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Sylph-a!

With films like `Phir Milange', will `item' girl Shilpa Shetty prove to be an actress of substance?


THE YEAR gone by may not hold good memories for Shilpa Shetty, both professionally and personally. But 2004 looks pretty promising for the svelte actress. As she says, "I have some interesting projects lined up, which will prove my acting prowess."

The friendly 5'10" tall actress is busy with her `current pet project', Revathy's `Phir Milange'.

Casually clad in jeans, black T-shirt and a red stole, the lissom lass who stole the dhadkan of the inimitable Geoff Boycott (he couldn't stop singing her praise when the two came together for a motorcycle ad campaign) and many in `Bihar aur UP', is fired up about Revathy's film. "I have always wanted to work with her. She's tapped my potential to the fullest. In the film, I play Tamanna, the creative head of an ad agency. I cannot tell you more. All I can say is that `Phir Milange' has a strong script and is about real people. It is sure to touch the soul."

Abhishek Bachchan and Salman Khan are her co-stars in this film rumoured to revolve round AIDS, among other issues.

Shilpa has shared screen space with Amitabh Bachchan in `Lal Badshah'. So what is it like to work with Bachchan Jr.? "Great. He's fun to work with. In fact I call him a brat. He's full of pranks all the time."

As for Salman, they go back a long time. "I am working in two other films with him, `Garv' and `Dil Churake Chal Diye'. He's always very helpful and we work well together." Incidentally, other films in the pipeline include one each with Deepak Tijori and Mahesh Manjrekar.

As the conversation veers towards other things, you can't but help mention the Praful Sarees fracas (her parents were accused of taking underworld help to recover money). She's quite pragmatic when she says, "It's sad that no one spoke the truth. It was a trying time for all of us. But I emerged stronger and am closer to my family."

Family brings to mind younger sister Shamita, whose career is beginning to look up. The elder sister's pride and affection are evident when she says, "She's really working hard and landed some good roles. I encourage her a lot and she knows she can turn to me whenever she wants."

Shamita is among the many new faces to have hit Bollywood in recent times. Does this influx of heroines threaten Shilpa? "No. I have been here for 10 years and carved a niche for myself. I think with many of my contemporaries moving on, there's a vacuum which these youngsters may fill."

That brings us to the question about her plans to settle down. Now with her fellow heroines such as Karisma, Kajol and Juhi Chawla enjoying wedded bliss and Raveena Tandon following suit, when is her turn? "Oh! I believe in love and I will settle down... May be in three or four years. Right now, I am enjoying this phase which may prove to be my creative best."

Describing herself as a "positive thinker, workaholic who finds acting fulfilling, and a film maniac, who is constantly trying to re-invent myself", Shilpa dreams of working with Mani Ratnam, Faazil, Shankar, Bala, Karan Johar and of course, Revathy again. So many South Indian directors, you ask. "Well they are technically brilliant."

Shilpa is not new to the South though, having worked in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu movies. What about more films in Tamil? She was last seen with Prabhu Deva in `Romeo', not to forget the dance number with Vijay in `Kushi'. "Oh! I am a fan of Prabhu Deva. As for Tamil films, I am waiting for the right project".

So, how does she maintain that hourglass figure that's Shilpa's pride, and the envy of many? "Believe it or not, I have not been near a gym in the past year. I guess it's God's gift," laughs this self-confessed cook. "I make very good biriyani, pulao and fried chicken."

Strangely, the actress who scorched the screen many a time with her `item' numbers, loved `Finding Nemo' and "I hope to produce such a film in India some day." Meanwhile, all Shilpa Shetty wants is to make a mark as an actress of substance.

SAVITHA GAUTAM

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