Jul 16, 2013

The well oiled machine that is Iced Earth

I walk into the hotel and standing there is Iced Earth. I know it’s unethical of me to try and get the exclusive interview now but the journalist in me wants to know their story. Waiting for the press conference to begin just doesn’t seem that appealing. I wonder why. I try my luck but the band is reluctant and asks me to ask their tour manager, who says I'll get ample time after the conference anyway (he’s right). 2 photographs, 1 of which was blurry, and I let them go.

Iced Earth
The questions began flowing from the guy in front. He asks his questions. I’ve done my research and I start by asking whether the line-up changes over the years have helped or destroyed the original sound. Jon Schaffer, the only remaining member from the original line-up answers: "I think it’s necessary. Surviving as a mid-level heavy metal band is difficult and there are a lot of different challenges that go on for the whole spectrum of life and business. So, it does make it challenging but everyone that’s come into the band has put their unique personality into their parts. It’s in the execution of the parts where you see the individuals at."

Luke Appleton
I am curious about their art work, which seems to reflect their use of themes to cultivate their sound. "I’m involved in every step – from the concept to every step of the way. It’s actually a time-consuming job," says Jon. Is it as important as the music, I ask. "Yes, it’s all connected – it’s very important because there’s always a theme running through ‘Iced Earth’ records at least 90 percent of the time. I like to have the whole package so that the whole thing makes sense. From the kind of tones you choose for the instruments to the tones in the art, it’s all got to fit.”

They are in Bangalore a year later than they were supposed to be and from their press release with the cancellation then, it seemed like they really wanted to experience playing here. But they’re clueless about the City. "I really didn’t know what to expect. The food’s amazing and we’re going to a temple later today. I wish we had more time to check out the Indian culture but I hear Bangalore’s a metropolitan city so I guess there’s not a lot of that," says Jon.

The sound of this band is probably defined by what it was when it began its journey in 1985. But it's been a long time since and I'm curious if the songwriting process has change. "It’s not really changed. I don’t know, it just comes. It’s really hard to describe. It’s a different process from coming out and performing. That, to me, is a complete opposite of the way my brain works. I really like to get focused when I’m writing and not have distractions around me. To come up with riffs and stuff is one thing. But arranging and building songs and all that stuff is an emotional process and there’s a lot of pressure involved that I certainly create for myself. I think that’s the way you get the best performance. We’re all under a lot of pressure this summer because we’re playing shows and getting ready to record the new album. Raphael’s come into a situation where he’s had to learn a lot of back cataloguing and the new stuff. So we’re all feeling the pressure, which is a good thing because at the end of the day, people perform the best under pressure. It really shows the test of your mettle and what you’re made of," Jon tells me.

Jon Schaffer
I am content with this answer but I pry further and question him whether the lyrics precede the melody. "The lyrics are always last for me. It’s all about the music and the melodies. We frame the lyrics to fit in. Normally, it starts with a theme – like a lot of times, we come up with a title or maybe just a riff that ends up leading to a title. But the theme starts to blow up very early in the process and sort of unfolds.”

I look down at the questions I scribbled down an hour ago. I’ve asked many of them to other bands in the past. This isn't what I want to know, I admit to myself. Are you calm or angry when you write, I prod. The band laughs and Jon says, "Am I calm or angry while writing? A little bit of both. You’ll know when you hear the parts. It depends on what particular emotion is happening at that time."

There's a point in the conference where Stu confesses that the band is always jetlagged. Does touring become rehearsal itself, I ask. "You can rehearse as much as you can until you actually start making stupid mistakes because you’ve played it so many times. And then you get on the road and it takes at least another four to five shows before things really start to lock up. But in the last tour, we did a lot of shows and in the next tour, we’ll be doing a lot of shows. It becomes like *clicks his finger*. You don’t even have to think about what you’re doing. We’re a pretty well oiled machine at this point," Jon admits, visible pride on his face.

So what's the chemistry like in the studio? Jon says, "We stay till we get it right" and Stu adds, "Especially this summer." Elaborating their summer plans, Jon adds, "We’ve been living together at this place in Germany which is kind of like a castle. We’ve been rehearsing the old and new stuff. There’s a studio there we’ll be recording. We do like 9 days and then go and do some more festivals and then come back for 9 days and then more festivals. It’s like bam, bam, bam."

Is there ever a break from the music? All the band members shake their head. Stu decided to say more than just three words this time. “This is what we eat, breathe and live. If we’re not on tour, we’re preparing for other songs or writing. There’s always something going on."

Stu Block
I'm eager to know Raphael's story. He plays the drums for three other active bands and from the looks and fact that he has not spoken yet, looks the simplest of them all. In his Italian accent, he compares the experience with Iced Earth to all the other bands he has played for. "This is totally new and high level. Working with these guys means a lot to me and I understood so many things in the last month about why they are where they are. Because they work so hard. I’ve never met anybody who works as hard as they do. Nothing can compare to this," he says.

Is there a lot of pressure on you from the band? "We put him in a corner sometimes," jokes Stu. Then I hear Raphael's voice again. "It’s challenging but I always think that life brings you challenges and can accept them or not. But if you don’t, you always stay in the same position. There’s pressure but everything’s been great so far. In the first show, we had ten minutes to set up and after that, we started in the best way pressure-wise to perform to an audience. That’s rock ‘n’ roll."

The press conference is over. I get my autograph and while passing Troy, ask him if he ever speaks. "Not really," he tells me. After some TV interview they look tortured doing, I go up to Raphael and have a little chat. Excerpts:

What does it mean for you to be a part of Iced Earth?
I know the band since I was like 14. Iced Earth was one of the first few bands that I heard right after Iron Maiden. I know pretty much all the material. But knowing the songs and playing them are very different things. I played many of the old classics like ‘Watching Over Me’ and ‘Burning Times’ when I was a kid. I played with a band and I showed them how to play these songs on stage.

Raphael Saini
Is there a lot of pressure on you taking over where Brent Smedley left off?
It wasn’t easy joining them because I had to learn many, many songs. The new album is coming and during rehearsals, we practice mostly the new stuff. I’ve been doing this as a job way before this band. So I’m kind of used to crazy situations. Actually, I’ve had situations worse than this one. For example, I’ve been called 24 hours before a tour and had to learn 11 songs in one night. That’s why I think they have me - because they knew that in such little time, I could handle it. Jon was impressed by my playing and stuff.

You feel much pressure but you’ve to find a way to keep going. If not, you just get crazy. So keep it calm and do the best. So far, everything has been great but not easy. I’m enjoying it but not 100 percent because there are so many things I’ve to learn. I want to make it perfect for the people because I know they care so much. I care about doing the best for the people. I think, who is realizing this, more than me, are my friends. They’re all ‘Wow!’ and see the pictures. For me right now, it’s different because I have to make it right. That’s the main thing. It’s not about ‘hey, it’s cool’. It’s about people enjoying it. Brent was a great drummer. He did a lot and I want people to be happy with me. Right now, we’ve been practicing so much everyday for the last month – new songs, old songs. I care about making the new album the best I ever did in my life so people will really accept me.

I smile, wish him luck and then turn to Troy. I tell him I want to know his story. This time, he's a little more forthcoming. It's probably the cigarette he’s smoking that's doing that. Excerpts:

What kind of music do you listen to outside of Iced Earth?
To me, there are only two kinds of music in the world – good and bad. And I listen to good music. I mean I’m from Indiana! It’s where bluegrass started, jazz, Wes Montgomery. I’m pretty varied style-wise as far as the music I listen to - everything from the heaviest of heavy metal to jazz to bluegrass. And in all those genres, there’s good and bad that I consider in my own personal opinion. I like music. Period. And if you feel what somebody’s doing, I don’t care what kind it is, you feel it. That’s what music’s supposed to do – move you emotionally. The guys that are really talented at that, I don’t give a shit about what they’re playing, as long as they’re doing that. Guitar-wise: bluegrass Tony Rice, David Grier, Stefan Grossman; Fingerstyle players – Doyle Dykes. Heavy metal players, there’s everybody from Neil Zaza to Vinnie Moore.

I’ll go home and grab my acoustic guitar and play a bluegrass tune. I’ll go do a blues thing. I played the KISS convention before I came here. I’m not a jazz guitarist but I do play quite a few different styles. Iced Earth’s given me a really cool vehicle to explore all kinds of different guitar ideas, sounds, tones. A lot of people don’t realize how varied you can get inside of a genre if you want to, like if you wanna sneak a bluegrass lick on a metal song. I’ve done it but I won’t tell you which one. They never found out because it’s how you play it. An A chord’s an A chord but if you play it through a huge Marshall stack at a 110 decibels and cram the fucking shit out of it, it’s metal, you know. You play it lightly and it can be a jazz chord. It’s just how you play it.

I don’t narrow it down to metal. I play in a metal band and Iced Earth is Jon Schaffer’s vision. I work within that vision and do what I do. And I get to express myself as much as I want to musically within that that fits in Jon’s vision.

What is ‘Jon’s vision’?
Iced Earth. You’ve been listening to it for the last 25 years and it’s his vision. I mean, the songs move people. I’ve seen guys holding up their father’s medals from war over ‘Watching Over Me’ and falling apart right in front of me, making me fall apart on stage. And then you’re standing on stage with the guy who wrote that and ‘A Question Of Heaven’ and ‘Dante’s Inferno’ and ‘Dystopia’ and stuff. The guy’s a fucking amazing songwriter. I can come up with guitar riffs all day long but I’m not a songwriter. He is. He can take all those little things and turn them into a magical moment. That’s the stuff that separates the men from the boys. I’m very proud to be on stage with him because he’s an amazing musician. And he knows what he wants, which I bet a lot of fucking metal musicians don’t.

Is there any scope for a solo project?
Iced Earth is my life. It’s all I want to do. I dedicate every ounce of energy I have to it. But I do have other outlets like I said.

Troy Seele
Do you have days when you look back and can’t believe the direction your life’s taken? Does this lifestyle ever get tiring?
When you don’t know it, you don’t miss it. I played my first professional gig when I was 13 years old. There used to be bar gigs and stuff and you went back home to your own bed. But this is a lot different than that. I’ve been doing this for six years now and ‘normal’ is a distant memory.

Was the transition to a ‘big band’ tough?

It’s a different level. For me, it was a harder transition because you go from playing in a bar band, which is just jamming. You make a mistake and it’s no big deal because it was in the moment. Iced Earth is precision playing, timing and it takes a lot of practice to get up there and do it exactly at the level. Transition to a big band is a lot more dedication and a lot more focus on a setlist or an album. In Iced Earth, I just do the solos on the albums so, it’s a lot of focus on that one little part. But I’ll do it till I get it right. I don’t care if it takes me one night or a week or whatever. I’ll just keep going till I’m satisfied and Jon goes ‘I’m satisfied’ and I know I’ve done my job.

The 500 word article version of this has been published in Metrolife, Deccan Herald on July 16, 2013.

Jul 12, 2013

Animals As Leaders: a unison hammer kind of bashing on the crowd's head

I waited for two hours to interview ‘Animals As Leaders’, possibly the only band in the Bangalore Open Air line up that I really wanted to check out. I even managed to sneak out to Noon Wines for a few drinks, came back and there they were. 
Matt Garstka, Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes

Here’s how the interview went down:

You’ve been out sightseeing all day. What do you think of Bangalore?
Tosin: We’ve been eating and shopping. We went to the Hare Krishna temple and chanted for a very long time and we’re just mesmerized because visually, it’s a very busy place. Sonically too. Everyone honks!

Did you find any inner peace? 
Matt: Yes, the people here are just kind, open and calm. There are not many people that are at a high frequency.

Tosin: In the US, large cities are very aggressive places. But there’s a strange sense of calmness here.

Interesting. Getting to your music, when can we expect the third album? 
Tosin: We’ve done pre-production. We were working with Diego (Farias) from Volumes and Misha Mansoor (of Periphery) We’ve completed ten songs as demos. We’re gonna book some drum sessions for late summer/early fall and just try to properly record the demos. We’ll try to have the album out by the end of the year.

Has it taken any new direction?
Tosin: I think a lot of the material’s more mellow. There’s new harmonic ideas. But it’s essentially Animals As Leaders. It’s the first Animals As Leaders album with Matt and with real drums. Sometimes, on an electronic kit, we would play parts. But primarily it was programmed. He has a distinct style too and that’s going to be added.

Matt, how’s the last year been for you since you came on board? You went from a gospel drummer to well, this?
Matt: I wouldn’t say I was a gospel drummer. I would say I was more of a fusion drummer but a lot of gospel guys get their style from fusion drummers. I was always kind of all over the place in terms of styles — I was playing the blues, rock, reggae, funk, R’n’B, Latin, jazz. I was playing metal for years since I was like, 15. So, it’s almost 10 years now. There’s no real transition period. But it’s fun to be aggressive and for that to be not only be deemed okay but encouraged.

Tosin: We keep him really busy.

Matt: the new guy on the block
Do you make a conscious effort to vary the songs? Being purely instrumental, is it more challenging without the burden of lyrics?
Tosin: It’s interesting. I’ve never made a conscious decision to steer a song in one direction before the song. It’s usually just inspired and I start playing something. But there are a lot of ideas that I don’t use. So I just try to pick the strongest ones. We were listening to Isahn’s set last night and the last song they played was very slow and very open. I realized that if I were to consciously choose to do a style, it would be something like that. We’ve never done a slow, dramatic song. That would be a conscious thing. But other that, the variation just occurs.

What’s the songwriting process like?
Tosin: It’s usually guitar-based ideas. I have three or four parts that I think work together and then we’ll put it into a recording programme like Pro Tools and then we’ll start to sequence the songs, compose the drums, that way. That’s been the way in the past two albums. It’s just the perspective of having it in the computer and allowing you to move parts around that’s really advantageous, you know. There are some things that we’ve just jammed out, like just single phrases. But to compose a full song that way on the level of composition that we’re doing doesn’t really…It’s a bit more coherent to just work inside of the computer. So that’s usually the process.

How’s it been going from a solo project to a band?
Tosin: The language can be really confusing around that because in a lot of ways because I don’t want to say it’s a solo project but my voice is probably the most prominent. I was approached to do Animals As Leaders not as a band but as a solo release. It was my idea to have musicians because I didn’t want it to be self-focussed. I wanted to include musicians who could make the sound bigger. It’s happening with Matt. It happened with Navene (Koperweis) almost not so much on drums but as much with electronic stuff and even guitar ideas. It’s been collaborative but also in a large percentage, also slightly like a solo thing.

Tosin playing the genius that it is the Ibanez TAM100 8-string guitar
Is there any chance of lyrics?
Tosin: (laughs seeing the hopeful expression on my face) I think we’re going to stay instrumental but we’ve toyed with the idea of using vocal samples. It could be cool. Maybe on the next one, I don’t know. Some sort of narrative or something.

What do you listen to individually? What kind of influences can we expect on this album? 
Tosin: I still listen to a lot of Bebop guitar players like Adam Rogers, Kurt Rosenwinkel; the Meshuggah influence is always going to be there. But I’m also listening to a lot of electronic music. Honestly, I like Siriousmo, Noisia; there’s a podcast called Neosignal with guys like Misanthrop and Phace. It’s really aggressive drum n bass.

Matt: I’ve been listening to Machinedrum, this rock group called Data, Deftones, Meshuggah. I should probably look at my phone.

Tosin: I know, I was about to do the same thing but my phone’s dead.

Does it go beyond the music or are you constantly playing/recording/listening?
Tosin: We’re very different. For me, I’ve a pretty active social life in Los Angeles. So I go out a lot and hear electronic music. There’s a party called Low End Theory. Flying Lotus has this residency and multiple times a week, I’m just hearing a DJ. I’m also into fashion and I actually like to go to flea markets and boutiques. I’m also into fitness. So, I do cross fit like five times a week. When we’re on tour, it’s 100% music. Off tour, I’m not really playing the guitar that much. I want my life to have balance.

Matt: For me, it’s like the part of the day that I look forward to. Without going and playing, it’s almost like a dark day. My life definitely reflects in my music that I come up with. I think that’s what I live for and it’s a part of me. It’s like eating. Without music everyday, I feel malnutritioned in a sense. But yeah, I like to go out and check out live performances. That’s very inspiring. I’m into fitness and eating healthy. I’m recently getting into fashion. Tosin’s helping me.

Tosin: Oh yeah? I gave him this shirt. He looks quite nice, doesn’t he? *they laugh*

*Javier walks into the interview*

Javier, how would you describe your relationship with the guitar?
Javier: I actually had an on and off relationship with the guitar. For a while, in my early 20s, I actually had a break from playing the guitar. So I spent two or three years without playing and just trying to discover the rest of my life — going back to school, working with the family business, stuff like that.

But it pulled you back?
Javier: Absolutely! Obviously! Probably when I was like 25, I started playing guitar again and it just came back to me. I felt that I was like a unique player and it just became something that I knew that I had to do. I had some people supporting the idea who were like ‘dude, you should always play guitar’.

Has it worked out well? 
I would think so. I’m in India and doing an interview, aren’t I?

Javier: the one who looks quiet but has quite a story to tell
How was Bangalore Open Air?
Javier: Last night was awesome. I was a little tired after the show.

Tosin: We messed up the performance! But the overall experience was cool. For us, the experience of playing in front of the Indian crowd was very positive. There was a lot of enthusiasm.

Did you come with any expectations?
Tosin: We have peers — Periphery, Tesseract — and they’ve all been like ‘dude, it’s crazy’. Before that, I didn’t know that there’s a metal community in India. On Facebook, we’ve been noticing a large amount of comments and stuff from Indian cities. So I kind of knew there was like some energy here for metal. But it doesn’t really prepare you for the experience of being in a large Indian city and playing.

How’s the chemistry between the three of you with Matt’s addition?
Javier: I think the chemistry’s been awesome. Having Matt in the band has kind of lit a new spark in Tosin and my creativity. We loved Navene but I think that what Matt offered for us is definitely a lot more what both of us were looking for from a drummer. I think having him in the band has definitely added a new chemistry. It’s actually fun for us to listen. We get to turn around and listen to him do some crazy thing and we’re like ‘Jesus Christ, you know’

Is it the same story in the studio?
Tosin: We haven’t done that yet. But the performance dynamic is much more organic. Whether he’s playing a part that he didn’t write or not, he has the freedom to interpret it. So that’s where we’re constantly surprised. But when we compose, it’s way more planned.

Matt: I try as much as I can to keep the integrity of the song and the feel and the phrasing. In most cases, it’s not that I’m going out on a limb. I’m actually playing closer to what they’re playing. It helps, especially live, to create more of this unison hammer kind of bashing on the crowd’s head.

Javier: For this style of music, I also think that live, you wouldn’t be able to change the leads or rhythm parts because it would become a whole new song. The leads, solos, act sometimes as the melody. People actually start memorizing them and singing along to them. With the drums, Matt has the liberty to change it up without sounding like it’s a new song.

What contribution do you think you have made to the instrumental metal sub-genre? 
Tosin: Animals As Leaders was never actually meant to be an aggressive thing. I was in a metalcore band and I wanted to make clean, intricate music that wasn’t aggressive. It was because I worked with Misha Mansoor that he started to metal-ize everything. But inadvertently, it created this synergy where the aggressive parts were balanced by the melody and texture of what used to be a non-aggressive song. I can play you demos of what the songs were before they became the final versions. It’s not metal. It sounds closer to electronic music. We’ve been responsible for, in some way, solidifying it as a genre in metal.

(At this point, the PR person comes and forces the interview to be stopped. I’ve long crossed my deadline of 10 minutes. I thank the band, check out the orange/black sari that Tosin’s bought (as a wall hanging) from their market, make them pose for the photograph and leave the hotel with the biggest grin on my face.)

The 500 word article version of this has been published in Metrolife, Deccan Herald on July 12, 2013. 

Jul 11, 2013

The Pursuit of Journalism

I was reading Narcopolis and I came across a part where the story of the opium dealer Rashid is being told and how a group of foreigners from Spain or Rome came down to Bombay to see what all the fuss was about. They took photographs of his khana and asked him questions about his life and saw where he lived and left. They had a story, one that had not yet been told. Or at least not one they had read or heard before. If you see a story, you want to tell it. That's why it's been a year or Monday meetings with at least 5-7 fresh story ideas and most have been written, published and read (perhaps). My job as a storyteller is done.

That's probably the reason why I chose journalism. I may have good stories to tell but I'm usually not good at verbalizing it. I write for myself but it doesn't come out the way I want to say it. Within the pages of a newspaper, I can share the world as I see it with the world. I was at Avenue Road this morning hunting down an obscure dosa restaurant for our eatery column. Most of my colleagues don't even bother searching for the best. But I want to find it, find out about its history and then tell people why they should go there. It could be an article with the basic details - where is it, what do you get there, for how much. But I ask the owner about the specials in the menu, how the 'hotel' was passed down from his grandfather to his father to him.

So after I was done telling the story of Hotel Vijay Vihar, I took out my camera to put the shutterbug in me at ease. There was commotion and energy and the rawness of any Calcutta market that was picked up and transported to the center of Bangalore. There was a man selling glittery blouses from a duffel bag in the corner of the road. I asked him if I could take his photograph. He let me. Someone else passed by and asked if I was 'from press?' I said I was, though this was just clicking for pleasure. It struck me then that today, that was the best possible reason for seeing a girl in a kurta standing and taking photographs at a busy market square.

To me, I had to be finding novelty in something that they saw around them everyday and be documenting it for something, even if they weren't sure what. That's the only explanation to wanting to do journalism even today. What's been reported has been reported - the wars, the freedom movements, the politics and state of affairs going from bad to worse every day.

But in today's modern context, it's a whole different history being created. The revolutions are of a different nature, the demographics of audiences at any performance different, the technology unlike the days of the printing press or a few hundred years more. It's exciting, to say the least, to be a part of this society, however messed up one might make it out to be. I had vowed to myself that the day I run out of story ideas, I'll quit. It's been one year now and I don't think that day's anywhere close.

Jul 3, 2013


I can just see you now
Walking the lonely corridors
White gown, ghostlike and yet full of life.
You exude a glow too earthly,
It fills me with joy each time.
Unlike the grainy past,
Tonight and tomorrow is clear
He is no longer beside you
And yet, he is not far.
When you cannot but remember him
You will have me to hold.
I can just see you now,

You’re dancing with the wind.

Jul 2, 2013

Interview: Vidya Balan

Photo by B H Shivakumar
She’s been known to be true to her art, putting on weight for some films, wearing hideous clothes in others. But it’s that devil-may-care attitude that makes Vidya Balan stand out in the sea of Bollywood actresses today. She tells Metrolife about her upcoming film Ghanchakkar, her love for Bangalore and married life.

As can be seen from the trailers, Vidya is playing Emraan Hashmi’s over-the-top, funnily dressed Punjabi wife in the movie. “I’m not too much like my character Neetu Bhatia except in the sense that she’s very happy being who she is. She’s bizarre, gregarious and vivacious. Her take on modernity is the clothes that she sees in fashion magazines and eating roti with a fork. But she doesn’t know or care that people find her funny or outlandish. That’s my point of identification with her,” says Vidya.

After ‘No One Killed Jessica’ in 2008, this is her second film with director Rajkumar Gupta. Comparing the experiences, she states, “He’s one of those directors who will go down in history as someone who did groundbreaking work with every film that he made. I have a sense that whenever he does a comedy, it will be fantastic. There was a scene in ‘No One…’ where my character Sabrina bursts out laughing in court. It was such an unexpected moment but that made me realise that there was some comedy waiting to come out.”

Though her look in the film has been a topic of discussion, she confesses that she signed the film partly because of the challenge it presented. “Raj came to me after ‘The Dirty Picture’ and told me not to lose weight that I had put on. He said he wasn’t going to shoot me like a heroine, that the clothes may not be flattering. But he explained that this was only because Neetu was a real person. If ‘The Dirty Picture’ challenged my vanity, Ghanchakkar has destroyed my vanity,” she laughs, adding, “it isn’t me at all, but that’s the fun and joy of it. When I can’t recognise the woman on screen, it’s another high!”

Is she a natural at playing the role of a wife in real life too? She grins and replies, “Yes, married life is treating me very well. Ghanchakkar is Siddharth’s (Roy Kapur) and my first film together after marriage and so, it’s even more special for us. But he and I don’t discuss the film at all.”

She’s no stranger to the City and has, over time, accumulated fond memories of the gardens and restaurants here. “I have lovely memories of Bangalore. My sister used to live in Cox Town and I used to come down at any given opportunity. It’s just so airy, bright and cheerful,” she says, recalling how she used to have coffee at Indian Coffee House for only Rs 4.'

(The interview was published in Metrolife, Deccan Herald on June 29, 2013)

Full text:

What was your point of identification with Neetu Bhatia? How did you adapt to the character?
"You invariably find that point of identification with any character. That one strain is very important. I don’t think I’m a lot like Neetu Bhatia except in the sense that she’s very happy being who she is and I think that was my point of identification with her. The moment I began to accept myself the way I was, I became a happier person. She’s not just over-the-top, she’s bizarre, gregarious, vibrant, vivacious – all of that but obviously she wants to be modern and her take on modernity is clothes and eating roti with a fork. She does that and thinks she’s the cat’s whiskers. She doesn’t know or care that people find her funny or outlandish. Just the fact that she doesn’t care what people think of her was my point of identification. 

What are the considerations for picking a film?
It’s a combination of a whole lot of things. I’ve to instinctively connect. I always ask myself whether this is a film I want to watch on screen, if it’s a story I want to tell as that character because sometimes, I like the other characters more but you know it’s not for you. The rapport with the director, the studio backing it also matter a lot.

How does it feel working with Rajkumar Gupta again?
Incredible. He’s one of those directors, if I may say so, who will go down in history as someone who did groundbreaking work with every film that he did; someone who pushed the envelope with every film. Whether it’s an Aamir or No One Killer Jessica or Ghanchakkar, they’re all extremely different from each other. Having made the first two, I know that the suspense thriller is his genre. But in this, he’s combined it with comedy. I had a sense that whenever he does a comedy, it’ll be fantastic because there was this one scene in NOKJ because Sabrina, my character, bursts out laughing in court. It was such an unexpected moment but that made me knew that there was something waiting to come out.

There were reports that you gave some of your own belongings to the sets to make it homely?
No way! My Mom would kill me. They dressed up the house as very loud and my house is nothing like that. From my travels, people gift us things and those were lying around and some of those came handy. There’s no bling element to my house at all but some of these crystaly photo frames and things in silver that I had and don’t use were lent, or gifted to the Ghankchakkar sets. Also, because Rajkumar allowed me to visit the sets in advance and I gave some suggestions which they found valid and incorporated.

Compare the two experiences of working with Rajkumar.
It’s interesting that the same director who cast me as Sabrina wanted me to play Neetu. They’re like the North and South pole. As little as I spoke in No One, that much more in this film.  Even in terms of the colours; Sabrina was so stayed, as Plain Jane as Plain Jane gets. And this is a woman who is dressed like a Christmas tree most of the time. I’ve realised that his humour and drama are derived from real situations, real people and that’s what I find most exciting. When he came to me with this, he said she’s a real person, someone who doesn’t know much about fashion but who goes by what she sees in fashion magazines. After The Dirty Picture, when I gained weight, I’d just started exercising to get rid of the weight. But he came to me and said, if you hadn’t put on weight for this film, I’d have asked you to put it on. Don’t lose it. He said he’s not going to shoot me like a heroine, that the clothes may not be flattering. Because it is a real person. If The Dirty Picture challenged my vanity, I think this film has destroyed it. But I’ve enjoyed playing her. I saw the film a week ago and I understand now more than ever why he made me do what he did. I see a completely different person, which is so interesting. Initially, my costume designer had a problem because she did my costumes in Parineeta and said, how can I do this to you? But Raj said you’re not doing that to Vidya, you’re dressing up Neetu. There are fur nightsuits, which aren’t flattering. Some of the prints are too much. It isn’t me at all, but that’s the fun and joy of it. When I see that people and don’t recognize her. It’s another high.

On Bangalore:
I love Bangalore. My sister used to live here in Cox Town and I used to come here in any given opportunity. I have lovely memories and there’s good weather through the year! It’s beautiful to just drive by. We used to have coffee at Indian Coffee House for four bucks. It’s just so airy and bright and cheerful.

How's married life treating you?
Married life is treating me very well. This is our first film together after married life and so it’s even more special for us. But he and I don’t discuss Ghanchakkar at all. He was asked whether Vidya’s anything like Neetu and he replied, ‘definitely not her dressing’. But I think he likes it.