Savusavu: She was all of 18 when her acting career took off, landing her in the cobweb of celebrityhood.
But actress Ileana D'Cruz has managed to escape it her way -- by prioritising family over work, maintaining a slow pace, conquering depression that stemmed from superficial judgments by faceless people, and ignoring constant rumours about her marriage and pregnancy.
"I'm not pregnant. In fact, I would have been super happy if I was. It's something I have always wanted. But there's still time. I still don't want to become pregnant yet," Ileana told IANS during her Fiji sojourn as brand ambassador, laughing off rumours.
There was a hullabaloo when she used "hubby" for her Australian photographer beau Andrew Kneebone on social media, leaving fans and the media playing the guessing game on her marital status.
"It's not important for me (to tell the world if I'm married or not). I do tell the world about my equation in a way, and let the world a little bit into my life. But I like it that way because I hate the negativity that comes with it. I've learnt to live with it as it has been a little over 12 years for me in the industry now. But it's really not fair on the so many other people, the families involved," said the 31-year-old actress with Goan roots.
Ileana says a relationship is about restraint and respect.
"There's respect there," Ileana said, adding: "I had a different perception of what a relationship or love is like. I was all giddy-headed and fairytale about it in my head, but it's so different. There's a lot of restraint that you've got to have, compromising in certain situations -- and you've got to have a lot of respect."
Respect, in her checklist for a relationship, precedes trust and love.
"I feel we've sort of evolved into that," asserted Ileana, who mostly avoids opening up on her personal life to keep it away from being "frivolised".
It was Andrew, in fact, who egged on Ileana to see a therapist when depression struck her.
"Things had got so bad that I was pushing people away. I didn't realise how much I was alienating people. I would constantly refuse to go out when friends would call. At one point, I didn't realise I was at home for a week... After that, I got an ultimatum from him," shared Ileana.
She is calmer today.
"Now I don't look at life where I'd say: 'Oh gosh, my life's over if I don't have films any more'. My approach is that there's so much more for me to do... It (depression) really was in a way godsent... That depression and that phase in my life, as horrible as it was, was needed in a way to switch things back and change who I was as a person."
Now she enjoys balancing her personal and professional life at a pace she controls.
Having started her career with Telugu film "Devadasu", Ileana also did Tamil movies and forayed into Bollywood with "Barfi!". Her roles in subsequent movies like "Rustom", "Mubarakan", "Baadshaho" and "Raid" gave her a further push in Hindi cinema.
"I'm happy I'm doing films at a slow pace rather than doing anything and everything... I do love my work, but for me, my priority is definitely family, and then work. More often than not, this industry expects you to put work before family. They are like 'The show must go on' irrespective of whatever happens. That's something I like to twist and tweak to my way as much as I can," she said.
"The good thing is I have managed to do it all these years. I don't want to look back, say 20 years from now, and feel I have missed out on family and memories," said Ileana, for whom the switch from southern films to Bollywood changed life for the "better".
Her choice of cinema has undergone a change too.
"When I first started out in Telugu cinema, I signed anything and everything that came my way. I was 18, was immature and it felt like a good idea that 'Oh, they are paying me a good amount of money'. I was young, naive, I had zero ambition and, honestly, it wasn't my calling," she said.
"I fell in love with films only two years after working in films. So, my choice really changed with time because there was this seriousness and respect for my work. I felt I owed it to my work to not do a very crap film and to think about what I am doing," she added.
"When I was 21, I had this thought that when I am a grandma, I don't want the kids to look at it and say, 'What's that? Why did you do that?' So, I thought I should really think about it properly and do good films," Ileana said.