Being a Bollywood star is a roller-coaster ride. One moment you are on cloud nine, and the next, the spotlight may have shifted from you. In her latest column for BBC News Online, Preity Zinta writes on how important it is to be level-headed about stardom.
Preity Zinta: 'It is the toughest job in the world, it's crazy, it is scary'
Karl Marx said religion is the opium of the masses. But in India, movies are religion. And only in India do gods have competition from actors and, yes, cricketers.
I had a glimpse of the power of the moving image and actors very early in my life.
There was a mythological television serial on the Hindu epic Ramayana which was a huge hit in the 1980s.
People from neighbouring villages would descend on our farm home to catch the soap religiously. Every Sunday morning had a set time table.
At 0830 sharp, people would arrive, greet my grandparents, take off their shoes, step towards the television set and bow in front of it as they would to a deity.
At 0900 all eyes would be glued to the telly as they sat in pin drop silence and experienced God.
One day I overheard some family friends tell my grandparents how the actress who played Sita, the pious wife of Lord Rama in the serial, upset north Indian sentiments by buying beer at a local wine shop. For them, Sita could do no wrong.
How could a venerated 'figure' go to buy alcohol? It was blasphemous!
After six years and 17 films in the business, I am getting a taste of what being a film star in India is all about.
It's a high that is higher than cloud nine. It is the toughest job in the world, it's crazy and at times it is also scary.
Fans come in various shapes and sizes and people will do anything to come close to their favourite star. Temples are built in our names. Fan letters flood our mailboxes and the love is unconditional.
Sometimes the love and the adulation can make you feel so humble and close to God.
Recently I met a little girl who was dying of leukaemia and had expressed a desire to meet me.
I must confess I felt very nervous and anxious when I entered the hospital.
What should I say? What should I do to make her feel better? I was still juggling all these thoughts when I saw her pale face come alive with the most precious smile.
Shah Rukh Khan - feeling the adulation
Two weeks later she passed away but the memory of her smile is alive in my heart. Dear God, thank you for making me feel so close to you. Thank you for giving me the gift of bringing a smile to someone's face.
If there are emotional encounters then there are funny ones also.
Once a couple came up to me and said their child was my "biggest fan" and was dying to take a photo with me.
I soon found out that my "biggest fan" was their 11-month-old baby, who had possibly not even learnt to recognise his parents. I had an ear to ear grin in that family photograph.
The flip side
The actor's hold over popular imagination in India is immense. They can draw in the crowds at the drop of a hat. That is why you see our political parties wooing actors to join their ranks or campaign for them during elections.
Recently we had a couple of actors who decided to contest the elections. It came as no surprise that they all won - what was surprising though was that the crowd was only interested in hearing the actors recite dialogues from their blockbuster films! This is the power actors have in India.
Preity Zinta in the spotlight - you need to keep balanced, she says
But there is a flip side also - behind the scenes! It's about wake up calls at two in the morning, filming in harsh weather conditions, and the blood, sweat and tears that go into your work.
There's the annoying feeling of insecurity and the frustration of failure. There's also the satisfaction of achievement shadowed by the embrace of loneliness. It is all part and parcel of showbiz.
And, of course, there is the larger than life image that one has to compete with all the time.
I remember shooting with superstar Shah Rukh Khan in New York right after his back surgery for Kal Ho Na Ho.
One day a plump woman came up to him and exclaimed "Oh my God, Shah Rukh you are so skinny!" Before I could blink he replied "Oh my God, lady you are so fat!" It was so funny I almost fell off the chair. I knew the pain he was going through at that time, yet he was as sharp and witty as ever.
I used to joke with my director of photography on sets and say "If the world is a stage, I need better lighting".
But later I realised that when the lights go off there is only darkness around an actor and it is that darkness all actors fear. Dear God please give me the strength to find my way out of the darkness when the lights are no more on me.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown; that's why it is important to keep a balanced head on one's shoulders. Today I take the good with the bad and the ugly and keep telling myself, "Films are a part of my life; I do them, they don't do me."
As of today all I can say is, Dear God thank you for giving me everything that I did not ever dream of!
Below is a selection of your comments on this column.
To read Preity Zinta's future columns, bookmark bbcnews.com/southasia
As expected it is again a sensible and down to earth article by Ms Zinta. But one should not be afraid of darkness. You will always be there in heart of your die-hard fans which is more important. It doesn't depend on the carreer graph. Each star has to end with the darkness. But even the sun cannot stop it from spreading light.
I'm a fan of Preity Zinta, her work is brilliant & unique... but this article, although very well written, was a disappointment. She seems to be a world of her own and nothing of significance was related.
Preity is really a beautiful actress. We Afghan people all love her film and her action. Byee
Aziz Ghaznawi, Afghanistan
A very nice column by one of the most popular, and surprisingly (in this day and age), a very down to earth superstar of the era. Very nicely captures the feelings, aura, and responsibility of a celebrity. I must say that I casually strolled upon this page when I heard that she would be writing for the BBC, but would be eagerly looking forward to the next edition. Keep up the good work, Preity.
Murtaza Saeed, Pakistan
I wish Preity would write on social issues like corruption, population explosion, need for honesty and sincerity in common man etc.
Great to read Preity's thoughts and comments....although I would love to see her write and present these views in more depth in a programme or series.
David Cleary, UK
Is it only me, or does this whole column just seem filled with clichés? Holding hands with leukaemia patients, poor little film star, SUCH a strong faith in god... honest Preity's writing may be, original the sentiments are not.
Toughest job in the world?!! Ha!!!! Try being a doctor and managing a husband and two kids, Preity.
Preity! You must be right when you say that the life of a superstar like yourself is not an easy one. But some people cannot digest popularity while others are always the same. The last para of your column really summed it up. Nice column! Best of luck!
Ali Haider, Pakistan
Preity is not just an excellent actress, she is an amazing woman as well. Actors with calibre and talent like hers have redefined Indian cinema. Three cheers to all of them! I am sure she also understands that more than words, it is actions that matter and create lasting impressions in the minds of people.
It is true that film stars are demigods in India. That puts a enormous responsibility on them to conduct themselves responsibly, both socially and morally because they are the role models of their generation. Preity is apparently playing this role well.
In all these years of film-making and ever-so-forgiving audiences, one is yet to see a movie that has any social value. As always they offer the usual mix of histrionics, slap-stick humour, half-naked women and freakish dance scenes. To top it off, a few shots done in foreign countries.
I am amazed at the vacuousness of Preity's humble `thank God' piece. She is a feel good actress of the post liberalisation era, the queen of the designer movies phase of Bollywood. She probably thinks doing her two bit for charity and turning mushy shows a sense of social commitment.
I suppose star power definitely pulls strings. Why else would I have read through a very mediocre piece of writing with no real point or statement? This however does not reflect on the fact that Preity is a decent actress and possibly more down to earth than most celebrities.
Preity has done an excellent job at describing the shadows and lights in an actor's career and life. In an articulate way she has brought out what makes an actor. But it is remarkable how many of our actors in the film industry are educated and cultured individuals with so much to offer to the society through their media. It is they who bring the cold realities of life to the people. Good job Preity.
It was nice to read such a sensible and down-to-earth article. Your earlier article about women in India was also good. I am really glad and proud that at least one of the "stars" is taking time from a busy schedule to talk straight to their fans... just marvellous! Hats off to you Preity! May God never take light off the stage where you are present!
Sagar Joshi, France
The toughest job in the world? Honestly, give me a break. Princess Zinta should try mining in Siberia, or textiles in China, and then see how her job measures up. Her comment is insulting. She has no sense of what the real world is like.
Sara Wright, USA
Although I've never seen any of her movies, she writes very well. It is really good to know how difficult the life of an actor may be.
Preity Zinta is a wonderful actress - everyone knows it. But she is a humble sensible girl too - I came to know this after reading her columns. It is very easy to be blinded by fame, but this does not seem to be the case with Zinta. Keep it up Zinta. I greatly appreciate your sense and sensibility.
Ajeet Khatri, UK
Movies are a religion in the country. But I fail to understand the insecurity of actors. What is so special about this insecurity, which you will not find in any other profession? At least actors have smart bank accounts (or hard cash) to rely upon if they are out of work.
Of the entire current crop of actors, Ms Zinta best exudes on and off screen that she wears her stardom crown lightly. That is why I am not surprised to find her column on the BBC website. One day she may even write a book. Good luck.
Aniruddha G. Kulkarni, India
Impressive inside account of filmdom by a star who has brains to match her girl-next-door beauty, and with a funny bone as an added bonus. This article shows the very refreshing sense of humour and sincere observation Ms Zinta has. We really look forward to reading her insight, generating tonnes of smiles and a sense of identification with Bollywood.
Pankaj Jain, Kuwait
There is no doubt that stars in India are portrayed as larger-than-life and the adulation they receive is almost surreal. But they should not get carried away. Instead they should be setting higher standards for the common people, giving something back to the country and proving their worth for all the hype they receive.
I am yet to figure out the whole point to this feature. Her articles on the Indian movie industry and related issues are extremely shallow with absolutely zero information. I believe this is the reason people read editorials and articles - to get an alternative perspective on things. Please tell us something more meaningful Preity. Don't waste precious words harping on about nothing!
All that talk about the ups and downs of life as a Bollywood star is really touching. However, I'm sure it's a picnic compared to the lives of the millions of Dalits who live on the lower rungs of the Indian social ladder. I hope the "gods" like Ms Zinta will spare a thought for them and perhaps work to uplift them.
Rakesh Mohan, Trinidad & Tobago
By writing the column, Preity has done a sort of social work. Her honest and entertaining account of her real life experiences can be considered as a great source of inspiration and inner strength for those who count themselves among the "worthless and unimportant" beings. Hats off Preity. You remain one of my favourites.
Sahar Shah, Pakistan
Bob Dylan once said that a hero is the one who understands the responsibility that comes with freedom. It holds true for all, including actors. Unfortunately, except for Preity here, not too many artists understand this.
I am a big fan of Preity Zinta, and want to meet her once in my life. She has written fantastically. She is a level-headed star. I wish her many years of success.
Preity is one my favourite actors. I took the trouble of going through her column this morning and it was good until I came to the last paragraph, "...I do them, they don't do me". I glanced at it for a long while as I was somewhat dumbfounded by her word choice
Farhana Razzaque, India