Chit Chat

My father was the first person who spoke to me about sex when I was 16: Ileana D’Cruz

Ileana D’Cruz, 26, is incredibly emotional and private and does not let people in easily. She may be construed as arrogant, but is extremely sensitive. She is her own person, living her life on the values she has been brought up with. She is a free-spirited girl, who uses her aggression as her defence. Her sister was considered the prettiest in school and, thus, Ileana grew up lacking the confidence of being pretty. While films happened to her accidentally, she was happy to have fulfilled her mother’s wish of wanting to become a star. She spoke to TOI a few days ahead of her release Phata Poster Nikhla Hero about her liberal father, her determined mother and the male-dominated Telugu industry. Excerpts:

Let’s talk about your childhood?
My father worked as a mechanical draftsman at Mazagaon Docks and is a Catholic. My mum was a Muslim, so my parents broke quite a few rules to get married. So I was born in Mumbai, but when I was about 10 we shifted to Goa, as my parents bought a place there. Having grown up there, I feel I am from Goa. My mum is a rockstar and I idolise her. She was born in a conservative Muslim family, where the girls were not educated much and she was required to wear a burkha. She felt repressed, but dreamt of driving her own car, walking around in jeans and wearing sunglasses and she did it. Even though she reads the Quran and goes to the dargah, she wanted to convert to Christianity and she did. She lives life on her own terms and I love her for that. She could not speak English when she met my father and only conversed in Urdu, but she learnt it after getting married and completed her education. I remember tagging along with her for her classes, sitting on the back seat alongside her, with my sister, while she attended classes. I came to know after I became an actress that she had dreamt of becoming one herself. Once teary- eyed she told me, ‘You have made my dream come true. It is so amazing seeing my own girl become an actress.’

How did you come into films?
Films happened to me accidentally when I met Marc Robinson in a hotel in Goa, where my mum worked as a supervisor. I would often go there and the manager there would see me and tell my mom that I should try being a model.Without my knowledge, he took an appointment with Marc and I was forced to meet him even though I was incredibly shy. He advised me to get my portfolio done. At that time, my grandfather who lived in our Mumbai Mahim house, where I was born, died and so we came to Mumbai to be with my grandmother. Due to her being alone, we decided to move back to Mumbai for a few years again, during which time I got selected for a cosmetic brand ad. I was only 17 then. I then got offered to do a Telugu film Devadasu that I only agreed to do because half the film was to be shot in the US, which was great, apart from the money that I would make. I didn’t expect it to do well, but it did. I did the film robotically and did not enjoy doing films till my seventh film, when I started respecting my work.

How could you do the first six films without enjoying them?
I felt like an alien in the Telugu industry. It bothered me that they did not take me seriously. My father being an extremely liberal man, I found a lot of difference in the culture. I was brought up believing that I can do what a man can. But the fact that a woman can be put down in some culture is something I could not relate with. In the Telugu industry, it is customary for a woman to stand up in the presence of a director or a star. On my first film, this assistant director came to me hurriedly and said, ‘Stand up. Stand up!’ I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘The director is coming.’ I don’t agree with that and don’t believe in fawning over someone irrespective of who he is, be it the President of the United States or anyone else. You need to respect that person in your mind. Standing up means nothing. It bothered me that they expected me to behave in a certain fashion. It could be construed as arrogance, but actually I am my own person. I don’t like treating you differently, basis your status. There are a lot of people who hated me, but still worked with me.

In reality, are you arrogant?
I can be arrogant and nasty and can be a true-blue Scorpion. I have a lot of dignity and am my own woman, who does not dance to anyone’s tunes. Ever since I was young, I always lacked confidence. May be it was because my older sister always got the attention of the boys, whereas I was teased by my peers as a person with a big butt, so I never really felt I was pretty till I got my portfolio done. Except for my first film, I would not agree to audition and I always wanted someone else to believe in me, even though I did not believe in myself. I could not stand the thought of being rejected. I remember participating in a modelling competition at 17, when I was terribly nervous. Mehr Jessia was one of the judges. I was shaking like a leaf, when in the swimsuit round I slipped. Mehr was so sweet when she said, ‘You have lovely eyes darling.’ It made me feel so nice and I can never forget it. But it hit my self-confidence as I lost. I still get terribly conscious and am shy and, possibly, my arrogance is a cover for a not-so-confident me. Recently, I had a stressful time before shooting with Mr Bachchan for KBC. I was worried as one of the things I was expected to do was to talk in Hindi. I felt that the only person who would get me was my father. I called him and said, ‘I am really stressed and want to talk to you.’ And he said, ‘You are perfect the way you are. And if you feel like it, you can tell Mr Bachchan that if he doesn’t mind it, you would like to speak in English.’ My thing is, I don’t speak Hindi on a daily basis and so, I make terrible grammatical mistakes. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of Mr Bachchan. But Mr Bachchan told me something that blew me over. It was the first time I was meeting him and he said, ‘I became your fan after seeing Barfi.’ I was speechless and for the first time, I felt frozen not knowing what to say.

Your father seems a special person. Talk about him?
My father has given me a lot of freedom, but, at the same time, has put a lot of sense into me. I would have conversations with him that I would not have with any other man. For instance, he was the first person who spoke to me about sex when I was 16. I remember telling him, ‘How can you know which man is right for you till you are not in a full relationship?’ And, surprisingly, he would say, ‘You have to be in a relationship otherwise how would you know the man.’ He said, ‘For most men, sex is a physical thing, but it is an emotional experience for a woman and, as a woman, you should be aware of that.’ To get a man’s perspective from your dad is different. He would say, ‘You will almost not find a man who will not cheat.’ The only rose I got on Valentine’s Day was from him and I am quite like him as a person — stubborn, moody and capable of a bad temper. Like him, I have a hard exterior but am mushy inside. He keeps telling me to be careful and not to trust easily because when I do, I let the person in. I was in a very serious relationship with a co-star, who I loved and trusted, but he broke my trust several times and made me feel I was not worth it. So now, I have learnt to be careful.

You have been linked to a foreigner. Do you see yourself getting married?
As long as my parents know what is happening in my life, I am fine. I have nothing to hide from them. I have dated a co-star earlier and it did not work out at all. May be as actors, we are very self-obsessed and have a life that is too publicised. But, I don’t think I will go that route again. I think you fall in love with the idea of dating a person you are working with. But the moment you get out of that set and you see the actual person, things change. Initially, I was commitment-phobic and felt stifled in a relationship and felt that marriage is something forced upon you by society. I feel that I can have the same level of commitment without marriage and that is why I have not made my relationship official and he does not feel the need for it either. Mentally I feel safe and reassured and am no longer skeptical about getting married. I am dominating and a free spirit and know that no one can contain me.


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