Adult-rated in Bollywood

Sayoni Sinha
24 FPS

'Hate Story' sensation Paoli Dam talks about her debut film and the storm her promos have created

For someone who is making her Bollywood debut, Bengali sensation Paoli Dam comes across as very confident. While the promos of 'Hate Story' had the whole nation girding its loins, Paoli is very non-committal about the whole controversy. "Once you watch the film, you will realize it is not just skin show. There are layers and dimensions to the character," she retorts, a bit flustered. This defensive demeanor perhaps has something to with the recent court diktat in her hometown Kolkata where all her bare-back posters have been covered with blue ink since they were 'indecent' and 'offensive'. Though love making may be just that in Hollywood but in conservative India, a silver-screen 'lip lock' is enough to spark a riot. The controversy such films have caused reflects the existence of two India's — one at the heart of a sexual revolution and other which takes a moralistic stance to such acts in public.

Paoli is no stranger to nudity or to the controversies it attracts. The actress had to bear severe criticism for her explicit scene in the 2011 Bengali film 'Chatrak'. According to various reports, it was her bold act in Chatrak' that caught producer Vikram Bhatt's attention and he called her for auditions. "I got a call from Vikram on first April last year and almost hung up thinking it as April fool's joke. But I am happy that I got to portray such a powerful character in my first film," says Paoli.

Though a known face in the Bengali film industry, it took some time for the actress to get the role she wanted in Bollywood. She got a few offers from the tinsel town but nothing worked out to her advantage. "I have never planned for anything in life. Even when I first stood in front of the camera, it was just by chance," says the actress who has a post graduate degree in Chemistry from Rajabazaar Science College in Kolkata. While doing her graduation, Paoli got an offer to model for an ad which soon paved her way to Bengali TV serials.  She was noticed by eminent director Gautam Ghose who offered her a film. "I have learnt a lot from my directors. I have worked with the best directors in Bengal- from Gautam Ghose, Rituporno Ghosh, Bappaditya Bandopadhayay to name a few. No two directors have the same style of working and each team you something different," she points out.

While Hate Story is being touted as the boldest film ever made by the makers and has been in news from its explicit scenes, Paoli is quick to clear that the film is much more than just the intimate scenes. "Let me clear out that there is no nudity in the film. It is an erotic thriller about a woman who uses her body and turns it from weakness to her strength. It is about how Kaavya (her character in Hate Story' uses her sexuality to destroy the man who destroyed her."

So how did she react when she saw her bare-back poster? "I loved it. I have worked very hard for it. I worked out thrice a day and gave up on all joys of life (read food) and being a bong who lives to eat, it was a big deal. I am glad that my hard work has paid off finally," she signs off.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

What inspired you to take up 'Hate Story'?
I have done a couple of films in Bengal. I got a call from Vikram Bhatt and came to Mumbai to meet him. Everyone aspires to be a part of a main Bollywood film and play such a challenging role.

Normally, debutants choose a safe genre like romance or action. Why did you walk off the beaten path?
I have got a couple of offers earlier but nothing worked out to my advantage. I didn't plan my debut in Bollywood; infact I haven't planned for anything in life. Even when I first stood in front of the camera, it was by chance. Everyone wishes for a grand Bollywood debut and getting a woman-oriented role is just a blessing. I couldn't have asked for more.

How did you get into the skin of the character?

I came to Mumbai three months before the shooting started. Apart from Vikram (Bhatt), I didn't know anyone in Mumbai. I met my co-stars and interacted with them in the script reading sessions and workshops that followed. So even before the film shoot started, I was quite comfortable with them. I started working out thrice a day and lost almost ten kilos.

The promos look quite sensational, were you worried about that tarnishing your image?

Once you watch the film, you will realize that it is just not about skin show. There are many layers and dimensions to the character. This is not the first time that an intimate scene has been shot in Bollywood. Without sounding very clichéd, I would say that the scenes were necessary to take the story forward as it shows the emotional journey of the character. And it was all because of Vivek (Agnihotri) that I managed to pull of this role. Kaavya wouldn't have been possible without him. Before filming a scene, we would sit and discuss how to approach it. That helped in bringing the character to life.

Do you think that the Indian audience has evolved enough to embrace nudity?
Let me inform you that there is no nudity in the film, it is just hype. 'Hate Story' is a tale of a woman who turns her greatest weakness-her body to her strength. A woman is always conscious of her body and is always scared of being physically assaulted. She is mostly scared to step out after dark. But when you take away all emotional aspects from her, she will lose her fear too. Kaavya is one such woman who loses everything, even her mother and that's when she uses her sexuality for revenge.