By Arjun Mehra

Ensconced on a comfy pouffe, the raven-haired beauty stares disconcertingly, as if she is angry at the whole world. So Mamta Kulkarni ko gussa kyon aata hai?

Is it because of the not too exciting state of her career or are the China Gate wounds still raw? This was when she had accused director Raj Kumar Santoshi of harassment and faced the flak from the entire movie industry. Not to mention her role being slashed to nothing.

Q: Are the China Gate wounds yet fresh as coleslaw?

I haven't forgiven, but forgotten. It doesn't make sense to live with a nightmare.

Q:One hasn't seen your releases after China Gate?

There were countless films I refused, because my role wasn't substantial. I turned down Mr.& Mrs. Khiladi, Aunty No.1, Dulhe Raja, Davaa, Bandhan, Aflatoon, Sapoot and Hogi Pyar Ki Jeet because my role wasn't really substantial. All of them were subsequently palmed off to other actresses. I didn't want to spend my life just attending muhurats and sweating in studios over something inconsequential.

Q: Do you repent refusing them?

I felt bad turning down those offers primarily because I'm grateful to all the producers who considered me. I can't help it, but those roles were just not happening; you know what I mean! But I'd definitely like to work with them in future. I've always respected my producer and stood by him. Do you know I gave China Gate 200 shifts; and look what happened. It wasn't wise to put all my eggs in one basket.

Q: And boy, didn't you make your displeasure amply evident!

See, I'm not a person who talks for effect or for the heck of it. I can't cook up scoops or controversial vignettes to remain in the news. Every word comes straight from my heart. People say I shoot my mouth too often but flipping through magazines, I feel I give the most honest interviews. Somehow, if you lie it comes across. As far as China Gate is concerned, I said whatever I had to, because it was a genuine denial of justice and I stand by every word of it. Today if someone complains that I'm undisciplined or difficult to work with, it's a lie. If you see my track record, several producers have repeated me; Umesh Mehra, Sajid Nadiadwala, Mehul Kumar. I'm a thorough professional who accords top priority to my work.

Q: But today there's a Rani and Preity mania. Everyone seems to be gaga over them.

See, Rani and Preity, both, are extremely talented and good-looking women. But all this euphoria is just a phase in the industry. Whenever any newcomer gives one or two hits, the herd mentality is to run after them and create a fuss, and when you're on a low, the same people desert you. What they are going through now was exactly what I experienced on joining this industry. I remember being on cloud nine after my initial films fared well. I was on the top during 1993, 1994, and 1995. Then came Manisha's phase with Bombay and then Kajol's with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. It was fun handling success at 20. But after a while, you settle down and come to grips with reality.

Q: What do you think has worked in Kajol's case?

She's spontaneous and natural. Most importantly, she's worked with one or two right directors and done the right films.

Q: Reportedly, you've become like Aamir Khan, extremely particular about hearing your script and role.

I've turned down at least two dozen films in the last few days. I've done enough work establishing me as a star and good-looking actress. I'm more inclined towards good-n-healthy cinema now. I was inundated with congratulatory calls for Naseeb. I still maintain that if publicized, the film would have fared well. If my power-packed scenes in China Gate had been retained, it would have been another performance to boast about. Honestly, today I'm working for myself; for my personal satisfaction. I don't have a point to prove to anyone else. I don't want to show people that I'm doing three shifts a day. I don't want to do stuff to look busy. I'm keen on doing few films but the right ones. It's so sad that when people ask an actress, "What is your best work till date?", she has to say, "It's yet to come."

Q: But most of your contemporaries, the present genre of actresses, don't really bother about a role or script.

They sign any film that comes their way…it depends from person to person. If you're desperate to amass work in quantitative terms, then it's fine to embark on a signing spree. The short-term gains are amazing, but in the long run you get type-casted and ruined. I'm not desperate to have hundred films in my kitty; otherwise I would not have turned down the ones offered to me in recent weeks. If quantity was my criteria, I could have called Mithun and asked him to sign me on for all his films. He's a dear friend..

Q: So what are your plans now?

I'm working on a couple of well-scripted projects like Thoda Sa Pyaar being directed by Bipash Mukherjee. There is Dev Anand's Censor. There are three or four superb projects under negotiation; including an international flick with Jagmohan Mundhra. There are offers for regional films as well. Gimme a break yaar, I'm 25 and have a career of at least another ten years waiting to unfold itself. I can't sit and pine and whine over one year going badly.

Q: Today no actress is really doing well. What reason would you attribute for their failure?

The actresses themselves are to blame. By accepting minuscule stuff, we're underplaying our worth. (Laughs) I don't intend to carry out some kind of a revolution, but if you stop getting greedy and put your foot down, I'm sure things will improve.

Q: After your link-ups with Aamir, Salman, Govinda and Akshay Kumar, why is there no man in Mamta's life?

(Laughs) Gosh, I don't believe I have to clarify this. Aamir and I are on great terms and share a healthy working relationship. Aamir has a habit of breaking the barrier with his co-stars so that the film-set is more like a family rather than a boring professional set-up. I'm extremely fond of him, but the media has misconstrued this for obsession! During Karan Arjun, Salman was a mischief-maker. He would always pull my leg, because I was a serious girl more into her work than the goings on around the set. I was a tad irritated at first, but then got along with him like fire. I'm doing two films with him now. Govinda and I have done three films together. You're bound to get close to your co-star when you're working with him day and night. I was pretty young when I did Sabse Bada Khiladi. You know it was a case of a girlish fetish! I must have made a remark to the effect that Akshay's handsome; and tongues got wagging. As of now, I'm single.

Q:Is that an announcement for eligible candidates to apply?

Don't be silly. My career is of utmost importance.

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