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Cover Story: Pooja Hegde on success, setbacks and staying humble

In a career spanning 11 years, Pooja Hegde has learned a lot and in our August 2023 cover story, she shares these learnings along with her plans for the future and what makes her tick.

Pooja Hegde is like a bright ray of sunshine, cutting through the gloom of the Mumbai monsoon. It’s our first cover shoot with the actress and she’s as excited as we are. She’s charming and puts everyone at ease, in fact, she’s quite enthusiastic about the outfits and the hair and makeup. It’s been more than a decade since she made her debut in the film industry and this infamously competitive and ruthless industry hasn’t dulled her shine. A massive star in the Telugu film industry, she’s also worked in four Hindi films.
Pooja Hegde
In 2016, four years after her debut, she took her first step into Bollywood with the much-awaited and period action drama, Mohenjo Daro. Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and also starring Hrithik Roshan in the lead role alongside Hegde, the film seemed to have it all. The songs were composed by A.R. Rahman and the lyrics were penned by Javed Akhtar. Despite such anticipation, the film didn’t perform well at the Box Office. She followed it up with the blockbuster hit DJ: Duvvada Jagannadham. The film starred Pooja Hegde opposite Allu Arjun and grossed over Rs 150 crores.
Pooja Hegde
Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava, Maharshi Gaddalakonda Ganesh and Housefull 4 were huge box-office successes. And then came Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo which is arguably one of Hegde and Allu Arjun’s pivotal films that shot through the roof, earning massive critical acclaim and grossing ₹262–280 crore worldwide. ‘Butta Bomma’ was a rage with everyone from Shilpa Shetty to Australian cricketer David Warner performing the song’s hook step.
Further accolades came with Most Eligible Bachelor and Radhe Shyam, cementing Pooja Hegde’s reputation as a critique’s favourite. Throughout her 11-year journey in the industry, she has consistently delivered a string of blockbusters. With an Instagram following exceeding 24 million, she commands a substantial and devoted fan base.
In a tête-à-tête with us, she talks about the triumphs and tribulations of her professions and how she navigates both.

Pooja Hegde on the magic of cinema and her learnings from it:

Pooja Hegde

It’s been around 11 years since you made your debut – what are the life lessons you’ve learned in this professional journey?

I think the important thing I’ve learned is that success is not permanent and neither is failure. You have to just keep moving from project to project, do your work, give your 100 per cent and not get attached to the final result. If you’re hard-working, have a voice of your own and have something to say, you will eventually find your own space. That’s what I’ve learned.

As a public figure, how do you balance your personal and private life?

Well, I like to keep my personal life private because a lot of me is out there on social media. So, there are some things, of course, I hold dear to myself and like to keep private. At the same time, I balance both. I think the people in my life are very understanding when I cannot make it to certain family functions and in general, they understand that to chase my dreams, I will have to make certain compromises and that I will have to do certain things and not be there at times and they are understanding and supportive about it.

What is one professional experience that changed your outlook on the film industry?

Coming from a family where people have been teachers and doctors, who of course literally save lives, I used to think ‘Oh we are just entertainers’. But the more I work, meet people and watch different kinds of films, I genuinely think that films do have the power to change lives – and save lives and that is something that has made me take my work more seriously. I think there is great power in cinema if you can make someone feel represented on screen, where they feel like their story is being told. I genuinely think that besides entertaining people, cinema really can save lives.

We have to talk about the blockbuster hit Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo – not only was it a super success but also showed you in a different light. How did that come about and what were your learnings from this film?

It was my second film with the team, the producer, director, and it was my second film with Allu Arjun. It was really amazing that the film became such a big hit, and I feel that a lot more people started noticing me. Even though it was a Telugu film, it went viral and transcended a lot of boundaries and language barriers, which gave me that validation that I was on the right path in terms of what films I was selecting, and I was happy to be part of it.

You followed it up with critically acclaimed roles in Most Eligible Bachelor and Radhe Shyam – what made you choose these films?

With Most Eligible Bachelor and Radhe Shyam, I just took it as a great opportunity to showcase another side of me. They were roles that were very well written. Both were love stories but one was very serious and complicated while the other one was a light-hearted comedy. I got to play a stand-up comedian in one and a doctor in another – the characters were just so layered. I’m happy I got an opportunity with Most Eligible Bachelor and that was very well received. 

Can you share your experience transitioning from the Telugu film industry to Bollywood? What are the key differences you’ve noticed?

I don’t think I’ve really transitioned from one industry to the other because I feel like I’ve always balanced different industries together. While I was shooting a Telugu film, I did a Bollywood film and while I was shooting a Bollywood film, I was shooting a Tamil film and I’ve always balanced these different industries and that’s important. While working across industries, I tried to understand the women from different regions. Overall, you know, it’s just the languages that are different. People are people anywhere in the world. They’re pretty much the same. It’s just the language.

When discussing your journey in Bollywood, it’s notable that you’ve been a part of some significant Hindi films such as Mohenjo Daro, Cirkus, and Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan. While these ventures might not have achieved the same level of success as your Telugu films, I’m interested in learning how you’ve navigated these experiences on a personal level. Your insights could shed light on how you’ve managed different outcomes in your career.

Well, the great part is that I think when my films were a blockbuster hit and were successful, I never took it so seriously. And when the films didn’t do well, I never took it so seriously. So, I think God has been kind to me in a way that I’ve been able to handle it better. It’s taught me a lot. But honestly, it was just so great working with these teams. You have, as an actor, there are certain directors and actors that you want to work with and if a film had come to me from any of these people again, I would do it all over again. So, you have to keep working, work attracts work and move on to the next film.

What do you believe are the essential qualities an actor needs to navigate the highs and lows of the entertainment industry?

I think you must have great determination and you have to have tenacity. You just have to power through from failure to success and success to failure and you just have to keep powering through and try and do good work as much as you can. It’s important to stay rooted and grounded and find people around you who will tell you the truth and tell you like it is, like how the situation is.
Pooja Hegde

With your experience in both regional and national cinema, what observations do you have about the changing landscape of the Indian film industry?

I think it’s great that boundaries are being removed and it’s eventually in the process of becoming the Indian film industry. The director of Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, said that if we can just go over that one-inch barrier of a subtitle then we’ll be introduced to a whole new world. There is so much talent in India in terms of technicians, actors and stories to be told. I also think films help us understand different characters and different kinds of people because India itself is so diverse and films give us a little bit of a window into different cultures within India. So that’s really good to see.

What’s next for Pooja Hegde?

A lot of challenging roles, and great announcements and just want to do good work. I want to play interesting female characters and that’s the goal.
Pooja Hegde

Outside of your professional life, what are some of your favourite hobbies or activities that help you unwind?

I love watching films and just watching things, catching up with what’s going on out there. Otherwise, whenever I’m not working, I just go to sleep.

Are there any non-film-related aspirations or goals you have for yourself in the coming years?

Yes, many. I’ve already started my charitable organisation called All About Love. So that’s going on simultaneously. There are many but now is not the right time to talk about it, I guess. I’ll spill the beans when things start coming together.
Cover Story: Pooja Hegde on success, setbacks and staying humble

Mayukh Majumdar

Entertainment Editor

Mayukh Majumdar lives life in Bollywood dialogues and has previously worked with media channels like Filmfare, Rolling Stone India, Man's World India and Mirror Now. He aspires to travel like Freya Stark and retire in New Orleans one day.

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