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I'm sick of my bubbly image: Preity Zinta

Associated Press

Posted: Mar 14, 2006 at 0957 hrs IST

Just as she has made it through life and death scenes on the big screen, Bollywood star Preity Zinta has survived terrifying experiences in real life, testifying against an underworld don and surviving the devastating tsunami.

Throughout it all, the 31-year-old actress has managed to keep the dimpled, chatty girl-next-door image that she rode to fame. But it has been eight years since Preity’s debut in Dil Se and now she wants to erase the image that has made her famous before her characters become caricatures.

"I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being bubbly. I'm sick of being talkative and I'm sick of being cute," said Preity, her trademark smile missing, but her dimples making a fleeting appearance.

"That image has stuck with me," she said in an interview. "I mean, you evolve, you know?"

Preity is hoping her role in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna slated for release later this year, will help her find a new public image.

The movie has drawn a lot of attention in Bollywood, largely for its star-studded cast which, along with Preity , includes some of the industry's biggest draws, such as Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee. The actors have been tight lipped about the plot, saying only that it's about relationships and marriages not being as perfect as they appear.

Preity said she plays a "very ambitious magazine editor."

Preity has a reputation for choosing roles that go against traditional mores, even if she has smiled her way through them.

She played an unwed mother in Kya Kehna in 2000. In last year's blockbuster Salaam Namaste, she played a woman who defied her family and moved in with her boyfriend before getting married.

"I always look for something interesting," she said during the interview.

Apart from her reel-life, she has also made headlines - but not the sort most actresses make.

Preity was a star witness at the 2003 trial of a movie financier, Bharat Shah, who police suspected had links to Mumbai’s underworld nexus. She testified about threats she had received from a gangster thought to be tied to Shah.

Several other movie stars who were also allegedly threatened retracted statements they gave to police, fearing retaliation from gangsters. Preity’s testimony was supposed to remain confidential, but word of it leaked and the news was splashed on front pages across the country.

Shah was eventually found guilty of withholding information about the underworld but not of being directly linked to the mob.

Preity, meanwhile, was given police protection and forced to stay out of the public eye for about two months. "My life was a living hell," she said. "I think I aged 10 years then." She never planned to be actress and stumbled into Bollywood, when a well-known filmmaker spotted her in a soap advertisement while she was studying for a postgraduate degree in criminal psychology, Preity said.

She insists the ad was just for fun. "I never thought I'd be an actor - ever," she recalls. "I had never gone to film school or done a dance class."

Instead, she's learned by trial and error while appearing in more than 20 movies. Along the way, Preity has become one of India's top actresses, but she says it was her role in the mob trial and the loss of friends during the tsunami in December 2004 that has given her a sense of perspective.

Preity was fast asleep in a beach-side villa in Thailand, when the killer waves struck and says she still remembers being awoken by the thundering noise of water smashing everything around her.

She ran and survived. Friends who had travelled with her, however, did not make it out - something she does not like to talk about.

"The people I went with were some friends I had grown up with. I'd known them all my life," she said before changing the subject without saying how many died.

"It really made me think about why everybody around me went and I didn't," Preity says, covering her eyes. Since then, Preity says she's taken life slower - for example, she only made one film last year instead of working at the breakneck pace most Bollywood stars put up with.

"I'm more grounded now. I've started doing fewer films. I've started meditating," says Preity. "I want to live my today because I may not have a tomorrow.

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