I first met Jacqueline Fernandez at an awards night four years ago before Murder 2, Kick and subsequent stardom happened to the Sri Lankan beauty. Back then, she was just another pretty face trying to make it in a nepotistic (oh yes, that word again!) industry through not-so-well received films (Aladin, Jaane Kahaan Se Aayi Hai) and some item songs. I found her to be nice, warm and chatty, albeit a bit reserved.
Our next meeting was two years ago at another awards ceremony by which time Murder 2 and Kick had made her a bonafide member of the Bollywood ‘rising stars’ club. This time I found her to be even more warm and glowing with new-found confidence. There have been a few interactions ever since and the one thing that has been a constant in each of those interviews has been her friendly and utterly unpretentious, non-starry attitude – despite her steady rise to the A-listers group. Now, that’s a rarity in an industry where two-bit actors are known to develop an ego, indirectly proportionate to their box-office pull. But Jacky is different. She is herself at all times – fun, energetic and full of beans. And it’s not an act she puts on for the cameras. Ask any of the publicists or scribes or the PR teams who work with her, they will vouch for the same.
This time was no different. When we met her at the plush presidential suite at Taj Dubai, she was in an animated mood (as always!). She was in town to fulfil her commitments as investor and promoter of RAW Pressery, a cold-pressed juice brand and her date diary was full but Jacky appeared unfazed. Her mind was still on her recent holiday to Jerusalem and her experiences at the Dead Sea (“OMG, it’s amazing and surreal”) and soon we got caught up in her infectious mood, discussing what to do and how to travel!
Yes, she was the same girl I had interviewed four years ago – only a lot more fun, chirpy and successful…
Congratulations on Judwaa 2, another hit in your kitty…
Thank you! It feels great, I am over the moon! I always knew that we were on to something big when I signed the film but now that it’s become a big hit, it feels even better.
From your videos and interviews, it looks like you guys had a lot of fun. Is it different working with actors of your age like Varun Dhawan or Sidharth Malhotra?
Yes. Initially, it was daunting for me to work with a Salman (Khan) or an Akshay (Kumar) as I was so new and they were so senior. And then I started working with Tiger (Shroff) and Sidharth which was a lot more chill since they are my contemporaries. But now I am getting into Race 3 with Salman again. Even with Akshay, there is a certain bond. All of them – be it Tiger or Varun or Akshay – are so hardworking and inspiring. You want to work twice as hard because of them.
You have completed nearly eight years in Bollywood. What are the three major highlights of your career?
The first one was my first film Aladin. It was a dream to play a princess and have Amitabh Bachchan in it! Then came Murder 2, the first time I experienced a hit. The film put me on the (Bollywood) scene. Finally, there’s Kick with Salman. I’d almost say my career began then and I started getting extremely commercial films with far meatier roles than before.
Jacqueline, you are the proverbial ‘outsider’ who has made it big in Bollywood. What was that moment in life when you felt you could be a Hindi film heroine?
When I signed Aladin! Honestly, I never grew up watching Hindi films. Of course, being Sri Lankan and growing up in Bahrain, I had a lot of Indian friends but I never thought I’d get into Bollywood. However, after winning the Miss Sri Lanka title, when I came to India and started modelling, I was offered Aladin. I did find it odd because I don’t even speak Hindi. Then I realised a lot of movies are dubbed because of which shooting becomes easier and more efficient. So I decided to give it a shot. The only thing I knew right from the beginning was that I wanted to be an actress. I didn’t know how I would get there or which cinema to do. When Bollywood beckoned, it was like starting from scratch but I felt this was my chance to work at my passion. And here I am now (smiles).
What were the mistakes you made while starting out?
There were quite a few mistakes! However, I feel blessed that my mistakes were not as large or detrimental as they could have been. Of course, there were wrong choices I made in films. Also, I wish I had continued my acting classes. When I entered the industry, I became very busy with work. I felt it was more important to be constantly working. I neglected studying cinema, focusing instead, on my dance and other aspects necessary for a commercial film heroine. Now that I have rediscovered the desire, I am learning everything from movie-making to cinema of the past and techniques of acting. It’s amazing, I wished I had done that before. I have also picked up a lot from the actors I have worked with. Be it Akshay or Varun, they are so involved with every aspect of movie-making, marketing and release! These were things I had never paid attention to. But being an actor, you must know everything.
Most of your roles in the commercial space have been that of a nice, pretty girl, the hero’s girlfriend. Are you now looking for roles that would be centred around you?
Correction. I don’t think the roles are only that of the hero’s girlfriend in a commercial film (smiles). I wouldn’t brush it off like that. A heroine too has a lot of work to make the film what it is, the movie wouldn’t be what it is, without her. Many people who watch a film are curious about what the actress is contributing. Having said that, in movies like Murder 2 or Brothers, I have played different characters that have been out of my comfort zone. And when these roles come by (I admit they are rare), I do consider them seriously.
Point noted. So, you have learnt from your experiences. What would be your advice to a girl who has no connection to Bollywood but wants to be an actress?
First of all, if you want to do it, do it! Do not let your dream become just a fragment of your imagination, make it a reality. It may seem harder than it actually is. Once you are into it, it’s not hard to turn it a reality. Also, pay attention to your skills. If you are coming into the industry to become an actress, focus on the skills needed to become one. Be genuine and authentic to your career. Don’t commit to it for the wrong reason. If it’s fame or money you are after, I would advise against entering the industry.
What’s wrong in wanting fame or money? That’s the most important reason why you would want to enter the entertainment industry…
Those are the by-products of being a successful actress! And that’s the only time you will earn the respect and type of fame you want. Fame can come to anyone, for the wrong reasons too but that will make you miserable. If you get it for the right reasons, you will have a sense of pride in what you do.
So, you don’t believe that any publicity is good publicity?
Nooooo! That’s a terrible idea! I would want to be known for the right reasons. I don’t want people to talk about me in general. I want to be talked about for my work and films. That’s why I say, focus on your skill. I neglected that initially, I spent a lot of years concentrating on other things. I was lucky to get back on track because there was a genuine love for cinema.
When you decided to move to Bollywood, what advice did your mum give you and what does she say now?
My mother didn’t give me any advice then! I am grateful to my parents who allowed me to follow my heart, I owe my success to them. If they hadn’t given me the freedom, it wouldn’t have been possible. But now my mum wants me to take it easy! Yes, my job is everything to me and it gives me happiness. But I hardly get to see my parents or friends. So, my mum tells me that balance is important and she forces me to take more breaks and enjoy them and connect more with family.
You are a single girl working in a big, bad city. How do you keep the wolves at bay?
Believe in yourself. You may get swayed when you doubt yourself. A lot of times I have made that mistake myself. I didn’t have that self-belief so I have taken the silliest of advice and I realise now that I don’t need to listen to anyone. My success or failure depends on me.
What is the process of surviving Bollywood?
The right attitude. The more successful you become, the more the pressure builds up. In the beginning it was a lot of fun and games for me because there were no responsibilities or pressure on me. But over a period, the fan following grew, the demands of producers and co-actors increased and more importantly, the pressure on myself grew. So yes, you need to have the right attitude. You also need to take care of your health. A lot of people here turn to things that are not necessarily healthy to keep them going. But if you go astray, it takes a toll not just on your energy but also your mental stability. So, stay healthy, have a balanced diet, sleep well, exercise… it all seems basic and simple but helps when you are in a high-profile job.
How do you maintain relationships? You appear to be friends with everyone…no catfights, no controversies…
(Laughs out loud). Just be grateful for what you have and where you are. I am grateful for work, my fans… I love my fans and I love to be around them. What happens is that people tend to turn bitter when things don’t go well. But you need to embrace whatever the situation you are in. I always stand by the industry. I know a lot of people say friendships in Bollywood are fickle and short-lived. I don’t agree. If you have an agenda, then maybe they won’t last. But if you genuinely respect and appreciate people you work with, you can make good friends.
Now the most important question that you may not answer. Why are you still single?
I will answer! I am single because I don’t have a boyfriend (laughs).
How does one believe that a hot girl like you doesn’t have a boyfriend?
If I just showed you my diary of last week, you will understand why no one would ever want to date me! I don’t think anyone would like to be with someone who is invisible for them! It would be a one-sided relationship. You need to make it (relationship) your priority and right now my career is my priority.
We have heard that before! But hard-working girls can have fun, can’t they?
Of course, and I do have fun! I have fun on sets, on outdoor shoots (laughs)… I feel if the time is right, it would happen. But right now, if you are not looking for love, it just doesn’t show its face.
When will you start looking for love?
I don’t know! Maybe on that one vacation my mum wants me to take. Maybe it will happen then.
Do you have a type in mind?
Do I have a type? Yes, I do. I want someone who is very real and not trying too hard. And I sense that in people because I come from a world where you meet so many different people including those who have a mask. I am very sensitive to who is being genuine and who isn’t, especially when people meet celebs. For me, it would be about someone who is unfazed by it all, is real, and loves pets and travel.
So, all those juicy link-up stories that keep popping up are false?
I ignore them. I would never date my co-star. The media loves to link up actors they feel look good together and may be single…
It is part and parcel of the game, isn’t it?
It is. It tickles a lot of people and makes for good stories. But I personally wouldn’t date any of my co-stars. It’s a professional relationship and I unfortunately can only see it that way.
What’s your dream?
I don’t know… of course there are movies. Eventually I would want to take a backseat because it’s a very demanding job. On the side, I have things that keep me going. Raw Pressery is a passion project for me. It’s about healthy lifestyle and fitness and it’s something I love doing. These are things I like and I see myself heading into that direction.