Nithya Ramani in Mumbai
From working in a bank in Brazil to starring in Bollywood, model Bruna Abdullah has come a long way.
She left home seven years ago to pursue a modelling career, and two years back shifted to Mumbai to try her luck here, debuting with a sexy item number in Cash.
Now she appears in I Hate Luv Storys, which releases Friday.
The film stars Sonam Kapoor and Imran Khan in lead roles, with debut director Punit Malhotra at the helm. Bruna plays Imran's friend, and also dances to the title track.
In an extensive conversation with Nithya Ramani, Bruna talks about her life, career, passion and lots more. Excerpts:
So how did Bollywood happen? What made you come to Mumbai?
I was in the Philippines just before coming to Mumbai. I had a lot of Indian friends there who said I looked Indian and that I must try my luck in Bollywood.
I wasn't too sure but decided to give it a try. So I packed my bags and came here. I had only a three-month visa and was shown a model's apartment where I had to start from scratch.
'Just Sonam's name made life so easy for me'
How did you get your first break in Cash?
I got a lot of offers, but I wasn't too sure if I could do them. I thought I couldn't deliver dialogues properly and compete with other beautiful Indian models here. So I thought I'll take baby steps and start with dancing. That is how Cash happened.
Then suddenly Punit (Malhotra, director of I Hate Luv Storys) called up the agency asking for me. I was very excited when my coordinator told me that he is Manish Malhotra's nephew, and that he is working with Dharma productions on a movie starring Sonam Kapoor and Imran Khan. Just Sonam's name made life so easy for me because I knew her from before. So there was no tension.
So I went to meet Punit. He was the opposite of what I had imagined him to be. I was expecting someone much older. So when he introduced himself to me I was so surprised that I almost fell off my chair. He is so cool in jeans, funny t-shirts and sneakers.
He gave me a brief about the character but nothing about the film. He asked me if I was willing to do it. I agreed and he handed me a Hindi script. I was lost. I requested to do it in English first and delivered the dialogues as he wanted. He was very happy and it all seemed too good to be true. He then asked me to do the same lines in Hindi. I couldn't. I asked him for a day and rehearsed the whole night. I was there the next day doing the film.
I got a call from Sonam the next day. It felt even better to have her support.
'Most of my scenes are with Imran'
What is your role in the film?
I play Imran's friend. Punit said I had to be very funny and spontaneous. I was so nervous that my hands were trembling. I didn't know how I could be funny and crack jokes with someone I didn't know.
My character is a fun girl who knows that everybody looks at her as this flamboyant person. Personally, I'm not like that at all. I shy away from public attention. There were a lot of people screaming my name on the sets and that motivated me.
It was lot easier with Punit, because he knew what he wanted and how he wanted it. He is so sure that there is no scope for mistakes or doubts. He explained every scene so clearly to me, with a back story. I thought that was very sweet.
There's a scene where I am very angry with Jay (Imran's character), and I am supposed to show my anger through my eyes. It can be very difficult to emote with your eyes rather than with words. So Punit said 'swear and show how angry you are'. Then out of nowhere I gave the perfect shot. It was all because of Punit's patience, and I would like to thank him for that.
How was it working with Sonam and Imran?
Imran is a very quiet person. He doesn't talk to anyone unless he is spoken to. He used to talk only with Punit. Both of them pulled pranks on people on the sets. On the contrary, his fiancee (Avantika Malik) is a bomb. She is funny and talks for herself as well as for Imran. I had a great time with them on the sets. Most of my scenes are with Imran.
I didn't shoot every day like they did, because I have a smaller role. So every time I came for a shoot, I would forget what the earlier scenes were and what I was doing there. It was very sweet of Imran to be patient with me and explain things to me.
Sonam too gave me cues and always motivated me.
'I felt like an outsider on the first day of shoot'
Did you feel like an outsider at any point?
I did on my first day of shooting. My shot was with Sameer (Dattani), Sonam and Imran, and I was supposed to stand in front of them and deliver my first ever dialogue in Hindi. That was when I felt like a total outsider. I didn't know what I was doing and wondered if I wanted to do it at all. But I was committed to the project.
Everybody was very nice to me -- from the hair dresser, makeup man to the photographer. They were always so positive.
How did you learn Hindi?
It all started when I wanted to learn how to write my name in Hindi. So I learnt all the symbols -- I call them symbols and not letters -- and put them together and wrote my name.
Now I know how to speak and write in Hindi.
What about English?
There is no English in Brazil and the classes are very expensive. Like Hindi, I wanted to write my name in English and that is how I got to learn it.
Since you said Imran and Punit pulled pranks on people, what was the prank they pulled on you?
Well! There was a time when I was given a script to prepare for the next day's shoot. I learnt it very well and came on the sets. Then Punit comes and tells me that my dialogues have changed and I have to learn new dialogues within 30 minutes.
I sometimes used to take the whole day to learn a page of dialogues. I thought he was kidding and went on to put my makeup but this unfortunately wasn't a prank and I had to do it.
'Since I was from Brazil everyone automatically assumed that I knew how to dance'
Did you learn dancing for Cash?
No. Since I was from Brazil everyone automatically assumed that I knew how to dance. So not true! I love dancing, I enjoy music and I am open to learning it, but I am very shy and self-conscious. It becomes very hard for me to move on the stage with so many people looking at me. But since I was committed to it, I had to do it. I am not a professional dancer. I had two days to practice and shoot the dances. It is not an easy job, but it looked good at the end of the day.
What according to you is the mantra to succeed in Bollywood?
Though I am new here, I think it is essential to always talk to those who care for you like your parents. Always take their advice. They always have answers to your questions come what may. Just ask and you will find the answer.
Did you have any friends in the industry whom you could trust with your decision making?
I have a great agency and a manager who I trust blindly. We always discuss the pros and cons and opportunities, why I should or why I shouldn't do something, etc.
Who is your favourite Bollywood actress?
Meena Kumari. She looked oh-so-good even in those days.
Which Bollywood actors do you want to work with?
Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan.
What kind of roles do you want to do?
I want to do drama. I would love to do a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or a Cameron Diaz in My Sister's Keeper.