Jacqueline Fernandez’s success in Bollywood is remarkable on so many different levels.
The 30-year-old Sri Lankan-origin beauty queen-turned-actor didn’t speak the lingo when she first came into the business, wasn’t connected in any way to any of Bollywood’s acting dynasties, she wasn’t seen schmoozing with the right people or anything like that and has overcome the crippling disappointment of her first Bollywood film, ‘Aladin’, which crashed and burned spectacularly.
Fernandez is the consummate outsider.
And yet, she’s risen Phoenix-like – the most beautiful Phoenix in history – from the ashes of ‘Aladin’ to build a solid body of work and mastered her Hindi along the way.
That filmmography is an eclectic one: from the sensual psychological thriller ‘Murder 2’ through box office monsters like ‘Kick’ and romantic dramas like ‘Roy’.
Her latest, ‘Brothers’, sees the actress in a never-before-seen avatar – that of struggling mother Jenny Fernandez. It’s a startling new look for the actress gritty, emotional and sans all embellishments.
The film itself is the official re-make of the 2011 Hollywood flick ‘Warrior’, a hard-hitting drama about fathers and sons and family and stars Akshay Kumar and Sidharth Malhotra.
Divya Rao caught up with Jacqueline to find out more.
Divya Rao: This role is a total departure for you Jacqueline. Tell us a bit more about the role.
Jacqueline Fernandez: I play the role of Jenny Fernandez who is a mother to a very sick little daughter and we’re not able to pay for her treatment. So, we’re in a dilemma. It’s very difficult for us because Akshay’s character David Fernandes, feels he has to go back into the ring to make some money to be able to pay for it. I’m basically stuck between losing my husband to Mixed Martial Arts and losing my daughter. It was a very difficult role for me to play but it was worth the ride. I wasn’t always able to relate to the character that I play. Honestly, I think I had nothing that was relatable with her. How could I possibly play a mother when I had no past experience? It was difficult but what really helped was that Karan Malhotra is a fantastic director and he was able to get me in a space where it brought out a lot in me. I’m also great with kids. So, when I was working with the actress who played my daughter in the film, I was able to bond with her and get a good equation for the two of us.
DR: We’re seeing you in a non-glamorous avatar for the first time. Was it a conscious effort on your end to break away from this tag that you’ve been given of a sex symbol?
JF: Well, that did actually come with Murder 2. It’s something that I’m quite aware of because it was a very bold character. It’s funny but I have actually been part of movies where people have questioned my role a lot. When I did ‘Murder 2’, a lot of people couldn’t believe I was doing something like that. They told me that this would affect my image but I don’t think it makes a difference at all. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I mean, the beauty of my job is that I’m able to move on from a ‘Brothers’ to a ‘Flying Jat’ with Tiger, and work on ‘Dishoom’ with Varun Dhawan. In fact as an actor, you need to be able to take up these roles. It shows your range as an actor. It’s great for your portfolio. It challenges you and that’s what people love to see.
DR: Given that this is an adaptation of the Hollywood hit ‘Warrior’, was there an added pressure on the team of ‘Brothers’ to live up to the name and hype of that film?
JF: I actually haven’t seen ‘Warrior’. So, I didn’t really know what I was going to be compared to. I just feel that we’ve made an amazing film with an amazing story and we’ve tried to do our best with it. In essence, it is quite a Hindi movie. I don’t think we had any kind of pressure. At least, I didn’t feel it at my end!
DR: You’ve come a long way since your debut in 2009. It’s never easy for any actor or actress and probably even more so for someone who is not Indian.
JF: I think it’s been an amazing journey because when I first came here, there weren’t many women-centric films being made. Especially, the really commercial actresses back then weren’t delving into them and now, a lot of them are. So, that’s actually given way to a lot more films and stories based on women. That’s exactly what we had hoped for. It really opens so many doors for us. Also, there’s a new bunch of younger directors who are giving us really interesting concepts. That’s paving the way for us to experiment in terms of content and stories.
DR: Promotions play a big role today and a lot of actors find this to be taxing. How do you feel about this process?
JF: Promotions are very important. I’ve always been around to promote my movies and do what it takes to create as much awareness and hype for my movie. At the end of the day that is what it is. At the same time, I do believe that the right promotion is very, very important. You need to have a good story and great music. That really helps a lot. As an actor, you need to be able to stand by your film whether it’s taxing or not. You need to be there for it in its last few days.
DR: How do you deal with criticism?
JF: I don’t think it makes a difference to my career and I don’t think it should make a difference to one’s career if people are judging you. I think what is amazing about that though is the positive things that you can do from the criticism. If it is something that you agree on as well, you can reflect on it to see if you can improve on it. The fact that people in the beginning used to say “She can’t act” or I’m only good in certain movies or that I fit a certain stereotype. That was great for me because if people don’t tell me, how will I know where I should be improving or what it is that I’m probably doing wrong. It helps me understand what’s stopping me from becoming better at my craft. I’m glad that people are criticizing me.