Diana Penty gets caught in the act


By Asjad Nazir

MODEL turned actor Diana Penty made a stunning debut in Bollywood hit Cocktail (2012) and then took four long years before she starred in her follow-up film Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016), despite being massively in demand. The strikingly beautiful star is hoping to make it a hat trick of hits with a her third feature, Lucknow Central, which is a prison set musical drama about inmates forming a band and ultimately trying to escape.                                                          

She plays a strong NGO worker and enjoyed the challenge of being the only female in the male dominated movie. Eastern Eye caught up with Diana via phone in Mumbai to talk about her interesting cinematic journey, Lucknow Central, movies, passions and future plans.

What are you doing right now?

Today I am sitting at home because it is pouring down with rain in Mumbai. It is completely flooded so I had something in the morning to do, but cancelled it as I didn’t want to get caught in the rain and stuck on the road. So I am sitting in my living room watching the rain. I am chilling.

You made a stunning debut in 2012. Why has someone so gorgeous and talented as you only acted in two films in five years?

It will be four very soon, Asjad. I have two releases by the end of the year. I am looking forward to that. I think it took me a while between the first and second film to find what I wanted to do next. I wanted to be double sure I did something I believed in and not just something for the heck for it. I took my time because I was in no rush and it didn’t bother me it was taking long. I kind of told myself to just keep the faith. I don’t like rushing into things, but it worked for me even though I know it’s not the conventional way to go about things. But I have no regrets. Going from the shy demure Meera in Cocktail to the crazy loud mouthed Happy was not just challenging for me, but gave me the opportunity to prove I can play different kinds of characters. It gave me the opportunity to prove myself to others and to myself as well.

You are clearly very picky, what did you like about your new film Lucknow Central?

I loved the story first of all. I loved the fact that it is based on true events. There is something inspiring about stories based on true events, especially ones that get made into films. That is what I found with this story as well. When Ranjit (Tiwari) the director narrated it to me for the first time I instantly knew I wanted to be part of this film because it was such a powerful script.

What about your role?

The character I play is completely different from the other two that I have played. So again that gave me a certain kind of variation and something different to do. I have never played an NGO worker before and she is not a loud mouth, but has a quiet strength to her. She is a very focused, determined girl who knows the difference between right and wrong and fights for right so it just gave me something different to play with. At the end of the day she is a very real and relatable character. I guess the role and script were the things that made me want to do it.

Were you not afraid you would get sidelined in a movie that is predominantly about men in prison?

(Laughs) In fact I think that worked to my advantage because first of all, I am the only woman in the film and the whole scheme of things because it is set in a men’s jail and obviously there are not going to be many women around. To play a woman in a predominantly male film, and a strong woman too, is what also made me inclined towards the role. It gave me the opportunity to be that woman who stands up for right in a male dominated world. I actually think that gave my character more strength and it’s what appealed to me actually.

Do you have a favourite moment in the movie?

There are a lot of beautiful moments in the film actually, which you will have to wait to watch. I wouldn’t want to ruin it by telling you about it before.

Did you learn anything new while doing this film?

I did, actually. I learned quite a bit on this film being surrounded by a super talented cast like Farhan Akhtar, Ronit Roy, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Inaamulhaq and everyone else. Literally every single person is fabulous. They are all great actors and I am the most junior actor in the cast. Everybody else is really experienced, so for me there was a lot to learn from all of them. I picked up a lot of small things observing them and being in the same scene. Besides that, Ranjit is a phenomenal director, who managed to bring out the best in me. Given the space and role I had to play he knew exactly what he wanted from this character because he has been with this story for very long now. He just pointed out a few things to me in terms of my performance and stuff that helped me improve myself. So overall, yes it was a great learning experience.

How is Farhan Akhtar as a leading man?

He is a thorough professional and is multi-talented. He is great as an actor, producer, writer, director, musician and singer. You name it and he is good at it. So it was a bit intimidating at the beginning because I thought I really needed to prove myself and was on set with these great actors like him and must not make any mistakes. But it wasn’t like that. Once we started shooting everyone was really good with everyone. I felt there was a lot to learn. He was extremely professional and always ready with his lines; he is a great actor and so subtle, real and naturally brings out the best in you as a co-actor. It worked beautifully.

Do you have a master plan? I am hoping there isn’t a huge gap after your forthcoming two film releases.

(Laughs) There will be no big gaps. Lucknow Central releases on September 15 and my next film Parmanu releases on December 8. I am reading a bunch of scripts so will hopefully be signing something soon.

Lucknow Central is based on real events, but if you could star in a biopic who would you love to play?

I haven’t really thought of it. There are so many! When I think of biopics I am thinking sportsperson, a RAW agent, actors, political figures, there are so many interesting ones. A biopic is a biopic, it doesn’t matter what the period or figure is.

If you could be romanced by any leading man from the east or west, who would it be?

Oh wow I haven’t thought of that one either. Honestly speaking, for me it is all about the script. So I don’t have answers for these types of questions. I read a script and then decide whether I want to be a part of this, if you know what I mean. So that is my priority.

Diana Penty made a sparkling debut in Cocktail.

What are your big passions away from work?

I love reading and spend a lot of time doing that. I like listening to music, travelling, photography and working out. I have been doing a pilates course that I take very seriously. I love walking around with my camera, usually travel photography, playing around with different settings, shooting on manual mode and that kind of thing.

What movies do you like watching yourself?

I love real movies. For some reason I enjoy watching movies that are based on true stories. Also, when I read a script like that it appeals to me for the same reason. I like thrillers and action a little bit. Rom coms are for when you are having a heavy day and want to unwind. Different genres of movies for different moods!

Have you got used to so many men being completely besotted by you?

(Laughs) I am hearing this for the first time. Really I don’t have people coming up to me saying that.

Why should we watch Lucknow Central?

Because it is a great film, a great script, made with a lot of heart and soul. It’s about hopes and dreams. It’s about no matter what situation you are in, you can always realise your hopes and dreams. You just have to keep the faith. That is one of the main reasons to watch it because it is a feelgood film.

Why do you love cinema?

It gives me the opportunity to play different characters and do things I obviously would not have the ability to do in my real life without people thinking I was a little crazy. Then you can come home and be yourself. It’s fun to play with different characters and add certain things of your own. To tell stories, entertain people, make them laugh, make them cry. It’s a great medium to reach so many people and influence them, hopefully in a positive way.