Indian actress Diana Penty, known for her role of Meera in the movie Cocktail, is now seen opposite John Abraham in her recent film Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran. The diva has changed her image from the shy and traditional girl of her previous work, to the bold and assertive woman of Parmanu. In conversation with Guardian 20, she talks about her new film, and her association with actor and producer John Abraham.

Q. What convinced you to sign Parmanu?

A. First of all, I would like to tell you what “Parmanu” means—an atom. I have to admit that even I didn’t know this before the film. Parmanu is about the 1998 nuclear tests that India undertook after which the country emerged as a nuclear power. This event changed our history and it changed the way the world looked at us. At that time, the whole world was against us but the event was quite an achievement for us. If we go into the details, there are a lot of facts that need to come into the light now because most of us aren’t really aware of the details. This is one of the main reasons that I signed this film. Each Indian should know what actually happened in 1998. And trust me when you will walk out of the door of the theatre after watching the film, I assure you that you will feel a proud Indian and will be like: I can’t believe our country achieved this 20 years ago!

It is a story worth telling not just because we were successful in our mission but the preparations and the obstacles that came on the way were huge and astonishing. It was a secret mission at the end of the day and not many people know about it. So, this film is a thriller that tells you a phenomenal story.

Q. Tell us about your role in the film.

A. With my character Ambalika, there is a twist to the tale. I am the only woman in the mission in the team of six. Our characters are inspired by the actual people back then but we are not allowed to use the names. My character is an amalgamation of three people on the mission out of which one was actually a woman. It makes me feel good to play a strong female character in this male-dominated world. I was very excited about this film because I have never been a part of a thriller. I was looking forward to playing this role of a strong bold woman. There is a lot of action in the film as well!

Q. We have always seen you as a girl next door, whether it was in Cocktail or in Happy Bhag Jayegi. How was your experience portraying a completely different character in
this film?

A. I always try to do something different in each film. I try to grab every role that gives me an opportunity to show a different side of me. I want to show that I cannot only play a shy, quintessential girl Meera from Cocktail, but can also play a loud, small-town girl like Happy in Happy Bhag Jayegi. Then there was Lucknow Central where my character was of a very measured girl, somewhere between Meera and Happy.

I definitely had a good time playing Ambalika in this film. I had to learn kickboxing and I have never tried martial arts before. This was challenging for me, because physically my body was not used to this. I have a small kickboxing scene in the film. When you look for it, it will probably come and go but actually, people don’t realise that it takes a whole day to shoot something like that. So I had to practice it all day and the next morning when I woke up, I could not move my shoulder properly. So yes, this role was very challenging for me. It is a very satisfying and fulfilling role because when you are done with it and you look back at it, it is like: I did it!

Q. Newbies in Bollywood usually give back-to-back films to get a foothold. What is holding you back from following this trend?

A. I am always very sure of the kind of films that I want to do and I look for playing different parts and genres. I don’t want to repeat myself playing the same roles over and over again. It gets boring. I like to challenge myself. I truly believe that I should do the film for which I am ready to give my 100%, otherwise there is no point of doing it. So, I would rather wait for the right film and the right character to come by. 

Q. What are your criteria for choosing a film? Is it the storyline, role or the cast?

A. For me, storyline comes first. It is the foundation of a film—its very heart and soul. Only if you have a solid foundation can you work upon the characters or the performance. If that is not there, the whole film will crumble for sure. I put myself in the shoes of the audience when I go through the story and think of what gets me excited to go out and watch a film in the theatre. If the script appeals to me in this way, I go forward with the film. And then of course, second comes the character. You should have an impactful character to play.

Q. Describe your experience with John Abraham as your co-actor and producer.

A. It was a great experience. He is a very down-to-earth person. Even as a producer, he gives his 100% to everything he is working on. He is a perfectionist. As an actor, you know that you are in good hands because you know the end result will be a quality result. John Abraham is known for backing solid content whether it is Vicky Donor, Madras Café and now Parmanu. He comes with credibility, so it’s a huge relief as an actor because you know John is going to take care of us.

Q. Many mainstream actors are trying their hand at web series. Are you open to experimenting with this medium?

A. If there is a great storyline and a good set of people to work with, I am open to it. I think it’s an interesting avenue and I would love to do a web series. At some point in the future, that is going to be the way forward.

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