Air rare for Bollywood star

By Claire Trevett

It's not the usual performance from an international beauty queen, model and actress.

Two hours after landing in New Zealand, Bollywood darling Neha Dhupia comes down in the hotel elevator to find a photographer she had no idea was coming.

"I haven't got any make-up on," she says.

But Dhupia, 26, is refreshingly Bollywood, so there's a shrug and the sunglasses come off, the smile comes out and she's ready.

In New Zealand for the Diwali Festival courtesy of hindi station Radio Tarana 1386AM, she's widely regarded as a bit raunchy in Bollywood.

In the 2004 movie Julie, she played a high-class prostitute.

"Julie was quite controversial. The poster had half my back showing, which is nothing. When I was in Miss Universe I was showing way more than that," she said.

"But a lot of women looked and said, 'what are you doing?' while men went: 'That's so hot.' Then the women ended up going to the film more because it was so feminist."

Her career was born after she was crowned Miss India in 2002 and made it into the top 10 of Miss Universe.

"I didn't win, but I guess that's all right."

What she had always wanted to be was a civil servant. Instead she went back to Bombay and the phone started ringing. "I wanted to join the foreign service. I was fascinated by foreign cultures. But I haven't gone that far away from it, because my profession lets me travel anyway."

In the intervening four years, she's made 22 films. She's working on four now, with another due to start at the end of the year.

She thinks Bollywood is changing.

"Things that used to sell five to 10 years ago wouldn't sell now. They're getting smarter, spending less and touching real issues. They are taking cinematic liberties, and they're not just stuck to dancing round trees."

She has no time for critics of her style of acting.

"What's the fun of being an actress if you can't be a dentist one morning and a housewife the next?"

Hollywood does call to her, because "I think Hollywood is about half a century ahead of Bollywood in every way. But first, I'd like to be rich and famous among my own people".

Now she's in New Zealand, where, she jokes, all that fresh air cannot be good for her lungs after Bombay.

But she likes it and wants to do her bit for the country - her bit being shopping.

"I want to add to the revenue," she says. "Honestly."

Neha Dhupia will appear at the Diwali Festival of Lights at Britomart next Saturday and Sunday. The festival is organised by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and Auckland City.

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