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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Bollywood rebel springs more surprises

By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC India correspondent

The rebel with a cause - or at least that's how she likes to describe herself.

Samay still
The critics have applauded the former Ms Universe's acting skills (All photos: Samay)

Former Miss Universe and critically acclaimed Bollywood actress, Sushmita Sen, has been in the news for everything she has done.

Be it her relationships, her choice of films or, for that matter, her single motherhood, she has hit the headlines time after time.

This time, it's her choice of role in her latest film, Samay (Time), set for release in October.

She plays a tough, cigarette-smoking cop who tries to solve the mystery surrounding a prominent industrialist's death.

Originally written for a male actor, the producers offered it to her instead.

"They said 'Look, it's a challenging role because we've literally just lifted the man out of the part and placed a woman there. We have not touched the script.' So, its a challenging role," she told the BBC. It was up to her to make sure the producers' faith in her was justified.

"Knock on wood and thank the Lord, I think it's turned out very well."

Bold or vulnerable?

This film is not the first time she has acted in a woman-oriented movie.

Sushmita has invariably leaned towards strong parts, a far cry from roles that require her to run around trees and look pretty.

Samay promotional picture
Sen says she is a "blend of contradictions"

However, she says she doesn't find them challenging enough anymore.

"Somehow, from day one, people always thought of presenting me in strong-woman films, which is great, but I also think that for me, this part is taken for granted.

"People see me as her, like the woman cop in Samay. What I would really love to do is play a very vulnerable, a very simple girl, something that does not necessarily come across as my persona. Now that would be challenging for me."

So who is the real Sushmita - bold or vulnerable? Both, she says.

"Sushmita is actually a massive contradiction. The day you expect her to be strong and powerful, she's vulnerable and totally broken in moments.

"And the day you want Sushmita to be the most vulnerable little girl, she's strong and all in control of her life.

"So I think I am a blend of all these contradictions, I sometimes don't even know which one is really me. But yes, I have both, thank God for that, I'm normal!"

She may claim to be normal. But she has often deviated from the norm when it comes to her lifestyle.

Be it in her relationships or her decision to adopt a child while still unmarried and in her 20s, Sushmita has lived on her own terms which often don't conform with those of Indian society.

A fascinating journey

However, Sushmita says its usually the circumstances that make her who she is.

"I did not find anybody interesting enough to marry, so I didn't see why I should get married because it was the right time.

Still from Samay
Not a screwball comedy: Ms Sen's latest film is a detective thriller

"However, I knew it was the right time to be a mother and I am basically such a mommy, that it does not have to be a biological connection for me to feel what I feel.

"I just am by law, by nature, gifted, so that worked out well with my daughter Renee. I must add that living your life on your own terms is very simple, if you know what you want from it."

And what this lady wants out of life is never having to say she is sorry.

"I don't want to be sorry - that much I know. Whatever I do in my life I just don't want to be sorry. The only person I have to live with is myself which is probably why I have nothing I am ashamed of, nothing I regret.

"I have no shame when I speak of myself or of anybody else in relation to me because I am proud of pretty much everything."

Still from Samay
Sushmita says she would like to take a break from playing tough women

The woman who was crowned Miss Universe when she was just 18 years old has come a long way since. The journey has been, according to her, "very, very fascinating".

From being the tall, gawky model who beat reigning Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai to the Miss India Universe title, to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed actresses in the film industry, Sushmita has managed to carve a niche for herself.

However, this is not where she claims her journey ends.

"Anything I have done in my life, which may be considered an achievement, had always a certain time-span to it, which didn't let me settle into it, whether it was a Miss India or a Miss Universe.

"I was there for a year under an official capacity and then I had to move on.

"I feel far more settled in as an actress, settled in as a person, and eventually I would like to also move on from here so I really don't see myself being an actress all my life."

With Sushmita, expect the unexpected.

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