Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan on the ramp after Sabya’s show on Saturday night, presented by Taj Bengal and t2. Picture by Rashbehari Das
Time: 10.55pm. The Gui Zhou fish at Chinoiserie has just been ordered. The BB buzzes. When it says Pepsi calling, you have to take the call. Especially if you are still obsessively thinking about what he showed only 90 minutes ago. Rani Mukerji is ready for the interview, he says. The mind travels quickly to the burnt garlic fried rice. Aschho? he says. Mind travels back to the Crispy Konjee Lamb. But the decision is made. Rani Mukerji. By the time you enter the elevator, the Chinese food is forgotten. And by the time you enter suite number 135, you cant remember if you were hungry in the first place. She is so stunning. Its 11pm. She looks morning fresh. She is also so friendly. The next hour flies off in chick-chat. Excerpts from Mukerji at midnight!
(The question is not over. In fact, it hasnt even started. But Rani already knows what she wants to say)
He is less a designer, more a friend. We met during Black and instantly hit it off.
Was it the Bong connection?
Yes, I think initially it was. Secondly, what struck me was how humble and down to earth he was. I liked that about him. He was such a great designer, yet so normal. We clicked. And together we both have grown in our careers. When I first started wearing Sabyas saris, I looked different. His saris were very Sabya. Its his genius that he has made a label with such a strong signature style. When you wear a Sabyasachi, everyone knows you are in a Sabyasachi. I compare him to Chanel. Its a distinct and definite look. I am happy that he has stuck to his style through the years. Its not easy to do that. Every time you see his work, it looks more brilliant. His saris are beautiful and they still never stop to surprise me.
My meeting with Sabya has been special. Two Bongs together! He is my door to fashion. He tells me the trends, what is this season, what is last season. The best part is that he himself doesnt follow any trends!
I remember the first time I wore his creation, it was at fashion week in Mumbai many years ago. It was an off-white kalidaar with black Kashmiri work. The dupatta was stunning. The pictures came out the next day and half of Mumbai called me up! I still have the outfit. I have just kept it. One day I will wear it again.
Do you not repeat clothes?
I try and repeat clothes. I can easily repeat anything that Sabya gives me. But the press is all around. Tell me, why shouldnt we repeat clothes? They are so expensive. On the one hand we are doing a campaign called Save the Sari and on the other hand we dont repeat clothes. Isnt it hypocritical? But these days because of the media it is difficult... (We raise an eyebrow. She simply smiles her smile.)
What are five of your favourite film looks….
(Before answering, she turns the question back. Lets hear your five first and then I will tell you mine, she smiles. Our looks done, its her turn….)
Smoky Eyes: Its my trademark. Its called smoky now but its been done in India since the 1960s and 70s. Sharmilajis liner was stunning. Mickey (Contractor) started the look with me in Chalte Chalte. He thought lets flip it. With Mickey I stay calm, I have immense faith in him. All I do is sit quietly and he transforms you. He is an artist, not a make-up artist. I remember Farah Khan seeing me during Chalte Chalte and saying Yeh kya Ramlila ka make-up kiya! But you know a new trend always gets a response that is drastic and different. It is almost meant to be ridiculed. The first reaction for any new thing is always oh my god….
Bunty Aur Babli: The salwar kurtas were Adis (producer Aditya Chopra) idea. He wanted a short kurta and a transparent salwar with no dupatta. He wanted bright colours. Aki (Narula, the costume director) and I went shopping to local stores to select the fabric, select the brocade. The sling bag came to substitute the dupatta. The look had to be real for a small town. That was the secret of the Babli look.
Black: The colours, the silhouettes that Sabya created were outstanding. It felt so European. The simple checked shirt, the skirt, it was so basic and so beautiful. For me it was back to school, the shirts tucked in, the blazers and the ballerinas. It is very difficult to make a style statement without colours and embroideries but he did it. I am so happy he got recognised and won the National Award for it because people didnt talk about the fashion, they spoke about the performances.
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna saris: Manish Malhotra has epitomised chiffon saris. He knows films and what works like no one else. He is a genius. Over the years we have worked on our looks together. I also love the clothes he gave me in Chalte Chalte. He is always with the time. When Manish gets it right, he gets it right. No one else can get it like him.
Combination of Saathiya, Yuva and Hum Tum: You must be thinking its a weird combination but I love my look in all these three. I like the way Manish goes through the character graph with my looks in Hum Tum. Even in Yuva I insisted that Manish buy my cotton saris and gold earrings from Calcutta. For Saathiya again, Manish and I sat with the tailor because Shaad (Ali, the director) wanted a normal girl look. I dont want to sound like a snob but the clothes had to look downmarket, especially a skirt that looks like a triangle! You would only wear these clothes in your house! They were real and you cannot get more real than that.
So what does Rani Mukerji wear at home?
I wear shorts, jeans, pyjamas…
And at dinner?
A short fitted dress or a slightly longer A-line pretty dress. I could also wear a jumpsuit.
You are in a jumpsuit phase…
I like jumpsuits. You can wear it only if you have a good body. I think I have worked hard for a good body... so why not? I enjoy pants and skirts that are low-waist. They are more comfortable. Thats why I like jumpsuits. They give you breathing space.
What do you like to wear to a formal function?
A Sabya sari or a salwar kameez. Also, dhoti pants — I find them very comfortable.
Where do you shop?
For me, its London. I prefer local designers to any shops or brands.
Tough one. Chanel. Or the re-invented new collections by Gucci. I also love the latest denim collection by Louis Vuitton.
Stella McCartney. You can say I love everything by her. Perfume, shoes….
Cartier. I also love Franck Muller.
Oh my god! Gina. Also, my new pair by DKNY. Olive green and beige… they are stunning.
Favourite pair of jeans?
A pair by Abercrombie & Fitch.
Which colleagues of yours do you think are well-dressed?
Deepika Padukone is very well turned out.
What she wears suits her, her height and her gait. She looks beautiful. She has the body language.
Does it bother you, what people (read fashion bloggers) write about your style?
No. I dont follow much regularly, and even if I see High Heel Confidential (celeb-driven fashion blog) or something, it is just for fun. Its timepass.
Whose opinion counts?
The mirror. When you get ready you see yourself in the mirror and that is only what counts.
Sisters-in-arms for Sabya
||The bollywood beauties check out how they’re looking on
t2 photographer Rashbehari Das’s camera screen!
Minutes to go for the lights to go out at the Crystal Hall at Taj Bengal. The cocktail glasses are quickly being downed, the finger food snapped up in a hurry. Far from this madding rush, three floors above in fact, Vidya Balan is getting ready in one of the inside rooms in her suite.
As soon as she is done, almost on cue, Sabyasachi Mukherjee walks in. Bhishon shundor lagchhe, he says under his breath. Vidya softly kicks the lower folds of the green Sabyasachi sari she is wearing and asks Tai? Shudhu gola-ta… in one movement the designer goes behind her and unclasps the chunky necklace Vidya was wearing.
Should I take the bag? Dekhi bag-ta. Out comes the red bag and its an instant no from Sabya. He takes two steps back and looks at Vidya again. Haath-ta ei bhabey rakho, he shows her. Finally happy with the way she looks, Sabyasachi almost runs out. Aami phone na korle nambe naa, he orders.
With the creator happy, the muse is finally content and she comes and sits on the sofa.
t2: Pepsi speaks to you in Bengali?
Vidya: Haan… shob shomoy… karon aami aamar Bangla-ta ektu practise korchhi. Tai Bangali dekhlei top top top kore Bangla bolchhi.
I dont know. When I did Bhalo Theko, someone else dubbed for me. At that time my accent was not right. I decided then that if I ever did a Bengali film again, it would be me dubbing for it. So when I had to say a few Bengali lines in Bhool Bhulaiyya, Priyan Sir said that he will get it dubbed. I said, no! There was a supervisor and he said, arey your pronunciation is perfect. I was gloating! [Vidyas head swings to the left as she smiles, the lamp on her left gently lights her face. Bedazzling.]
I am such a wannabe Bengali I am constantly terrorising every Bengali I know or meet to correct me every time I say something wrong. I also learn Bengali rhymes and Bengali poems. My current obsession is the song from Antaheen… Jao pakhi bolo. The way Shreya has sung it, you feel like she is dancing. And I saw the film… its beautiful. I spoke to Tony (Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury), I spoke to Rahul Bose, I spoke to Shantanu Moitra and I spoke to Shreya Ghoshal. Everything about the film was so good… the moments were so good.
Did you catch the strains of the Eklavya love theme which Shantanu has used as a song (Shokaal ashe naa) in Antaheen?
No, not the song. [t2 hums it for Vidya.]
Correct, correct, correct! I am ashamed to say it never struck me!
How far back does this Bong connection of yours go?
It goes back a lifetime. I really think so. There are people who like other languages. But my mom keeps saying, theres something more here. Whenever I enter this city, I feel Calcutta is my second home. And I say it wherever I am. I love the language. I love the films. There was this friend of mine in college named Mimi Guha. I used to learn Bengali from her. I used to watch Bengali films from that time, because we used to have this film society.
Then I started doing ads and most of my ad directors were Bengalis. Then my association with Pradeep Sarkar started. Most of the people he worked with were Bengalis. Then Dada made me watch a whole lot of Bangla films. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Seemabaddha, Jalsaghar, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Amar Lenin. Then Rituparno Ghosh happened to me. I remember watching Ashukh at the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) festival in Mumbai. I loved the film. I think its one of his lesser-known films. But its such a lovely film. And I found out about him from my ad filmmaker friends. And I told them that if I work in films some day, I would like to work with him. That hasnt still happened. But I do hope that we do a film together someday.
And now you are working with Sujoy Ghosh…
Yes and Sujoy has really indulged my keenness to learn Bengali. He had offered me Kahaani two years ago. We are finally doing it and I will be here next month for that. So all this time I would tell Sujoy things like, message me a Bengali rhyme. I watched Sanyasi Raja the other day and I loved the song Kaharba noy dadra bajao. Now, Pradeep Sarkar doesnt know these films. [Vidya laughs out loud. Resplendent.]
I called Sujoy and asked about the song. He immediately identified the song and I asked him to send me the lyrics. Then I learnt Jete jete pothe holo deri (the RD Burman hit) and I again asked him to write and message me the lyrics. So Sujoy has been very patient with me. Maybe its his way of getting me to do this film. [This time its a naughty laugh. Bewitching.]
Can you reveal anything about Kahaani at this stage?
Vidya: Its a thriller and set entirely in Calcutta. So I will be camping here for one-and-a-half months for the film. And yes, I will be here during the Pujas. It will be my first time! I am so excited, you have no idea.
You have turned up for almost every Sabyasachi show in the recent past. You have almost become family to him…
I was going through this entire phase of criticism when everything that I was doing was getting criticised. Around that time another Bengali friend of mine, Tanushree Sarkar (who did the art direction for Parineeta), introduced me to Sabyasachi. God, I still havent got the pronunciation of his name right. Shobyoshachi? Yeah? Right.
We first met up casually over dinner and we hit it off well. Then he invited me for one of his shows and I wore one of his creations. It just felt like the perfect fit. I love organic fabric and I love the fact that its not just about producing clothes for him. Theres a certain aesthetic at work. He is also trying to revive the Indian weaves. I was going through my own process of reclaiming myself in more ways than one.
And Sabyasachi was one of the inspirations because here was a man who was doing things on his own terms, just what he wanted to do. Also, I enjoyed watching and wearing his clothes. It just seemed to be an extension of my personality.
We gelled really well. It was beyond work. It was a hand-in-glove situation, a beautiful marriage. My wardrobe started changing again and I was going back to Indian and more importantly I was regaining my perspective. And I was wearing a lot of Sabya. Then he did Paa with me. And now we have done No One Killed Jessica together. Today people take it for granted that I wear Sabya all the time, which is not entirely untrue. Also, he indulges my Bengali fetish. Just a little bit.
When do you work again with Pradeep Sarkar?
Inshallah, we should come together soon for a feature film. We really want to work together again and I can say that for him as well. We recently did an ad together for a hair oil that I endorse. Before the first shot, I was very nervous, almost to the point that my hands were starting to tremble. You know, Dada and I have this fantastic love-hate relationship. After Parineeta we have been through so much. Its like if you have not cycled for a long time, you are not sure whether you will be able to keep the balance. I went up to him before that first take and he said, lets go for it. I said, Dada, rehearsal! He said its not needed. I was like, I can do it with any other director but not with you. I cant even begin to describe how he has held my hand as a director and taught me to walk as an actor. Suddenly he was just letting me go, but we did it. It felt like it was five years ago. Also what helped was that Nutty (Natarajan Subramaniam, cinematographer for Parineeta) was the cameraman. I think Dada planned it that way. It was fabulous.
Do you feel jealous when you see other heroines working in a Pradeep Sarkar film?
[Vidya takes her time to answer this one, even fumbles on the No. Disarming.]No, no, I dont feel bad or anything. Because I have also worked with other directors. Also, I believe that every actor-director relationship is unique. What I share with Dada is different from what I share with Balki (director of Paa). But I dont feel possessive or anything. I am just happy knowing that he is happy on some movie set and doing what he wants to do. And I am really hoping we will do a film soon enough.
Rani is here (for the Sabyasachi show), and shes your co-star in No One Killed Jessica. Are you friendly with her?
Yes! Rani Mukerji has been my favouritest actor among my immediate seniors. I have always enjoyed her performances. And I have always wondered how it would be like when two actresses came together in a film. You have seen Silsila and you have seen Arth… I was looking forward to the film. And its been fantastic. If you had to name one switch-on switch-off actress, I think it would be Rani Mukerji. She does it like this. [Vidya snaps her fingers. Sexy.]
While people would love to hear me say otherwise, but I really enjoyed working with Rani. Shes also a mastikhor and theres a constant glint in her eyes. I would tell her that you would keep a straight face and I would start laughing in the middle of a shot.
And would you be meeting Bengali directors here during your Kahaani shoot?
There are a couple of directors who have shown interest. Theres Tony.
Given that you love Antaheen so much, is it a yes?
I first want to discuss Antaheen with him. But maybe I should watch Anuranan before I do that. I would love to do a Bengali film for sure and dub in my own voice. Bengali is no longer alien to me. So I am itching to do a Bengali film now. My thing with Bengali is becoming an antaheen thing. See I even know what antaheen means!
But do you know what anuranan means?
No! I have to find that one. Let me start messaging my Bengali friends!
Sabya escorts rani to her seat
||Vidya on the ramp
before the show
||Rani with “mashi” Debasree Roy
Pictures by Pabitra Das & Rashbehari Das