Bollywood superstar Preity Zinta received an honorary doctorate from the University of East London (UEL) on Thursday. The 35-year-old actress and social activist has been recognised by the university for her humanitarian work, as well as contribution to world cinema. The outspoken supporter of women’s rights and AIDS awareness spoke to Steven Baker about what the award means to her, the importance of education, and her upcoming film projects.
What is your reaction to receiving an Honorary Doctorate?
You have turned down doctorates in the past...
When I was told that I was going to get this doctorate I wanted to know why, and for what reason. I was told it was for other things besides film and I thought that this was honour, and I did not feel that I deserved it just for films. It is not that I left my education half way. I studied, and I know the effort it takes to get something like this. You have to study for a couple of years, you have to make that effort and then you can achieve it. So at that point in my life I felt that just because I am doing a film or giving a performance I did not really feel that I deserved it.
What advice or message would you want to give to students?
I think the message, or rather, the two messages I would like to give to all the students is: Make use of your time here because this is probably the best time of your life, these are the building years of your life, and what you do here is going to determine how well you do or where you end up in life. And two, because it is so multi-cultural and diverse here, I would like to tell everyone that people blend better than governments, so we are all global citizens, we are all citizens of this planet. I don't think we should think about our respective religions or cultures, we should bring the best of all the world together and live happily.
How have you used your own education (a Masters in Criminal Psychology) in the field of cinema?
I think I learnt the art of breaking down characters and doing a background to the character: their early childhood, their present scenario and what their aspirations were – and I could break that down and use it my scenes. Everybody used to ask me what I was doing because on my script i would actually have two pages of a character sketch, and based on that I would sometimes work on my body language. Or if I knew I was lying in a scene, the way that you move your hands and touch your nose and get a little fidgety. Little things like that. But more than anything else I think it helped me in keeping my character realistic. Having said that, I don't want to take all the credit, I have worked with some amazing directors and co-stars who always help me in doing what I am doing.
Was it difficult to continue your education once you entered Bollywood?
When I had to take my final papers for Criminal Psychology I was shooting for a movie called Soldier and I left the set standing for ten days in Rajasthan. I remember telling my producer I will only do the movie if you let me go back to take my exams for Criminal Psychology. Later when I was filming in Rajasthan I said that I have my exams, and they said: 'You have become an actress'. But I said that I had to do my exams. I know the hard work that goes into studying and I really appreciate the fact that UEL have honoured me.
Apart from cameos in Main Aurr Mrs Khanna and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi we haven't seen you on the big screen for a while. When are you back with a new project?
2011. I will be back with a lot of movies. I was planning to start a film a month or two ago, but certain things went upside down in my life so things have been put back. But it is only movie, movies and movies for me. I feel really humbled because I decided to go on Twitter, and all of my fans on Twitter say one thing consistently every single day, and that is: 'When are you coming back in movies?' I didn't even think people missed me that much. So I am really excited and I am coming back with some really fun things.
Are you coming back with a commercial Yash Chopra type film or something art-house like The Last Lear?
No. Just commercial.
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