One-on-One with Pooja Batra

Pooja Batra rose to stardom following her crowning of Miss India in 1993. In addition to her successful Bollywood career, Batra swept her way through Hollywood starring in several leading American television series. Her latest movie, Draupadi Unleashed, tells the story of a young girl named Indira who is torn between tradition and love. She finds herself at a crossroads where she is forced to choose between true love, or duty to abide by her arranged marriage. The film beautifully portrays a lush and romantic era of a 1930’s male-dominated society in British India. The release date of Draupadi Unleashed has been delayed due to COVID-19, and is now expected to release in June 2020.

Tell us about your role in Draupadi Unleashed. What attracted you to it?

I play a character named Mohini in the film, who is Amar’s mother and Indira’s mother-in-law. What attracted me to this role was her story. She is regal, beautiful, and has an aloofness to her. Throughout the film, we learn how she shields herself from any pain in her life by inhaling opium. Even in that era, she has the ‘chutzpah’ to defy the norm.

The story revolves around a 16-year-old girl who is expected to follow through with an arranged marriage. What is your opinion on arranged marriages in India today?

What I can say about arranged marriages will be a hyperbole. There are a lot of modules through which people get introduced these days, and in a way, it has become an “arranged to meet” type of scenario. The fact that the couple has the right to say “no” in an arranged marriage is very important to me, and to a large extent, is what I am told happens these days.

The movie depicts a male dominated world of the 1930s. Do you believe this is still prevalent in India today?

I grew up in India not realizing it is a man’s world because my parents never let me feel that way. They told me if you want something, you work hard for it, and you get it. There was never a male and female equation put to it, but the reality is that it is a man’s world…run by women.

After a successful modeling career, how did you transition to acting?

When I was modeling and won Miss India, I was offered many movie roles and this transition was kind of like the next step. Modeling and acting are like chalk and cheese. Modeling is a piece of cake whereas acting is a whole different ball game.

You have worked on a number of American TV series. What was your experience like working in Hollywood?

I was lucky to have worked on some great American TV shows: Seal Team, Timeless, Lethal Weapon, and S.W.A.T. I would say what really matters is what you do in front of the camera, and obviously you have to be very good.

Over the years, there have been many talented women in film. Is there anyone in particular that you look up to and why?

There are many that I look up to. Some of them are Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Jameela Jamil, Neena Gupta, Claire Danes, Radhika Apte… so many women I admire. I like to see them perform on screen.         

Sabrina Joshi, Hollywood Correspondent