I was just a teenager when I auditioned for Girish Karnad's Cheluvi (a fantasy about a girl who can become a tree). When he offered me the role, the first thing I told him was, "But I have my college exams." He laughed and said that he would talk to the college authorities.

I realised that throught the medium of cinema, I could reach a wider audience. I started to take my work really seriously. I thought, I might as well make this my career. Until then, I had treated it as a hobby. 

In Dr. Jabbar Patel's Mukta, I played a character facing discrimination. That movie taught me more about politics and sociology than my Political Science course in college.

I did not want to secure myself to one genre or language. I wanted to try new things and reach out to the whole world. The passion within me did not allow me to laze around. I wanted to do 'world cinema'. 

Sergio Scapagnini saw my first film Cheluvi at the Cannes Film Festival. I got to work in Vrindavan Film Studios which was shot in India and abroad. Directed by Lamberto Lambertini, with an entirely Italian crew, this film had just three Indians in the cast, Mohan Agashe, Gautam Ghosh and me.

After a couple of films in Tamil and Marathi, the turning point came when I landed the lead role in my first Hindi feature film Daayraa. The film was directed by Amol Palekar who does not make creative compromises; nor does he make films for awards. Yet the film went on to win me the Best Actress Award in France International Film Festival.

At times I would feel that I could not portray a character because I found it unbelievable. Take for instance, Baba Saheb Ambedkar's wife (Ramaa in Dr. Ambedkar, 1997). Her kids died because she did not have the money to buy medicines. Initially I could not relate to a situation like that. But I realised that my philosophies, experiences and principles maybe very different from the characters. It did not mean that I could not portray the role. The character touched me and I understood what she had gone through.

Despite the critical acclaim and years of work in regional and parallel cinema, I was tired of hearing  "I heard you got an award, but we never got to see the film." In spite of the creative satisfaction, I was choked that I hadn't reached out to the common man. My showcase looked nice, with all the awards. Over time I had grown as an actor and I wanted my films to be seen by more and more people.

Mission Kashmir was the turning point for me in that sense. The film had a national and international release. It brought me the kind of recognition that I could never have dreamed of. A number of people thought that I had taken a big risk at the beginning of my commercial film career, playing mum to Hrithik Roshan who is older than me. But I think Vidhu Vinod Chopra took a bigger risk. He stood by his choice. I think I looked convincing as both Sanjay Dutt's wife and Hrithik's mom. That year I was nominated for each and every award for that role.

When Dil Chahta Hai was offered to me I could have opted out presuming it wasn't a role worth my calibre. But I liked the honesty of the director who made it very clear right at the beginning that this was all they had to offer. And secondly, without any heavy duty scenes, it was a difficult role... to behave normally and make people laugh. I have never given a thought for what roles I play, as long as they give me creative satisfaction.

I have done a lot of those heavy-duty films. And they can be quite difficult to handle. Dil Chahta Hai was a refreshing change - just nine scenes and a song. But I connected emotionally to the film. And I am glad that I did it. The first time Saif saw my huge bouffant, he screamed "What are you doing in that hairdo? My mum used to specialise in those!"

My strength in cinema has always been doing a variety of roles. From a tree in Cheluvi, to a boy in Daayra, from an innocent kid sister in Doghi, to a spicy wife in Taxi No. 9211, I have always offered variety to my audience.

We actors have this tendency to crib that we do not get good roles. But when we do, we shy away because we are afraid to experiment.

In Agni Varsha, my costumes were from that era - very basic, bare essential pieces of cloth. Initially I was a bit shy. I did feel a bit bare. But by the end of the first day, I was cool with it. I loved my character in the film - a simple woman who stands up for truth.

Today's heroines are not content with costumes and jewellery. They want narration. They listen to the full story and do not sign a film just on the basis of four songs. I love this attitude. I think screen tests are a fair way of casting actors. It shows that the director is serious about his film and wants the actor to give it his/ her best shot. Either you suit a role or you don't.

My new film White Rainbow, directed by Dharan Mandrayer (nephew of legendary Tamil film thespian Sivaji Ganesan) is a touching story about the widows of Vrindavan. I play Priya, a character is based on the real life social activist Mohini Giri who runs the Guild of Service in Vrindavan.

I felt an emotional connection to the film when I recalled how my grandmother was treated until my mother brought her to Pune and encouraged her to come out of her shell. She lived happily to a ripe old age of 101.

The script of Devrai, (directed by Sumitra Bhave Sunil Sukthankar) interested me. The role of Seena is one of a normal Indian housewife and there is no real scope for great acting or histrionics. But it was this very fact that made me want to do it. I felt that it is perhaps more difficult to do a simple role than a powerful one. I took up the challenge. Like most people I had very little idea about schizophrenia and what a family goes through. I visited rehabilitation centres, spoke to care givers and tried to understand. 

I just follow my instincts when constructing a character. I take inputs from the director, writer and the script itself to define my role. 

Silence Please. The Dressing Room is a story about a goodwill cricket match between India and Pakistan. I play a journalist. I got to play the role of my friends in the media who interview me now and then.

I worked in the Gujarati film Love is Blind which was released in Nov 2005.  This refreshing film was made with an aim to draw audiences back to regional cinema. This humorous film with rocking music has been a hit with the Gujaratis - young and old. Directed by Vipul Shah and produced by R H Kampani of Nugget Entertainments Co., my co-star in the film is Sandeep Patel, brother of the famous singer Devang Patel.

Working in the Italian film Fuoco Di Su Me (transalates to Fire at my Heart) and being a stranger to the language made it both interesting and exciting. It was a brave decision on the producer's part to cast me, an Indian actor, in a purely Italian role, in an otherwise entirely Italian cast.

It was my work in The Vrindavan Film Studio seven years ago that got me the role. For over two years I have gone through elaborate screen tests and photo shoots until director Lamberto Lambertini approved. Working on it has been a fabulous experience, especially with Omar Sherif as part of the cast. Shot mostly in Procida, Italy, it required me to learn Italian and get my accent right a month before shooting began. Thanks to my crew and co-stars, my Italian improved and not a single take was redone because of my dialogue!

In every film that I do, I have a different look according to the character. This is what I constantly try to do  in order to improvise my role. This is sometimes suggested by the director and improvised by me. In no two films do I have the same 'face'. 

For example, my makeup could be different; like in Ramesh Sippy's Taxi No. 9211 (directed by Milan Luthria, co-stars Nana Patekar and John Abraham), I added small touches like putting safety pins in my bangles. This is a typical lower middle class 'look' where the woman never has any time to put away her knic knacs carefully in shelfs and there are never enough cupboards in the house, anyway.

This is the uniqueness that I lend to any role that comes my way. This is the variety I give in  films. 

Released in March 2006, Taxi No. 9211 was a film I signed almost instantly after listening to the impactful narration by Milan Luthria, the director. I love the story and my character in the film. The film totally reflects today's Bombay. It has some powerful scenes and good humour, too. 

My role has been appreciated by fans and critics as well.

There have been a couple of projects which I have regretted signing. A few of my films have not seen the light of day due to various reasons. But as an actor, for me, my creative and emotional investment in these films is dead. I try my best to work with people who are here for the love of film making, and not just proposal makers. I am aware that there is only one Amol Palekar or Jabbar Patel or Girish Karnad, so the experience will not be as breathtakingly satisfying but nonetheless I am happy with the directors I am working with.

I play Sunil Shetty's wife in Ram Gopal Varma's Darna Zaroori Hai. I had worked in Ram Gopal Varma's production Pyar Tune Kya Kiya. It is indeed a path breaking film where seven directors have come together to make a film with six different stories. During shooting, everybody tried to scare me but failed :) 

I was in Venice in Sep. 2005, where I had gone to attend the Red Carpet Grand Screening of my Italian film Fuoco su di me  directed by by Lamberto Lambertini at the 62nd Venice Film Festival.

My film was given a red carpet welcome at one of the most prestigious film festivals. It was my privilege to share the red carpet with the legendary Omar Sharif who floored me with his compliments about my performance and made me feel great when he said he thought I was beautiful and had an international look!

Read an article by Nitin Sethi about my trip to Venice at http://www. GalamSham.com

I won the best actress award for this film Fuoco su di me at the Milan film festival in Busto Arsizio. The film received rave reviews from the audience at the festival. I am proud to be the only Indian till date to have received such a prestigious award. The film in all won 4 awards at the festival including best actor award to Omar Sheriff. Read more about this in IndiaGlitz.

At times, people 'arrive'. Like Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor arrived. At times, I do feel, 'when will I finally get there?' .... I am still arriving. I am enjoying my journey on the road less travelled.