Right in the cusp of a new era, Pooja Kumar, all of 17, won the coveted Miss India USA. It wasn’t just her winning smile or the sparkle in her eye, but her answers about Gandhiji and her dancing prowess that got her so far. Soon after, things materialized, slowly but steadily. Cut to post-2010 and she’s on a plane to India for Vishwaroopam with Kamal Haasan. The feverish excitement aside, Pooja knew that such chances are rare and the rest, as they say, is history.
Photographer: Kunal Daswani
Hair and Makeup: Verve Salon
Location: Novotel Hotel, Chamiers Road
Styling: VK Sara
There’s an aura of positivity around Pooja whenever she talks about her time in the USA and what it’s like oscillating between India and America, the former being a foreign country, yet not so foreign in many ways. Beginning with independent cinema in America, she’s now a known face in the South Indian industry with Vishwaroopam, Uttama Villain, PSV Garuda Vera and others to her credit. At 41, neither does age nor does her drive stop her, with her signing up projects one by one.
“India is in my DNA!”
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, a city known for its forest parks and museums, Pooja recalls how she grew up as an American, with feeling of being different completely absent in her formative years. “My dad immigrated to the US in the 1970s. That time, there were only three Indians in St Louis, Missouri. But soon after that, many families started immigrating there. Now there are about 3000 Indian families. While growing up there, I never felt that I was a different race or colour. In fact, my parents integrated me so much in America, only later on in life did I realise that I am different, but that’s only because of other people’s ignorance,” she says. The Indian in her was well-accustomed, too. “Thank god my parents brought me to India often!” she exclaims, narrating how she came to fall in love with a country that was quite foreign to her. “In India, I learned to read and write in Hindi. I did my first dance performance when I was three called ‘Madhuban Mein Radhika’. And my mom introduced me to Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi. When I had come to India, I would learn Kathak from Birju Maharaj. I would travel between Lucknow, Dehradun, and Allahabad. So, somewhere between the dance classes and the frequent trips to the country, I fell in love with India.” She attributes her love to the way it was introduced to her, too. “I wasn’t forced to do the typical Indian things. Instead, it was more of the fact that this country is where I come from, this is in my DNA and I should be proud of it,” she avers.
“I can see the difference between India and America.”
Two entirely different continents but the love for cinema is the same. Speaking about what she finds different there, Pooja is quick to clarify that while it might be a bit more structured there, her love for performing in arts from these two countries doesn’t diminish. “It’s becoming such a small world. I think it was a natural progression for me to get into Indian and American cinema, because of the arts,” she says. She knew she always wanted to be an artist, irrespective of the fact that she hails from a family of doctors and engineers. “We weren’t really allowed to go in entertainment. When I told my family that I want to pursue arts, they were hesitant. It’s not a 9-5 job, it requires a 24X7 sort of dedication. My mum supported me, but my dad took some convincing,” she reminisces. In America, they take time and schedules quite seriously. In India, barring some uncertainties, the only other difference she really finds is the scale of budget, and the fact that India is full of variety.
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