Interview: Diana Penty on being choosy with scripts, facing body image issues and her beauty and fitness secrets
HOMI ADAJANIA’S COCKTAIL (2012) not only marked a shift in Deepika Padukone’s career trajectory but also introduced us to Diana Penty, who left an impression with her portrayal of shy, simple and likeable Meera. The debutante was applauded for giving a consistent performance throughout the film and it appeared that we had another promising actor who is certain to go big and far. However, her next film, Happy Bhag Jayegi came after a gap of four years in 2016 and since then she has done one film a year — Lucknow Central (2017) and Parmanu (2018). Days before beginning the shoot of her next film, Dinesh Vijan’s Shiddat, the model-turned-actress also came on board as Forever New’s India brand ambassador. We spoke to Diana about the long break that she took between her first and second film, her process of selecting script, her fitness regimen, her beauty routine and if she ever struggled with body image. Excerpts:
Q: Tell us a bit about your style statement.
My sense of style is pretty classic, understated, minimalistic and elegant, which is their aesthetics as well. It is great when the aesthetics match, it feels effortless. I have been a consumer of Forever New since I was in college, and it feels good to be a part of the brand which you relate with.
Q: Cocktail released in 2012, followed by Happy Bhag Jayegi, four years later in 2016. Why the long break?
I would have liked to do films quicker, but it took me a while to figure out the direction in which I wanted to proceed — especially between my first and second film. I was really confused, because I was not from the industry and there was no mentor to guide me. I had to make those decisions for myself. I wasn’t sure if I should wait for something that I really connected with or take the other route and do films just to be seen and be in the limelight, even though I don’t ‘feel’ them. Somehow, I couldn’t manage to get myself to opt for the latter. I wanted to feel the script and the film, and be 100 per cent sure of what I am doing. I guess that took a while.
Q: And, Happy Bhag Jayegi turned out to be that script...
I thought it was perfect for me at that point, because it gave me the opportunity to break away from Meera (which is what everybody associated me with) and play a character that was so remarkably different and nothing that anybody was expecting. So, the wait was worthwhile.
Q: Were you warned against taking that route?
Yes, a few people mentioned that it is not a great idea to take such a long time off between films and that ‘you should be seen. If you aren’t getting what you want, do a few films so that eventually you get what you want’. I understood what they were saying — it was also another way of thinking — but it didn’t work for me. For me, I need to feel the script 100 per cent in order to give my two or three months. Otherwise, it is a waste of time for everybody and it is not fair for the people making the film — for you and for others who are working on it. I don’t think it is right to get on a project when you are not feeling your 100 per cent.
Q: How do you select a script? What is your process?
It is instinctive. I read it and I know whether it is something that I will do or not. The moment I am taking two or three days to think about something, I know it is not right for me. I read a script as an audience. If it is a film that I want to watch in theatres, I will do it, and if it is not enticing enough then I wouldn’t want to do it.
Q: Diana, you are also adored by many for your stunning looks. Tell us about your fitness regimen.
Right now, it is non-existent (laughs). I think my parents’ genes come handy to my situation. Honestly, I never had a fixed routine, I keep changing it from time to time as I get bored doing the same thing for a long period of time. I started with lightweight training and cardio and then I did floor pilates. Many don’t know this, but this is a reformed version of pilates and is the ultimate form of pilates. I had almost got six-pack abs. Then I stopped because I was travelling and it was difficult to maintain a routine, so I took a break. Soon Parmanu began and I started learning kick-boxing for my character, which stopped the moment I finished the film. Now I have joined a gym and have gone back to weight training.
Q: What is your beauty routine like?
It’s very simple — cleansing, toning and moisturising. And, apply sunscreen. Sunscreen, only when I remember it (laughs). Honestly, when I am not working, I like to give my skin a break.
Q: Tell us one piece of advice that shaped your life?
I am a bit of a control freak and want everything to be perfect, including the way I answer my questions, grammar and punctuation, the way I approach life, everything has to be well thought of and I think 500 times before I do something. I want to ensure that the end product is perfect and I have realised that this habit of mine can come in the way of this job that I do. It can get really exhausting. So, a few years ago, a close friend of mine asked me to give my 100 per cent to whatever I am doing and then let it be, since there is nothing left to be done and it creates a lot of stress. And, I realised that it is a piece of great advice.
Q: Lastly, you have done modelling in India as well as abroad. Have you ever been told that you are too thin or too fat or body shamed in any way?
Here in India, I was too thin. When I entered modelling, I was much thinner. Although I had the biggest appetite in my circle, I would never put on weight. This had been the case since my childhood. I remember my mother taking me to paediatricians who were like ‘give her three bananas a day, do this and do that’. But nothing worked and eventually, we stopped trying. This is how I am. Luckily, it worked to my advantage as I got into the modelling industry. I remember, over here, a lot of people told me that I am too skinny but internationally, I was perfect. So, I was like, ‘let me take advantage of this over there.’ Eventually, as you get older, the body changes. I am not as skinny as I used to be.
Q: But, how did you put on weight eventually?
I stopped trying and I guess that’s when it happened. (laughs)
In my own personal space, I do whatever I can to cut down on plastic, especially single-use plastic because it really bothers me. I don’t use any plastic bottles and have my own stainless steel bottle that I carry around wherever I go. If I go on a full-day shoot, I carry four bottles — four litres of water. I have switched to a bamboo toothbrush. I try to influence people around me, through social media. And, I also feel that there is no big deal when it comes to repeating your clothes! I do it all the time.