'It's my body; no one tells me how much to show'
She has appeared in films that don't have anything extraordinary to boast of other than... her.
Leave aside the few of them, may it be a nocturnal bash at the New Year's or a raunchy item number that sets the mercury rising, Mallika Sherawat always manages to grab enough eyeballs.
With substantial international appeal, Madam M even today has eyes wide open that contain an excitement to leave behind many benchmarks.
She claims to become the big Indian superwoman who is sexy, venomous and who swallows the whole. Right now, she's slithering around swiftly with that trademark banter.
In an explosive session, she sits on the hot seat only to smoulder it into flames, getting refreshingly candid about her upcoming release, Hisss, her much-speculated ride in the West, and who has been her best on-screen kisser till date.
Click next to read on.
Image: Mallika Sherawat in Hisss
'Hisss is about a snake woman who kills'
Hisss is an unusual departure from the previous films you've appeared in. How did you think of doing this film?
It's a very Indian story, with a very Indian theme. Nowadays, the films that are made are set in the US and shot extensively overseas. They connect more with the NRI audience. I was shocked since nobody in about two decades thought of a theme that was so much Bollywood!
Hisss is about a snake woman who kills -- it's full-on Indian mythology. In the very early times of Hindi cinema, there were always films based on naag and naagins. So I would like to say I'm bringing India back to India and I'm very proud of it.
Apparently, you've gone through very exhausting time during the filming.
Yes, and it highly drained me physically. The make-up alone used to take around four to five hours. Once it was done, I had to be carried to the set since the snake-tail did not allow me the comfort of walking. I was extremely dehydrated at times. I would also have to wait for long hours before I got to answer the nature's call. It was indeed a complex procedure and the film was very challenging tangibly.
Image: Mallika Sherawat
'I'm giving India its very own brand of a superwoman'
What is so special about Hisss?
Hmm, it is not a run-of-the-mill story of a snake woman, who wears flashy costumes and breaks into song-dance all of a sudden. Internationally, they have superheroes like Spiderman and Batman. I'm giving India its very own brand of a superwoman -- the Naagin, which the entire world will watch.
But let me warn you, she is very dangerous -- once bitten by her, the victim doesn't even ask for water, only prays for her mercy. She swallows the victim in entire that too, live. (Makes a wicked face) If eyebrows were raised in Murder and Khwahish, people will be bowled over by Hisss!
But aren't superheroes the one saving? On the contrary, you are seen biting random people.
No, no, no. She kills only the bad people. She's got mystical powers and she pops out from anywhere. She is fighting for the good. She is a naagin with a golden heart.
Image: Mallika Sherawat
'I had to hold this dirty snake in my hand and kiss that slippery slimy body'
Wasn't it creepy during the filming stages?
It was torturous. We were shooting in these very dense forests, somewhere in Kerala. I was supposed to crawl down raunchily in wet dirt, leeches all over me, and on top of that it was raining and my director was yelling, 'Show some passion, some hot expressions, you are the naagin'.
I had to hold this dirty snake in my hand and kiss that slippery slimy body, picture that!
But (dramatically), of all my on-screen kisses, this 'naag' has outsmarted all my co-stars. He's the best kisser till date (laughs).
What research did you do to get into the skin of the snake?
There was a lot of effort. I read extensively. I became aware that snakes are cold-blooded creatures; their vision is 180 degrees, they shed skin. Such was my research to pull it off convincingly. Overall, if you go to see, it is an out and out Bollywood film with snakes and snake charmers and women pleading for wishes to the naagin!
Image: Mallika Sherawat
'Today, all the current actresses are showing skin'
How would you define your Bollywood expedition so far?
I've been through a lot of trying times. It was not at all simple. When I first started, people asked me how I even dared to dream about becoming a Bollywood actress. It was not encouraging.
The industry is very evenly divided among camps and dynasties. So people wondered how this small-town girl can even think of carving her own foray.
Some people from the industry made fun of me. So the expedition has been neutral. Right now, it's great. It has never been better and I'm getting a lot of interesting offers.
You shifted base to Los Angeles for relatively a long time. How did it go?
Oh, it was superb. They have been really kind and warm. It was only after spending two years abroad did I realise how Indian and culturally rooted I am.
The Indians in LA would come on the sets from their hostels with jalebis and dhoklas. It truly touched me. Even the firangs there were a little perplexed. Nobody does that even for a Brad Pitt.
Does your USP lie in flaunting your sexuality?
Well, your question might've made sense had it been pitched during the Murder days, since there was a lot of speculation because of the bold and steamy sequences.
But today, all the current actresses are showing skin, donning a bikini or a swimsuit and doing kissing scenes or raunchy numbers. So it is not only me.
Yes, you may argue that I did it first. So I would take it as a compliment, being referred as a trendsetter.
Image: Mallika Sherawat
'I haven't yet bumped into anyone who would make my heart melt'
So what's your trick, Mallika?
Em, I connect heavily with the common man on a certain level. I'm independent, frank and honest. So they spend money in buying the tickets to watch my films. So after a two-year hiatus when I came back to India, there was an unexpected crowd at the airport to welcome me home.
Don't you miss the company of that special someone?
Frankly, I haven't yet bumped into anyone who would make my heart melt and make me want to retire from work and live life with him. But the quest is on, if you wish, you could advertise (laughs).
So what are your requirements?
(Laughs) See, I'm a very middle-class girl and have been brought up like that. I would see myself with a person who is very simple and morally grounded.
What are the things you are proud of?
That I've achieved so much on my own terms, my methodology and my instincts. It was only me fighting and here is the result for everyone to see. I stood by what I chose. People commented, "arrey, Mallika ne kitna expose kiya hai." But my logic was simple and unfussy. It is my body and I don't need to seek anybody's permission on how much to expose or how to flaunt. My strength lies in my honesty and straight-forwardness and that I'm a small-town girl. I believe that I'm the voice and an inspiration for small town India.
Image: Mallika Sherawat and Divya Dutta in Hisss
Hollywood is showing me a lot of love
If you were to do a period film, which character would you pick to portray?
Draupadi. She is my favourite and I believe she is the strongest of all. It's a task to manage one husband, imagine how she tackled five! (laughs)
Of all your few films, which is the one you love the most?
And the one you regret?
None, I don't believe in looking back. I believe every decision is a learning experience, the bad ones teach you more than the good ones.
Are you simultaneously pitching a career in the West?
Hollywood is showing me a lot of love. I've got a lot of awards and accolades there, including an honourary citizenship in the City Hall. I have even got the opportunity to briefly interact with ex-President Bill Clinton.
Career wise, there are great offers coming and I'm reading some very interesting scripts. See, I'm an actor and I'll act in any film that excites me, whether it is in Tamil, Korean or from Hollywood.
Image: Mallika Sherawat in Murder