Diana Penty has never shied away from the fact that her entry into Bollywood was serendipitous. But Mumbai was always familiar turf to the model-turned-actress. In a conversation with us, the actor opens up about becoming a celebrity in her own hometown. By Rashima Nagpal
Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographed by Taras Taraporvala
Styled by Namita Alexander
Hair & Make-Up by George Kritikos
Location : The Oberoi, Mumbai
Born and raised in Mumbai, Diana Penty did not visit Film City until a modelling assignment required her to do so. Nor did she watch many films growing up. But thanks to an uncle who was a fashion photographer, Penty was not a complete stranger to the entertainment industry. “As a child, I would excitedly watch models and celebrities during photo shoots. But I never thought of it as a profession for myself.”
A student of marketing and advertising, Penty wanted to build a career in global marketing communications. But life clearly had other plans. A fun photo shoot with photographer Farrokh Chothia (her uncle’s friend) landed her a modelling gig with Elite Models. In hindsight, she realises, that’s where it all began. “At first, it was simply a great way to be financially independent. I was one of the few in my age group who was earning, and it was a great feeling. But soon, one thing led to another…” reminisces Penty.
She was modelling in New York when she got the call to audition for Cocktail, which would turn out to be her first movie. “It was quite scary initially. I was a shy, introverted person who knew nothing about films. But my agent persuaded me to at least go for the meeting. Also, I sort of knew Homi [Adajania], and after my audition, they just knew I’d be fit for the role of Meera. Before I knew, I had done a film!” she laughs. But the unprecedented success of Cocktail caught Penty off guard. So much so that she fled from Mumbai to the Amalfi Coast to take a breather from all the new-found attention.
Penty has been a globetrotter ever since she was three months old. “Both my parents worked for airlines, so we would travel often,” she tells me. No matter where she went, the idea of “returning home to Bombay” was always comforting. The warm vibe of Mumbai and its cosmopolitan culture are what she finds most endearing. “I cannot imagine living anywhere else, except New York maybe,” she adds as an afterthought.
Sitting in her ancestral bungalow in South Mumbai, Penty reminisces about her childhood, when she would stroll down the lane to Golden Wafers. “They sold hot home-made chips in different flavours: from cheese to masala to lime to tomato. It was incidentally owned by Boman Irani. They would give me chips for free on days I didn’t have enough pocket money,” she giggles. The daughter of a Parsi father and a Goan mother, Penty is a true-blue food lover. “I have just ordered dhansak and salli chicken from Jimmy Boy,” she says, as we discuss the heritage of Parsi restaurants in her neighbourhood. From Snowmans to Yazdani Bakery to Britannia & Company to K. Rustom to Khyber, there is a host of old joints in Mumbai that Penty adores. Among the contemporary restaurants, The Table (thetable.in) and La Loca Maria top her list of favourites. When I ask her if she likes to cook, the answer is a resounding no. “I cannot, for the life of me, stand behind a stove and cook. I have no patience.” After a long day at work in Mumbai, it is in the confines of this family home that she finds solace. That, and masala chai and chocolates. “I finally learnt how to make tea on the stove during the lockdown,” she laughs.
Having found her feet in Bollywood, Penty is now ready to spread her wings with her first Malayalam film, Salute, alongside actor Dulquer Salmaan. “Considering how tough the last year has been, I’ve learned to embrace change and try new things. And that the best things in life are unplanned.”
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