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Flaming Blush

Photographed by Anushka Menon

Published: Volume 21, Issue 1, January, 2013
Laid-back, easygoing and with an avowed passion for food and shoes, Diana Penty crept into the spotlight with her first screen appearance in Cocktail. The Bollywood debutante helps Verve illustrate the hot trend from Spring Summer 2013 – a potpourri of coral, fiery orange, crimson and bright burgundy. She shares a few fun moments with Viseshika Sharma

Styling by Nisha Jhangiani
All Fine Jewellery, By Renu Oberoi, At Mahesh Notandass.
Make-up and hair by Namrata Soni.
Flower arrangements courtesy Stemline
It’s been 30 years since Neeta Parekh has been sought after for her passionate creations of Ikebana flower arrangements. Indian weddings and corporate houses seek her out for her exclusive creations. Birthdays, anniversaries and cards also feature her brightly coloured flowers.

The lissome Diana Penty walks into Verve’s studio-for-the-day, clad in a belted tunic and jeans, a buttery Marc Jacobs hobo hanging off her shoulder, smiling quite cheerily. The clothes are all Meera, her character in 2012’s Cocktail, but the smile is a departure from the petulance of her on-screen role. Penty goes on to shatter the Meera-mirror-image impression further by being quite social with the make-up and styling teams – there are no airs about the successful Bollywood debutante.

The 27-year-old model-turned-actress claims that modelling happened by chance. “I had some photos taken, it was just a fun thing, and Elite saw them and wanted to meet me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, I was still at St Xavier’s College then and the 75 per cent attendance was a big thing. I was a bit of the studious sort,” says Penty. But she was convinced by the agency that she could work around her college schedule, picking projects at her convenience, and thought the pocket money would be a good thing for college. It started as a part-time gig but when she completed her degree in mass communications from St Xavier’s, it seemed like a natural progression to working full-time as a model. While she doesn’t think she will use her degree, “I think that modelling is the other side of everything I learnt in class about advertising. It’s part of the same world so I know where a brand is coming from when I’m shooting for a commercial,” she explains.

Talking about the modelling industry, she says, “We are such a cricket and Bollywood-driven nation that when it comes down to it, that’s what people want to see. Unfortunately, there’s only so far you can go as a model. That’s why there are no supermodels here, because all the big brands and endorsements eventually go to cricketers and actors and actresses. That’s not the case in the West where models get to make it big.”

As for her big-screen debut, Cocktail, she met director Homi Adajania and producer Dinesh Vijan for the first time when she went to the Illuminati Films office, did a screen test the same day and was asked to return and do it again the next day. She was signed on immediately after that. “It was literally a 24-hour process. I was thinking ‘Are you sure?’ I had no acting background, no training. The last time I acted was probably in a school play, so I didn’t think I had it in me to pull off a role like that, in a big commercial Bollywood movie. I couldn’t believe it and I had no confidence in myself at that point,” says Penty. But hearing the whole script made her determined to be a part of the film.

When asked about her non-movie-obsessed family’s reaction to her sudden career change, she says, “Oh, they were cool. They’ve always known about my ability to make decent decisions on my own so they were very supportive, very happy for me.” Coming from a Parsi-Christian home, there wasn’t a strong history of spoken Hindi, and Penty worked on her language skills a lot – there were the usual diction lessons, language classes and conversational Hindi. While she did have Hindi lessons through school and uses it in everyday life in Mumbai, Penty wasn’t proficient and so acquiring the language skills became her first priority. Apart from this, she started working for the movie with dance lessons, script-reading, voice training and acting workshops.

Cocktail was shot in Cape Town and London, and Penty thoroughly indulged her inner foodie. Ping Pong, the chain of dim sum restaurants, was a regular haunt for lunch in London and the seafood in Cape Town was a huge hit with her. As for home-cooked food, she says, “My maid is a genius in the kitchen. She’s good with Indian, Chinese, the Goan dishes and the Parsi dishes. Although I enjoy trying different cuisines, I love my rice, dal and curry. I’m very Indian when it comes to eating.” She loves typically Goan curries including kaldeen curry and shakuti. As for cooking, she doesn’t even try. With Penty’s slender five foot ten inch frame, it’s easy to think she’s pulling the wool over our eyes with all this talk of food, until she starts tucking into the idlis and sambhar laid out before her.

When quizzed on her favourite films, the conversation veers off into a discussion about actors and Penty tells us she is a huge fan of Al Pacino. “Scent Of A Woman – isn’t that an amazing movie? I still get floored every time I watch that,” she says.

London, she says, is her favourite shopping destination, with Selfridges being her go-to store. As for her personal style, “I’m very safe with the way I dress. I keep it simple. I’m quite a high-street shopper. I love Zara. I’m not into bright colours, I’m a subdued dresser. The one thing I keep buying is shoes.” Penty’s love of footwear is easy to spot – on entering the room, the first thing she looked at was the line-up of shoes sitting ready for the fashion shoot and the bright red Christian Dior slingbacks were an instant hit with her. “I love shoes and super-high heels, but when it comes down to it, I end up in flip-flops all the time. Even when I’m wearing high heels, I carry flip-flops in my bag. I have Havaianas in every colour,” she says, sticking her feet out to offer a glimpse of light grey Havaianas with a crystal flower sewn on. While she does work with stylists on occasion, for events, Penty still pulls together her looks on her own, drawing on her modelling experiences.

London, New York and Cape Town count as her top three cities to visit, and over the years, Penty has clocked in almost eight months in New York. While working in Paris, she indulged her love for travel on the weekends or by staying on for a couple of days after an assignment, ticking off European favourites like Bruges and the South of France. As for when she’s at home in Byculla, where she grew up, Penty loves having a laid-back and chilled out time with a close group of friends, just hanging out at someone’s house or eating out.

‘Laid-back’ is the best way to describe Penty as well. While there is a streak of primness, it’s in a tongue-in-cheek way that keeps her from being cloyingly sweet. Even though there has been a steady stream of offers, she has her head firmly chained to her shoulders, and hasn’t signed any other films yet. There is no frantic desire to be the biggest, brightest star in Bollywood and that is as refreshing as the lady herself.

All through Verve’s interview with Penty, there was much light-hearted ribbing about her complete inability to remember details. So, when she mentioned that she loved reading, we had to ask about the last book she’d read. After much mental anguish over trying to remember the name, but describing it quite vividly, Penty named Lust for Life by Irving Stone. Her New Year’s resolution is to remember details for interviews!

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