Link up to published version
“You have to come to an understanding that a sense of your innocence will be lost” she says in a regretful but matter-of-fact tone. We’re not talking about anything scandalous, but it is impressively evident that in the five years between being the girl in the yellow bathing suit with a flower in her hair and the woman getting up-close and personal with Emraan Hashmi in ‘Murder 2’, Jacqueline Fernandez has grown up a lot. “I think then, like everyone when they’re younger, I was naïve” she smiles. “I was just a much younger girl, but I feel now that I can say I am definitely a woman”.
Not that she has lost any of her bounce or that characteristic girlish gaiety. “I’m not saying you have to change yourself” she says earnestly, speaking of how she has matured over the years with experience, reassuring us that “my father would slap me before I started acting all hoity-toity and all! But you’ve got to know the kind of direction you’re going in. That’s how it is.” And testimony to that is the fact that the room that was dull and life-less half a minute before, was lit up and buzzing with activity as soon as she walked in, running up to friends and greeting them with dazzling smiles and laughter.
The difference is that she has grown from a girl who waited for her dream to come to her, into a determined woman who is ready to engage with serious issues and address them immediately. What has driven her return to Sri Lanka, (apart from being on the panel of judges for the Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Universe pageant for 2011) is the desire to return to her motherland what she claimed from it five years ago. “I had some fantastic people supporting me and encouraging me” she smiles warmly, remembering the good times in 2006. “But they’re bittersweet” she shares, of her memories, “because they remind me that I’m older now”.
But with losing time, Jacqueline has gained years and experience, and far from only returning what she took, she plans to fill in what she can of the gaps she has come to see in the Sri Lankan glamour industry, and the training our models get before they enter an international arena. Speaking of her post-Miss Universe-Mumbai experience Jacqueline says, “I went in thinking “I’ve got a good smile and great PR, I’m going to be fine” but I wasn’t. It’s a business, an economy. I know it’s hard, but people don’t really care about you and no one’s out there to make friends” she continues, at the risk of sounding ruthless. Jacqueline may still have a long way to go, but she is definitely not deluded about where she is and where her path will take her. “It’s not a fairytale, it’s not candyfloss. It’s a mature world, and you need to be prepared for that”. But that was not her case, it seems. “I was not prepared.”
So then how did she manage not only to break into Bollywood but also to make ripples-turning-to-waves in such a short time-span? “Actually from a very young age I wanted this whole world of glamour, it was something I wanted to do” she shares unabashedly. Nevertheless we have seen and heard how soon after graduating with a degree in Mass Media, Jacqueline returned to Sri Lanka to work on television and broadcasting with Young-Asia television as well as ETV. “I think when you have an ambition and if you are ambitious, destiny will somehow find a way to lead you back to it. Not in a magical fantasy kind of way, but psychologically. I wanted to be an actor from a young age, and I always had this at the back of my head. So whatever move I made was calculated to get me there”.
Taking things for granted though, is not the style Jacqueline Fernandez advocates. Sure, the modelling/acting career fell in to her lap, but any others she might have, like breaking into an international acting career, she is not going to sit around and wait for. “It’s not about opportunities and it’s not about luck.” There is in those graceful limbs and usually dreamy liquid-brown eyes as she says “It finally comes down to a lot of really hard work”, a split-second of tension and a momentary flash of clear determination.
In recognizing the seriousness of the tasks she has undertaken, and the sheer competitiveness of the industry she has chosen to make her mark in, Jacqueline will not jump to encourage others. “It’s difficult” she shares hesitantly, “and I do feel that I struggled, and at times I did wish that I had more opportunity to gain experience”. Her bid then, is to try and make things easier for the newer models interested in breaking into the international arena. “I know a few girls who went to India to try things out there” she confides, “but they didn’t know what to expect, and when things came as a shock, it made them turn back”. With what might simply be youthful and naïve energy, but what is more likely to be a fiery passion inspired by gratitude, Jacqueline is determined to commit more time from her tight Bollywood schedule, to improving the standards of the Sri Lankan glamour industry. “I am seriously taking on more work” she says, firmly promising that she will make “a conscious effort to be here more”.
Behind these determinations lies a deep understanding of the failings of the system within which she had to struggle in order to break into the larger world of the rich and the famous. And leaving aside prudish modesties, ‘Jackie’ dishes it out straight up. “The problem with the glamour industry here is people don’t make money”. Cut-to-the-chase, she continues, “So the attitude is “what the hell are you doing?” It’s not seen as a decent job, it’s only a hobby.” Jacqueline’s theory is that if the Sri Lanka industry is expanded substantially, sufficiently and efficiently, standards will rise proportionately and chances for international break-throughs will increase. “The reason people get into any business is because the money is still good. That makes you successful and it makes you powerful” she says, adding that “right now, our glamour industry does not have that, there’s no money involved. This is why people look down on it, because it seems frivolous.”
“I get asked the question a lot when I come here” she says, “why I would be a model if I have a degree because “It’s for bimbos and airheads”. But look at people like Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss” she continues triumphantly, defiantly, “they are super, super millionaires! You wouldn’t ask them that question.” Sounds like an argument well-worth one’s money. “It’s a two way thing though, and it will take a long time” she admits, adding firmly “but we’re making a start here. My intention right now is to really help create an international supermodel from Sri Lanka and I think once that happens, its going to be a wake-up call for everyone who thinks this industry is not something good enough to go for”.
Seeing as how Jacqueline Fernandez has in a matter of years re-defined and re-configured the Sri Lankan standard for and understanding of modelling, acting and the world of glitz ‘n’ glam, it’s difficult to be cynical of her plans. “We invent, re-invent, and we evolve” she shrugs, speaking of the maturing of her image. It’s high time evidently, that the Sri Lankan world of movies, fashion and glamour as a whole, took a page out of this starlet’s book.