Her mild manners might be in stark contrast with the titular role Diana Penty played in her last release, Happy Bhag Jaegi, but the 31-year-old Konkani-Parsi beauty is ready to step out of her comfort zone and into the spotlight.
An interview with a celebrity, more often than not, often ends being a list of frivolous facts and gossip. Any of that barely manages a fleeting curiosity. But what we really want is that connect with the person of your desire. There is nothing better than getting a feel of knowing them and their hidden secrets, for a more long-lasting impact. Just like what a well-rounded character in a movie can do as opposed to one where the objective is momentary entertainment. As I spent time with Diana Penty, our conversation attained a kind of flow that helped me get a sense of the person that she is and not just the model-turned-actor we have seen onscreen.
The only child of working parents Diana spent a lot of her time by herself, reading. “I was an introvert, the sort which spoke only when spoken to. I studied very hard and was always concerned about my grades. As a young 11-year-old I imagined myself growing up to become an astronaut. I have always been fascinated by outer space and the unknown world. Even today I try to keep myself up-to-date on the latest advancements in space travel,” she says. Today, it is hard to imagine a studious and gentle child more accustomed to her own company, growing up to pursue two careers, both of which demanded her to step out of her comfort zone, drop inhibitions and almost lay herself bare to the world.
As we spoke of things that influenced her in her growing up years, she talks about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the American science fiction film. “I loved The X Files and have watched every episode growing up.” A beautiful and talented woman and an X Files geek to boot. There is something else that’s close to her heart. The wildlife. She can identify most birds just by listening to them chirping. “And when I don’t know what bird it is, I record the sound on my phone and check later,” she says. Such passion is evident in everything she does, be it modelling and now films, both of which wasn’t meant to be.
Her plan was to take up media studies in college and follow it up with a degree in global marketing from a foreign college. But life had something else in store for her. A part-time modelling gig fell into her lap and she never stopped until she bagged her first Hindi Film, Cocktail with Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone, in which she played Meera, the girl with a golden heart. “I had no acting experience before Cocktail happened. That is if you would not like to count my role as Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh stage play at an all-girls school,” she adds with a soft laugh.
With no formal training in acting, what’s her approach to a character is? It is still too early to say what her approach is, she says, adding that she treats every story differently. She tries and sees what it demands, and if she can understand and relate to the character organically and then she tries to be real about the person she is playing. “My role in Happy Bhag Jayegi was very alien to me,” she says. Nilima Sharma, a north Indian Punjabi co-star, helped her prepare for the role. Diana had a lot to learn from her. “I would listen to her talk and enunciate, and pick up mannerisms from her. And of course, discussions with the director were vital.” When asked if now, as an adult and having tested the acting waters, she would ever consider giving theatre a try, she says, “Never. It is simply terrifying. Just one take. I have complete respect for those who do it.”
Moving to things closer to home, Diana talks about religion and culture, and how two distinctly different cultures have influenced her. “The best part of having grown up around a Konkani-Catholic mother and a Parsi father is that it broadened my horizons, made me more accepting of different people and cultures, and less judgemental. My family isn’t religious in the traditional sense, even though I have been baptised and my father was totally cool with it,” she says. The liberal mindedness of her family has enriched her as an individual. “I am a baptised Catholic, but I have spent most of my life questioning faith. What I have come down to is that I believe in a higher power. I am not religious. I feel religion has become extremely man-made and most if it is now terribly misrepresented. At the end of the day it is important to be a good person and to be compassionate.” Being exposed to so many different cultures at a young age also meant she understands the perks of being multilingual.
When it comes to her personal style, she is her own person. Her fascination for Scandinavian culture and design is not hidden as she talks about it. “I lean towards minimalism, preferring straight lines, no foofoo. For me, it is comfort over breaking my toes and heals. Effortless and yet tasteful and chic, it is essentially inspired by Scandinavian designs.”
Diana enjoys travelling and the places and landscapes that are closer to her heart. “I have always been drawn to the mountains. They call out to me. I want to explore Ladakh, secluded spots in Himachal and Sikkim. I want to spend a good amount of time in Norway.” Her parents worked in the travel industry, which meant extensive travelling. “I would say I was gifted, having travelled since I was a kid.” She loves travelling alone and is not a museum and monument kind of traveller. “I like to walk, through the city, down the streets and see what I find and try out local cuisine.”
For now Diana is not thinking of a vacation, holding forth in Mumbai as she gets busy with script narrations and film shootings.