It was the trip to Austria that drove 17-year-old Bollywood actor Preeti Jhangiani to join the set of the 1999 Malayalam film 'Mazhavillu'. Starring opposite Malayalam actors Kunchacko Boban and Vineeth, the Mumbai-born model never felt the fear of a debutant and comfortably portrayed the character of Kunchacko's wife.
Even before the film hit theatres, Malayalis knew Preeti as the pretty girl that appeared regularly in the 'Nima Sandal soap ads' on television. A year later, she walked into the Bollywood film industry through the cult classic movie 'Mohabattein', by portraying Kiran, a young widow whom Karan (played by Jimmy Sheirgill) sees alone one night in a train station. She became an overnight sensation, tipped to deliver more in Indian Cinema.
Preeti's journey from 'the girl next door' to co-founding the country's first professional arm wrestling championship, Pro Panja League, is nothing short of a surprise.
In an interview with Mathrubhumi.com, the 'Mohabattein' star discusses her life, films and decision to venture into the world of sports.
Keralites still remember you from the movie 'Mazhavillu' opposite Chakochan and Vineeth. How did you land a role in the film?
I was studying in college, pursuing modelling and featuring in Nima ads and a few others. One day, classes were suspended following a strike. That day the producers of Mazhavillu approached me and offered me the lead role in 'Mazhavillu.'
I was sceptical of acting up to that point in my life. But the producers were good people. They told my parents the movie would be filmed in Austria. The trip to Austria convinced me to sign up for the film. My father accompanied me, and we spent 30 days filming in Austria.
People actually think Mohabattein was my debut movie. But it was Mazhavillu that offered me the platform to launch my career. I learned a lot from the movie set. Until recently, many people believed that I grew up in Kerala. I even edited a lot of misinformation shared on my Wikipedia page.
How was the experience working beside Chakochan and Vineeth? Ever felt like doing another Malayalam movie?
Kunchacko was very helpful and gentle, with a lovely personality. Although he wasn't a big star back then, he was still a popular actor in Kerala. People were aware of his acting capabilities. Vineeth was very popular at that time too. They actually helped me build my career as an actor. Mazhavillu was a teaching ground for me.
I wanted to act more in Malayalam after Mazhavillu. But, I became busy with Telugu and Tamil films. After signing with Mohabattein, I couldn't immediately accept any offers from other movies. As a result, a break ensued, and things never worked out later.
Still, Kerala is very close to my heart, and I would love to do another Malayalam movie.
The 'Nima Soap' ad featuring you is one of the most iconic ads aired on TV. Do people still identify you for the ad?
Yes, people still approach me after identifying me from Nima's ad. With the social media boom, it increased. Today, the ad is still circulated on social media platforms, and many fans still contact me.
A shift from acting to becoming the co-owner of the country's first professional arm wrestling championship, Pro Panja League. How was that experience?
The league was not something that I had planned. I co-founded Swen Entertainment, with my husband Parvin Dabas, in 2020. Later, we launched the country's first professional arm-wrestling league, Pro Panja League, in February 2020 and hosted the first-ever arm-wrestling tournament in India in 2021. I handle the financial part, and Parvin looks after the creative aspect of the league.
Though I often watch sports, I was never a sports buff. However, after I got involved in Pro Panja League, I quickly learned that India is fast becoming a sporting nation. We are finally having a culture where sports has become a part of our lives.
Interestingly, the largest pool of champions in our league is from Kerala. It is my other connection to Kerala.
When can we see you back on the big screen again?
After Mohabettein, I received a lot of similar roles. The majority of them were sober characters or glamorous roles. But I never took a break from the films. Meantime, I also produced a Hindi movie Sahi Dhandhe Galat Bande.
Now, I am making a comeback through a movie, Mahapaur, directed by Avinash Gupta. It was shot in Lucknow, and I play the role of a mayor. I have another show coming up in OTT soon.