With her anglicised name and the amount of time this Parsi-Christian girl has spent in New York, you wouldn’t give her an ice cube’s chance in hell of making it here. But impress she did with her choice of roles and rare confidence. Diana Penty’s short but snazzy career has seen two veritable hits – Cocktail and Happy Bhag Jayegi. Even though the two films were four years apart, Diana seemed like she belonged in every frame. Whether it was the contemporary relationship drama in Imtiaz Ali’s Cocktail or the rustic charm of Mudassar Aziz’s Happy Bhag Jayegi, this exotic actor fitted in effortlessly.
In fact, the success of Happy Bhag Jayegi has led the makers to announce its sequel as well. The model-turned-actress is in no hurry to hog the limelight though. Adding more power to the adage ‘beauty with brains’, she believes in focussing on substance rather than just style. Her latest film is the brainy science and action medley, Parmanu – The Story Of Pokhran with John Abraham. Directed by Abhishek Sharma, the film is based on the nuclear tests conducted at the Indian army’s Pokhran Test Range in May 1998. Diana’s just back from Jaisalmer where she’s been shooting for Parmanu. She’s got a soft spot for true-life stories. “It’s the first time I’m doing action in a film. That had me excited. And Parmanu gave me that opportunity.”
She took kickboxing classes apart from her usual regime of weight training to prepare for her role. She says, “While shooting, you have to remember the sequence of kicks and punches. You need to maintain a constant stance and composure.” She explains further, “It’s complicated especially for someone who’s not familiar with martial arts. It took me three days to recover because my body isn’t used to so much physical activity. I was using muscles I never knew existed. My body was sore. The next day I couldn’t even hold my cup of tea.” But she enjoyed the experience of pushing the limits.
Entry into films happened just like that for Diana. She was modelling in New York when Imtiaz Ali offered her Rockstar. Imtiaz Ali got in touch with her agency and wanted to meet up. She was so happy with modelling and living the New York life that she wasn’t even considering films at that time. “I was such an introvert that I never thought this could be an option for me,” she laughs today. But she met Imtiaz anyway and told him that she was ‘completely hopeless’ as she had no inkling of acting. Imtiaz, however, put Diana through workshops, where she did voice modulation and improved her diction. She even did a crash course in acting. “I did those workshops and I did get better. But I wasn’t ready to play that part because it wasn’t a character close to my personality,” she confides.
At that point, Imtiaz was writing Cocktail and he kept Diana in mind for Meera’s role. Later when producers Dinesh Vijan and Homi Adajania were looking for a girl to play Meera, Imtiaz recommended Diana and that’s how Cocktail happened.
She feels lucky to have chosen the right roles thus far. She explains, “Choosing the right roles and being able to avail of opportunities is the biggest challenge. It’s important for your heart to be in sync with your head. It’s the most satisfying approach to work.” She adds, “It’s important to make a choice that feels right to both the heart and the mind. There are times when you have to forfeit one for the other and that can be tough.”
She claims her approach to her work is different. She understands that since she’s not from the film background, getting work is going to be difficult. But she’s okay with it. She asserts it’s a truth that’s relevant to all professions. “If you are a businessman’s son, you’d obviously have more opportunities than someone who’s not part of the same field. I don’t see why people make such a big issue of it. For me, it might take a little longer than the others but I’m patient,” she declares.
Box-office numbers and the 100-crore club mean nothing to her. She’d rather have an eclectic body of work than a hefty bank balance. She says, “There are certain things on your wish list. I want to sit back and look at the diversity of the characters I portrayed in my films. Once I’ve ticked those, I’ll believe I’ve accomplished something. While she’s not the one to stretch her neck out to bag roles, she believes she’s got the right attitude to succeed. “If you lose your own identity chasing success then what’s the point? I’m a quiet and a private person but that doesn’t mean I am unapproachable. I do things my own way, balancing out how much I want to be out there,” she says.
There’s an air about Diana. And that’s what sets her apart from the rest of her ilk. She explains, “It’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Having a mind of your own and being sure of what you want can help you create the right impression. I’m a bit of a control freak. But in showbiz things aren’t always in your control so I’ve learnt to let go.”
She shares that the industry has changed her. “This place toughens you up. You tend to grow up a little before your time. You also realise how transient things can be and how easy it’s to find yourself surrounded by people who may not necessarily be honest,” she says. “So you begin to value your privacy, your family and your close friends a lot more,” she smiles.
She’s also a bit of an environmentalist. If she catches you littering the roads she’ll probably give you a piece of her mind. She smiles, “There are times when I’ve gone up to people and asked them to pick up their trash. I can’t handle the narrative of cutting trees for progress. There are better ways to be civilized.”
She has a similar zeal in matters of the heart. She’s not single and is believed to be dating someone not from the industry. She says, “If you’re in a relationship with someone you genuinely love and care for, then it can be your anchor, especially in an industry like this. You need someone to support you through thick and thin. A partner can help you stay grounded.” She’s ecstatic that her best friend is her partner. Reluctant to reveal his name, she says, “Being with my best friend of 13 years is the best part of my relationship. It comes with a sense of peace and security that no one can take away.” Now that’s the absolute truth.