You must be relieved that Midnight’s Children is finally releasing in India on February 1…
I am very happy because there was a point of time when we were concerned that it may not. It is of course a film about India and if the people here wouldn’t have been able to watch it then it would have been incomplete.... Watching it on DVD wouldn’t have been the same.
You apparently are quite a fan of the book…
It’s been one of my all-time favourite books and I am not saying this because I have acted in the film. I read everything from crappy fiction that are page-turners to books that have no real plot at all, like Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence that I read recently. And I really love historical fiction because it’s the best way to know more about a period in history without getting bored! I have always found Midnight’s Children very intriguing… there is the backdrop of the India-Pakistan conflict, the fragmentation of the country and the problems within the ruling party of the time. It’s a clever book and the parallels that are drawn between Saleem’s (Sinai) life and the state of the country are brilliant.
When I was told during the casting that both Deepa (Mehta) and Salman (Rushdie) wanted to meet me together, I went along with my tattered copy of Midnight’s Children that has been with me since college. It was nice to get it autographed by him. I got a chance to meet Salman again in New York. He had seen the rushes and was very excited.
So what was it like being offered the role of Jamila?
I was very happy. I thought: ‘Oh that’s great, because she’s young and she’s beautiful!’ (Laughs). Jamila is a self-absorbed teenager who rarely cares for anything but herself. Then of course, she sings and dances a lot. When you see Saleem and Jamila together, their relationship is the lightest in the film and I found those scenes with Satya (Bhabha, who plays Saleem) a lot of fun. I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a part of this film in any capacity even when I didn’t know what Deepa would offer me. I was quite happy that I got to play a part that I really liked.
What was your equation like with Satya Bhabha with whom you have the maximum screen time?
Oh it was lovely! We all did this very intense workshop, from Shabanaji (Azmi) to Darsheel (Safary). We cried and we laughed and we made fools of ourselves and that, in a sense, brought us all together. A bunch of us have stayed in touch even after the film. Satya is easy to hang out with and a very generous actor. It was a very difficult role for him, from saying his lines in Urdu to even doing a bit of dancing with me.
Have any changes been made to the character in the film?
The whole film is very true to the book. It’s an ensemble-cast film and characters come and go as it is in the book. Jamila’s presence is more pronounced in the second half where she provides some lightness to the film.... There is a beautiful song by Faiz that’s picturised on me.
Which other character from the film do you like?
That would definitely be Amina/ Mumtaz played by Shahana (Goswami). She has the meatiest role; the audience grows along with her through her two relationships, the birth of her son and daughter and through the process of ageing. It’s a very complex character. Then there is Emerald (played by Anita Majumdar). She is vain and manipulative and deeply insecure… lots of shades.
How was it shooting for your first international film?
It was very efficient and organised. I had never done workshops before this film. There were different versions of scripts, red… blue… green, there were newer and newer versions of scripts. There were things like call sheets and call times and one person was doing everyone’s hair and make-up.... On set, silence meant silence and it actually was a little unsettling because in our films here, there is so much cacophony and madness on set. I almost wanted someone’s phone to ring or someone to yell out loud!
You have quite a few films coming up this year…
The promo of Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster Returns is ready and we are currently doing the poster shoot. Tigmanshu (Dhulia) is such a brilliant filmmaker and I am really looking forward to it. I am also shooting an all-out comedy which is a first for me. So, I am really looking forward to 2013.
From films to family, you have contributed to a book on your father (the late Tiger Pataudi) that released last week…
It was very special. Initially, I was very apprehensive whether a single book could really capture the man that he was. But both in terms of the artistic layout and the various essays, I feel it beautifully showcases Abba. My mum (Sharmila Tagore) has written a foreword… I have written a piece and my dad’s picture on the cover is amazing. We were so happy that Shashi Tharoor and Salman Khurshid took out time to release the book.