An interesting journey has led Pernia Qureshi towards her hotly anticipated acting debut in big-budget film Jaanisar.
Pernia, who took up classical Indian dance as a four-year-old, soon became an accomplished performer before moving into a successful career in fashion. It resulted in the Delhi-born entrepreneur becoming a renowned stylist, designer, author and businesswoman.
Then she was asked by legendary writer/director Muzaffar Ali to play the main lead role of a courtesan in his ambitious movie Jaanisar, a period drama set in pre-independence India. It was a challenge Pernia couldn’t ignore and she is now gearing up for a new career in Bollywood.
Eastern Eye caught up with Pernia to talk about her debut film, fashion, future hopes, cinemas, inspirations and more.
You have carved out a reputation in fashion and styling. Will you be disconnecting yourself from that now your debut film as an actress is due to be released?
I haven’t been doing much styling. Fashion is an industry that I am completely involved with – I have a fashion business which I intend to keep and grow from strength to strength, to do great things with that. It’s definitely a career I don’t wish to close as I worked really hard after college to set up this business. I have a great team at work and would like to grow my business bigger and better. My company is now at a point where it needs my personal attention, which I do through internet and emails. For this, I do not have to be in an office and can manage my work even when I am travelling.
So why did you decide to sign a film?
I signed a film because somewhere I always wanted to act as I have been dancing and performing since the age of four. I had this bug to go out and show people what I can do. Dance involves acting as well, because we act through expressions (particularly in films). Muzaffar uncle showed his belief in me as he has seen my dance performances and that faith in me gave me the courage to go for films.
What can you tell us about your debut movie?
Jaanisar is a period drama set in 1877 that is directed by Muzaffar Ali and produced by Meera Ali. It is a political drama with a love story. It is an extremely relevant and a heartwarming film. It is a fictional story, but the time and place in history is real. The film will touch people’s hearts because it has got romance, beautiful songs as well as having a very strong sense of patriotism. It is a complete entertainment package and, most importantly, has a message also.
How much preparation did you do for the film?
We are now at the tail-end of the film, with just the final finishing left. In terms of preparation, I did a few workshops with Muzaffar uncle. I went to a theatre artist in Rampur to learn the appropriate dialect, since it’s Lucknowi Urdu and I speak Rampuri Urdu at home; there is a big difference. For my role [as a courtesan] in the film, I trained with Pandit Birju Maharaj and Kumudini Lakhiaji to be a kathak dancer. Although I grew up doing kathak, I have been doing kuchipudi so had to be retrained in kathak, which was tough. But I enjoy dancing, so it was a fun experience.
What has the reaction from your film fraternity friends been and have they given you advice?
My friends were a little surprised at the beginning but they know I am a dancer and a performer. They kind of understood how acting will be the next step in the process. They all were very supportive and told me if I need any help at any point, I could ask them. They gave me general advice about the industry like the environment, but nothing in particular.
What aspect of the film are you looking forward to the most?
I am looking forward to actually watching the film we are working on. When you are working on the project, it is kind of hard to imagine what the final product is going to be, so I am looking forward to seeing the finished film now that post-production is on. It is so rewar-ding to see something you have worked so hard on coming to completion. I am looking forward to seeing the audience reaction and enjoying the film with my friends and family.
Did you get involved with the styling in the film?
I wasn’t required to do any styling because Meera Ali and Muzaffar Ali are so talented as designers. They have done so much research to get the costumes really specific to the time period. Also, their sense of aesthetics is so beautiful that I really did not have to do anything. I could trust them blindly. The costumes are lovely and very elegant.
What kind of roles would you want to attempt in the future?
I think I would like to do all kinds of roles. In my opinion, it’s more important who is making the film and what the script is. I want to be a part of good projects and don’t wish to act for the sake of acting. I would like to do something if I feel I have a relevant role, if I can do justice to the film and if I feel it’s a good project that inspires or excites me.
Which leading man would you most like to star opposite in a film?
I would like to star opposite Salman Khan because I feel like if I am going to do an out-and-out Bollywood film, there is no other actor who personifies commercial Bollywood cinema like him. He has been my crush since forever, so it would be like a dream come true. Having said that, all the other actors are so talented and so good. I think it’s not really about the actors but more about the film.
Who is your acting role model?
I do not really have a role model – I know it sounds weird. I love films and I love acting. I admire a number of actors like Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet. From Bolly-wood, I like Parineeti (Chopra) and Alia Bhatt from my generation. But I do not want to really emulate anyone or be like one of them. I think it’s really important to have your own niche and find your own style (in any industry). As a dancer, I have a unique dancing style; similarly with acting, I would also like to have my own style to stand out from the others and be original.
Tell us something not many people know about you?
I am quite an open book and don’t hold any secrets. With me it is what you see is what you get. I love to eat, sleep and dance. I have a passion for fashion, which I have turned into a business. I have found a new passion for acting, which is also great. There is nothing really more to me and I feel I am really blessed to be able to do whatever I love doing.
What are your biggest non-work passions?
I have turned all my passions into work and that’s the best part about my life. I have tried to make a career and a living out of things I am passionate about, which is classical dance, fashion, styling and merchandising. I think I could not have asked for more in my life.
Which is your all-time favourite movie?
There are so many films, it’s very hard to choose. I love Umrao Jaan (not because it is directed by Muzaffar Ali). I really love the film. I took it to college and watched it 100 times. I loved Pakeezah and (the original) Devdas. Among the newer films, I love Lootera, which was very beautiful and I enjoyed Queen – I thought it was a very cute movie. I love all Sooraj Barjatya films because they are wholesome Indian family entertainment. I would love to work with Soorajji. I love so many films and can’t think of all the names right now. I am a big movie buff.
What inspires you?
What inspires me is working with people who I know can get the best out of me, working with like-minded people, passionate people whether it’s my director, dance guru or a really good designer. It’s more of having the exchange of ideas and learning from people and being in an environment which is artistic, full of knowledge and full of hope. When you are with like-minded people, you can bring out the best in yourself and them, and this really inspires me.
Finally, why do you love cinema so much?
Cinema is a place where you go for different things – it’s a place where you can laugh, let go of your reality and forget your troubles for those two-three hours. It takes you to a new place, which is nice. Cinema has inspired me to do things in my life. I love it because of fashion – it has had the best fashion moments in history and shows what the trends are. I love the music in films, when a particular scene, thought or mood is described through music. I love watching mu-sic coming to life in cinema. Movies give me so much more than just entertainment.