"I refuse to be categorised as an item number girl," says Koena Mitra who was last seen singing "Khullam, khulla pyar" in the Vivek Oberoi-Antara Mali starrer "Road".
After that, Koena waited a whole year before landing a full-fledged role in Sanjay Gupta's "Musafir" opposite Anil Kapoor, reports Bollywood Trade.
"I was flooded with offers to do item numbers from the best of banners those days. I was offered a sensational number in 'The Rising' with Aamir Khan besides the 'Aisa Jadu Dala Re' number in 'Khakee'. It is difficult to resist big money and big banners, but I said a firm 'no' to all the offers... It was a long wait, but it paid off with me bagging Sanjay Gupta's 'Musafir'," she says.
Discussing her "Musafir" role, she says: "I play Anil Kapoor's girlfriend but there's a very interesting twist to the story. In fact, every character in the film has been etched out in a very interesting manner."
Koena says Gupta had earlier offered her a role in "Plan", but she refused because it was not appealing enough. "He did not hold it against me and promised to call me when he had something more interesting. He's among those directors who have no ego problems."
Didn't she have any apprehensions playing Anil Kapoor's love interest since he is almost twice her age?
"A lot of people asked me this question when I signed the film but the age factor will hardly be discernible when the two of us are seen together on screen. There have been other actors and actresses in the past who have worked together despite their age differences."
Koena says Anil is an excellent co-star to relate to and was a guiding force throughout the making of the film, helping with emotional scenes and dialogue-delivery.
She's also full of praise for Gupta whom she describes as a very comfortable director to work with.
"He gives his artistes a lot of freedom and treats both newcomers and stars with equal respect. Both Sanjay Gupta and Sanjay Dutt are fabulous producers and I was made to feel like any other star on the sets. They gave me the best of hair-stylists, make-up artists and designers, just like any other star to ensure that I had the perfect look in the film."
He is not the only director she is raving about though.
Koena is also eagerly looking forward to her next release after "Musafir" which will be Raj Kumar Santoshi's "Insan" where she plays the role of Ajay Devgan's wife.
"It is a big achievement for any newcomer to work in a Raj Kumar Santoshi banner, as he is known to be very selective about the artistes in his productions."
She plays a devoted wife in "Insan" who supports her husband through thick and thin and isn't worried about limiting her potential by playing stereotypical roles of wife and girlfriend.
"There's not much one can do about it, since it is a male-dominated industry. Right now my priorities lie in being seen in a big banner film. People would definitely want to watch a Sanjay Gupta or a Raj Kumar Santoshi film, where I'll get noticed.
"I could have done a solo lead film like 'Hawas', which I was incidentally offered, and lost the Sanjay Gupta and Santoshi film in the bargain. But I think it is better to be seen in a big banner film, probably in a smaller role, rather than doing a full-fledged three hour film which no one sees."
The fledgling actress admits she has no inhibitions about exposing on screen, provided the character and the script demands it. In "Insan", for instance, she she's shown in a bikini in the swimming pool with Ajay Devgan.
"I had no problem doing the scene because the script and the character demanded it. Besides, it doesn't give the feeling of being vulgar and cheap since it is a romantic moment between the husband and wife. "I will never do unnecessary scenes with sexual overtones which are used to sell the film," she adds firmly.
For the moment, however, Koena is eagerly awaiting the release of "Musafir", which could well be a make or break career move.