If there’s one thing that stands out about Zareen Khan besides her strikingly beautiful looks, it’s her fearless approach to life! Ravishing and bold, she’s our Digital Cover Star for February. And in an exclusive chat with Aakanksha Naval-Shetye, the actress gets candid about living life on her own terms whether its making professional choices or personal ones. The stunner also talks about all things, heart, love and marriage. Excerpts:
How do you look back at the time since you made your Bollywood debut with Veer?
It’s definitely been a roller-coaster ride. When I became a part of this industry with Veer, I was a completely lost child, did not know how to go about it, did not really know anybody from the industry. Like even attending these film bashes, it was a very intimidating atmosphere for me in the beginning, because I did not know how to go about it. Like for someone who’s aspired to be an actress, they would know who to talk to or what to talk, they would make an attempt, but I did not do any of this because I genuinely did not know these people. Somehow people mistook it for arrogance. So yes, it’s been a real roller coaster ride, every day has been like a learning experience. Veer released in 2010 and now we are in 2022, so it’s been more than a decade, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here that long, and I would say that I’m still learning.
He’s (Salman Khan) set me on a path but I have to navigate it on my own. And I do that, make mistakes, learn and move on.
What is the one lesson you have learnt that you hold most dear?
The one most important thing I have learnt is that one should never take anything to heart in this industry, because everything here is temporary. Success, failure… nothing is permanent. Also rejections are a part of it and one should never really get bogged down by it. What you should have is a strong will-power to work on yourself, whatever reasons you have been rejected for, work on those, take that positively, but don’t let them get to you. Sometimes of course there’s no real reason for a rejection, but even then just take it in your stride, the good, the bad, the ugly. Have faith in your hard work and keep going. That’s how I have survived in this industry. I don’t have a Godfather guiding me in the industry, I was a lost child when I started, I sometimes still feel lost, but I am going on as I have faith in myself and I trust in my never-give-up spirit.
But the industry and people always believed that you were being supported by Salman Khan?
Well yes, Salman is definitely the one who made me a part of this industry and if it was not for him, I don’t think I would have ever given a thought of being an actress in Bollywood. Because I never saw myself as an actress, I was a Tom-boy all my life, still am, but it’s kind of suppressed now that I am a Bollywood actress, and all of that (laughs). Like I see my colleagues who are always prim and proper with their hair and nails and all dressed up all the time and I need efforts for it. I am more like a ganji and trackpants kind of a person with my hair all over the place. So I never saw myself as an actress ever, but it’s thanks to Salman, I don’t know what he saw in me and he thought I could be a part of this industry, so yes it’s all thanks to him that I am a part of Bollywood today and I’ll always be thankful to him for it. It’s because of him that I got an entry in this industry, but that’s about it. He got me in, but it’s not like he’s there all throughout or that I will be piggy-backing him. I know if I need or if I am stuck he is the one I can reach out to, and he’s just a call away, but it’s not like we talk daily or he helps me make my choices every day. He’s set me on a path but I have to navigate it on my own. And I do that, make mistakes, learn and move on.
“I will never put myself in an uncomfortable situation just to get work. I’m not anti-social but I can’t do that fake laugh and small talk either. I can’t be pretentious.”
Are there any regrets about your choices of films?
Yes, but all that’s a part of the process and there are no regrets ever. No one ever wants to be a part of a film that won’t work at the Box Office, no one can predict that about a film. But that’s why it’s also a great leveler and a learning curve. Especially when you are on your own, these things are bound to happen and these things are necessary to happen because only then will you understand what you want and most importantly what you don’t want in your life or how you want to go about your career.
So what are the kind of roles you are looking forward to?
Well I really love comedy, like I did Housefull 2, but it was an ensemble cast and I did not get to do an out-and-out comedy. I would love to do that and I would love to do an action flick like a Charlie’s Angels. I really want to experiment.
You do have a knack for actioners?
Yes that comes more naturally to me than romance does (laughs). It’s just so sad that people are so prejudiced about the roles, the filmmakers who cast you don’t see you beyond being a face. I can’t go around convincing people otherwise! The face is God’s gift, but I can do more than look good on camera, because I am much more than a pretty face and I want people to know that. I really want to do all that action – jump walls, climb gates… I’m more natural with that. In fact when I was doing a travel show in 2019, my whole crew was stunned with what I was doing because they expected me to be fussy, and demanding and complaining. But I was okay with being in this guerilla kind of a shoot environment.
Have you considered turning a producer?
Yes, that is in the plan, in fact, if we hadn’t gone into the lockdown, that aspect of me would have already been activated. But yes, I am giving that a thought. When I confirm you’ll be the first one to hear.
What would we catch you doing when not shooting?
On a regular day, I love working out and my weight training, I love spending time with my family – my mother and younger sister – very few friends who’ve been with me from school or college. I don’t really have a lot of friends in the industry, and the thing I love doing is travelling – so yeah a road trip! So I was thrilled when I got to do a travel show, now that was a dream!
You said you do not have many friends in the industry, you think you ever lose out on projects because of that?
Yes, I think that did happen in the beginning. I honestly did not know this is how it works. Like going to a party is a mandate, not a choice sometimes. But at that time I did not know that the partying is networking. And now after 10 years when I have realized it, it will look too forced, so I still avoid when I can (laughs). I go only when I feel comfortable. I will never put myself in an uncomfortable situation just to get work. I’m not anti-social but I can’t do that fake laugh and small talk either. I can’t be pretentious.
Never give a thought a thought. That’s how I live.
You’re known to be bold and fearless whether it’s taking on trolls or eve-teasers…
Somehow call it a defect, but I don’t think before saying what I want to. In the industry that backfires a lot, but for me, it is what it is. I’ll just face the consequences later (laughs). And I never regret it. If it’s come out of my mouth that means it was a thought. Never give a thought a thought. That’s how I live.
I finished my horror comedy Patalpani which is a web original. Then there’s a Punjabi film and a Hindi film that I will be shooting for in London, so yes. Then there’s another web- series. Plus a lot more, but I’ll talk about them when its time.
What makes you say a yes to a project?
I have a vivid imagination. And I picture it not like an actress, but as an audience, if I like what I see, I take it up. So script is the hero really.
How does your family deal with rumours about you?
I’m very close to my mom. She is very supportive and she is actually my best friend, so I don’t feel the need to hide anything from her and that has been since my teen years, like from discussing my crushes to heartbreaks she knows it all. I confide all in her. For me she’s the only one who matters and I don’t care what anyone says or thinks about me.
So growing up, who’ve been your crushes? How is it being in the same industry as them?
They all are married so let’s not even talk about them (laughs). I come from a non-filmi background, so even though they are colleagues, that little excitement is still there. Like I had the hugest crush on Fardeen Khan. And then there was Hrithik Roshan, I was caught carrying his pictures in school. And recently I was doing a show in Turkey and Hrithik was a part of that, so a little skip moment happened. When I have a crush, I do get a little dumbstruck! (laughs). Like I’m a chatty person, but around a crush I just become so stiff that I’d come across like a creep (laughs)! So that’s happened yes. But there are some crushes that still last. Like Sylvester Stallone for me will always be Rocky, then there’s Bradley Cooper and Leonardo Di Caprio, also the Rock (Dwayne Johnson)!
What’s happening on the personal front?
I have somebody in my life. But it’s too early to talk about it.
So who’s more romantic of the two?
I am very happy that I found someone like me and we both struggle to be very romantic because we are both very practical beings. But he is more romantic than I am.
So marriage on the cards?
No, I kind of believe more in the institution of love than marriage. I don’t believe in getting a stamp to show that you love each other. Two people don’t really need to be married to be together. As long as there is love, that stamp is not required. Marriage doesn’t really give you the guarantee that he or she will be there for you forever. If a person has to go, they will, married or not! So I don’t understand what that concept has come down to nowadays. Years ago it was such a sacred institution, earlier during our grand-parents’ time. People were ready to invest emotions, there were sacrifices, compromises, and want to make that marriage work. Today we are living in times when dating apps rule and one thing wrong and they are looking for ways to break out. I don’t want a marriage like that. I believe in forever.
Coverstar: Zareen Khan
Jewellery: Aquamarine Jewellery
Styling: Vibhuti Chamria
Assisted by: Nikita Kanchan
Make-up: Rabbiya Talha
Hair: Sila Sunny
Photographer: Anoop Devaraj