If an actor’s 50th film marks her foray into Bollywood, then the interviewer should probably steer clear of questions involving the actor’s ‘confidence’. Raai Laxmi — Bollywood debutante and South film industry veteran — certainly has a lot of it, and is confident about making an impact with her upcoming film Julie 2. When we meet up to chat about her film, a torrential downpour rages outside, but Raai Laxmi — a Mumbai resident for the past 10 years — is calm and comfortably ensconced on a settee, sipping a cup of chai.
Why did she choose to make Mumbai her base, despite being a popular star down South? “I lived in Chennai for about three years and when the studios took over, we started shooting elsewhere. It made no sense (to stay put in Chennai) and the locations were so far from my home that I normally had to take two flights to get there. It was easy for me to work with Mumbai as base. It’s been more than 10 years and now I consider airports and flights as my first home,” says Raai, laughing.
In the initial years of her career, Raai was credited as ‘Lakshmi Rai’. It is only recently that she adopted the name we now know her by. “I changed from Lakshmi Rai to Raai Laxmi some three years ago; there was no trigger for it. It was my father who forced me to change my name. He didn’t have any explanation for it, he just said that the change would be good for me. And it has worked well for me!”
Not many know that in 2006, Raai was approached by Yash Raj Films for a role in Chak De India. Raai was finalised for a part, but things didn’t fall into place at the contractual level. Raao too got busy with Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil cinema, shooting (in the initial phases of her career) as many as six films a year. “When big opportunities knock on your door, you definitely want to show your presence. In the past there have been three attempts to ‘introduce’ me. While dates didn’t work out in a few cases, it was a contract issue in some others. There were also clashes of opinions with a few producers,” she explains.
Down South, Raai has worked with all the top stars of the day. Why debut with Julie 2 in Bollywood ten, instead of a project opposite an A-lister/one supported by a big banner? “Bollywood, to me, is a new industry and I have no idea how it operates. I come from a different school of thought and wonder if it’s the same here. We don’t chase people and I would have been happy to accept a film from a big banner or with a known star. It’s just that the Khans do one film in a year and Akshay does three films with a long queue of producers behind him. Also it’s a rare thing that you get to see a fresh face in the films of such stars.”
One of the dampeners during the Julie 2 promotion press interactions have been questions related to MS Dhoni, with whom Raai was once in a relationship. For Raai, it’s in the past and the questions about Dhoni seem to visibly annoy her. “It is annoying,” she says. “I feel like banging my head against a wall. People start judging you and imagine that you’re doing this for publicity. I have my own identity, and if I’ve not been talking about (the relationship), then why are people asking me about it?”
When faced with a couple of persistent questions about Dhoni at a press conference for Julie 2, Raai responded with, “Who is he?” She tells us that the constant questions are in a sense, ‘forcing (her) to not acknowledge him’. “When you say something, it becomes a headline. When you don’t say anything, it becomes a headline,” she says, wryly, adding, “Maybe I shouldn’t date someone famous, only to bring an end to these questions.”
Perhaps after Julie 2‘s release, the focus will shift to other talking points when it comes to Raai Laxmi.