Straddling Different Worlds

Ahead of her debut film Jeet Lengey Jahaan, Neelambari Perumal talks about growing up amid militancy and entering the razzmatazz of Bollywood

While most of her schoolmates in Ajmer, Rajasthan, were solely immersed in academics, Neelambari Perumal's formative years were dedicated equally to theatre and classical dance. But like her peers, she didn't remain unaffected by the glamorous world of Bollywood. "My ultimate dream is to star in a remake of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge opposite SRK," she gushes, evidently star-struck. While she waits for this dream to come true, Neelambari is looking forward to her Bollywood debut in the soon-to-release film, Jeet Lengey Jahaan.

Her words, however, hardly indicate the strain of militancy that clouded her early days. Being the daughter of former Chief Minister of Sri Lanka's North Eastern province, Vardaraja Perumal, her family constantly faced death threats from a militant group. Perhaps this restlessness of her growing-up years sought outlet in dance, acting and social work.

"The topics discussed at home were grim — news of people close to us being killed in war in Sri Lanka became a part of everyday life," says the 25-year old. Having spent her schooling days in Ajmer, her family eventually moved to Delhi.

Neelambari's first feature film, though, was a Malayalam film called Bombay Mittayi, which never released. "It was a big deal for me, I got to work with Dimple Kapadia in my first film, so it was a setback when it didn't release," she says. Jeet Lengey Jahaan, a first-time venture by a Delhi-based production house, Ashoka Motion Picture, is about the coming-of-age of three young college-goers, and is based on an actual rape incident in Delhi.

The film, which will release on November 23, isn't quite the big Bollywood break that every newcomer aspires for, but Neelambari is glad that she worked with honest filmmakers. "There was a lack of experience since the talent working on the film was mostly new. But unlike many, at least they knew what they wanted to do," she says.

Despite revolving around its male protagonists, it gave Neelambari enough meat to chew on as an actor. "I play a significant role in the film's most important juncture and I got the opportunity to show my acting skills," she says. Neelambari, who is currently shooting for a Tamil film in a remote village in Tamil Nadu, is in talks with a few directors, and she hopes that Jeet Lengey Jahaan will open Bollywood's doors for her. And perhaps, that dream of acting with SRK will come true.

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