: I could sleep so much.
First Crush: Hrithik Roshan
Favourite Song: Beautiful People by Ed Sheeran
A Fashion Trend That Indians Must Stop Pursuing: Drapes on menswear.
Buddy From The Industry: None. You are out there on your own.