Monday, 30th October 2017

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Ash raves about Rahman, Ritu and Ratnam, rants against analysis stifling applause Aishwarya Rai Bachchan broke her silence in the city with a 30-minute t2 chat on Wednesday night in a Vedic Village Villa. Looking stunning in an orange tee and jeans, a relaxed Ash spoke on Raavan and Rahman, Pink Panther and the pulls & pressures of being queen bee

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 27.02.09
  •  

Were you dancing to an A.R. Rahman song by the Hooghly when he was winning the Oscars in Hollywood?

Absolutely! Absolutely! It was a moment of pride. But I am confessing I had taken it as a foregone conclusion. I was not majorly surprised but I was happy. Probably because he had swept all the awards before and I would have been shocked if he hadn’t won…. With Mani Ratnam, you don’t get much other time. Just enjoy the jubilation precisely till the end of the sentence and get on with your work (breaks out into a giggle). That was it.

Your first film Iruvar had music by Rahman. So did Jeans, Taal, Kandukondaein Kandukondaein, Provoked, Guru, Jodhaa Akbar and now Raavan. His win must have been special for you…

I wouldn’t say that the Oscar is the epitome of recognition but yes it has been an aspiration because that’s what has been topical forever. It definitely is an event that gets world attention. Having said that, Rahman has always been celebrated. I have been a fan from the beginning. I am really so thrilled that most of my movies have been composed by him. And I always think, wow, your work is going to live on because of the recall of his music. In our cinema, that’s why music is such an integral part. It’s not something you only visually enjoy, it’s also the first recall of a film. And Rahman is a master of it. Irrespective of what he is scoring, it grows on you and then lives forever. He is exemplary even with the background score, it’s really so effective in all our performances. I have always felt blessed. I am just so happy for him.

I am as happy for Gulzarsaab, someone I have looked up to. Again someone with whom I have interacted right from the beginning. Guru was one such special experience where we all came together. He is also very close to my father-in-law and to Ma and so to the entire family. He blesses us as a couple like a family member. So it’s personal for us. I am so happy with his victory.

And Resul (Pookutty), I haven’t worked with him, but man, total salute and applause to him as well. Just the humility is so heartwarming… The world is waking up to our talent. It has always existed. I think every achievement should be applauded and not over-analysed or over-discussed. Stand by people’s victory, celebrate our people. I have always had this silent debate about things that have happened with many of us, including myself and I am confessing here, I don’t understand why people have to keep breaking down everything into this whole analysis and wondering whether people should be applauded or not. Why not? Just give a thumbs up! What does it take? Nothing!

on city shoot
The schedules have been really, really packed as it would be in a Mani Ratnam film. I keep thinking that he can’t pack in anymore but I am wrong every time.... Since I am in both the versions, I do not get a breather at all. I keep teasing Mani… you will never ever know that this is what I was going through during the making of the film. But yes, it has been real hard work and total madness really. It’s been physically very demanding

How has it been shooting for Mani Ratnam’s Raavan here in Calcutta?

Intense, very intense. The schedules have been really, really packed as it would be in a Mani Ratnam film. But (this is) even more so. I keep thinking that he can’t pack in anymore but I am wrong every time. Especially for me it’s been a really packed schedule. Because most of the work here is focused on my chapters, or my scenes in the film. And since I am in both the versions, I do not get a breather at all. The other actors will change from the Tamil to the Hindi but I am just there (short pause, followed by a giggle).

Is it tough shooting for two language versions back to back?

It is challenging, it is. I did think it would be. But it is extremely challenging. I keep teasing Mani… it’s not going to show up… the stress and the effort I am making will never show up because the audience is watching one film at a time. And you will never ever know that this is what I was going through during the making of the film. But yes, it has been real hard work and total madness really. It’s been physically very demanding but difficult because of this one factor of doing the two movies together. I gravitate towards these situations.

A modern Ramayana through the eyes of Raavan in two languages. What exactly is being made? As is usually the case with a Mani Ratnam film,we are in complete darkness…

That’s what happens with a Mani Ratnam movie (smiles knowingly)! But you know that’s the magic of his work. I am glad that the audience has come of age, seemingly open-minded just to view the movies. Go home with your own opinions — Mani Ratnam was the first guy to say that. It’s wonderful that he has been able to garner that reputation where people go in to watch a Mani Ratnam movie. You may not accept it but he keeps making his movies with conviction and the vision he has decided upon. He was a huge hook in me immediately deciding on joining movies. After Iruvar, in the middle we didn’t get an opportunity to work together, but having come back to him with Guru, it was like yesterday. Now immediately back-to-back we are doing this one.

Wasn’t Abhishek supposed to join you?

on abhishek
For the first time in my career my diary was free. But he was like, it’s Pink Panther… come on! It’s going to be so much fun doing it. So that’s how Abhishek came in… being my pal, being my best friend… all right girl, go ahead!

Probably for a couple of days, depending on how the schedule is going. They have kept that window. But if it happens, it will be literally just a couple of days.

From the Miss World pageant in 1994 to Pink Panther 2 in 2009 you have been representing India everywhere…

Right since Miss World, wherever I have gone there’s a certain degree of warmth in the reception I have received. People have been generous. But in the world of cinema, in terms of pure cinematic experience, it was Devdas in Cannes. From then till date it hasn’t waned, it hasn’t changed. People have been just so warm and appreciative. I have never treated it frivolously. Since I have represented India at the Miss World, to me every such moment that I have had has always been subliminally, somewhere deep down, been that. I was always representing us. That’s kind of carried on. This time, for Pink Panther, US was great. France has always been generous. Spain somehow feels familiar with our culture. So that was excellent. Berlin was outstanding. I have been invited to the festival a couple of times but I have always been in the thick of a film. The Pink Panther screening at Berlin offered the perfect premise and it was fantastic. The media there really seemed to enjoy the film. We were moved.

Pink Panther 2 is releasing in India on Friday. How special is it?

Just like every film really. For an actor a film is made for the audience. It is not made for private pleasure, it’s meant for everybody. We go through the exercise because it is the audience that makes cinema what it is. It is out there now for the audience to enjoy and for you guys to analyse (giggles uproariously).

We are looking at Pink Panther 2 as your big Hollywood release. What is it for you?

You will of course go about compartmentalising it and defining it… and that’s what you are here to do. But from my perspective, it is really the attitude I bring to the table. Right from the outset, and I keep going back to Iruvar, right when I started my career, I thought I made it clear that this is what I am here to do — to be a part of cinema. And hopefully the journey thus far has validated that to the rest of the world. That’s why Pink Panther was not a plan I set out to do.Work has found me throughout my career. Fortunately I have been able to mix it up, keep a variety going, done films in Tamil and Bengali apart from Hindi. So I have been trying to keep away from that kind of compartmentalisation. And that has been my attitude with English cinema. I didn’t seek to go to the West and define it like ‘now I have moved to UK’ or ‘from thereon I am looking to go to the United States’. There has been no such planned move. This time when I was in the States I came across this really cute phrase which I want to use. It went “she is not house-hunting in LA”. And I am not house-hunting in Hollywood.

So what made you say yes to Pink Panther?

Pink Panther is a genre you have grown up with. It was an easy yes. For those who know their English cinema, please… it’s a no-brainer to say ‘yes’! And no-brainer is also the genre of the film (giggles softly). It’s just a comedy. It’s not an acting piece. It’s a kind of cinema that I didn’t get down to analysing. So good luck to you! Because I couldn’t. It’s just a fun ride, for the actors on board as well as for the viewer. That is the spirit in which I have done it.

Were you a Pink Panther fan?

Pink Panther is something your parents show you. It’s what I call innocent humour. Kind of like Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. I sensed that in New York where we were having the premiere. There were many kids in the audiences. And the theatre was bustling with sounds of popcorn and candy packets. There were these two scenes between Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin where there are a few innuendoes. And I found it hysterical that kids were cracking up. Do they even get that? But they are laughing at Steve Martin’s expressions because they find it cute. Adults are of course getting what’s been said. That’s nice. That’s pure. This kind of humour can carry on in known franchises.

Do you get a lot of offers from Hollywood? Have you turned down any major film?

ash on ritu
Rituda wants me to do this amazing script and I really want to do it. He wants me to do all his films and given a chance I would do all of them. But this one should happen even if it’s not the next one, because my diary is packed till year-end.
ritu on ash
Talks are on to do a classic from Bengali literature with Ash again after Chokher Bali. It’s true that given a chance, I would have her in many of my films. I want Ash in my films as much as I want Raima (Sen). It’s because Ash and I share a very beautiful working chemistry. I also like her a lot as a human
being. We bond very well on a personal level.

For me accepting any movie is defined by schedule. Always. There are so many movies I would love to do but I am unable to accept them because of my schedule. There have been many English films which have come my way. A lot of international film-makers in the last few years have come here and said that ‘we did approach Aishwarya’. I couldn’t do those films because of my schedule. It’s not a big deal because that has been my attitude. Pink Panther came in at a time after my marriage when I had kept a couple of months off. And its schedule wasn’t that demanding. So it all fell into place.

It’s a big studio film. Was the work experience any different?

I didn’t go into it thinking it’s a big studio film. It is. I recognise it. It’s fantastic because you know what the production is going to be like and the sheer team and the franchise. But again, just keeping that part of the question in perspective, look at the way I have worked in my career. I have not been one to play it safe and only work in India with banners and avoid producers who are independent or smaller or newer on the turf. Also I have never gone around defining my career on the basis of who my hero is. Very evidently. Here it was definitely great given what the team is. I felt very welcome because they really did everything to get me on board.

Like what?

I went in with a lot of conditions. Firstly because of the way it fitted into the slot, I was throughout confirming it in the ‘’th moment. I was in two minds. I was like if I have taken the time off, I should spend it on the transition of my life. From work to marriage to work, maybe I should keep this time off. But that’s where Abhishek comes in. It’s not like Abhishek asked me to do the film. In the context of the situation, I told Abhishek this is the time I have kept aside.

After my marriage in April (2007), I immediately went into Jodhaa Akbar and Sarkar Raj. It was with Abhishek and Amitji but it was work all right. So after that I had taken those two months off. It was literally phase two. For the first time in my career my diary was free. But he was like, it’s Pink Panther… come on! It’s going to be so much fun doing it. Navya and Agastya (sister-in-law Shweta’s children)... sure these kids will just love it. And some day our kids will have a laugh. I was like yeah actually. So that’s how Abhishek came in… being my pal, being my best friend… all right girl, go ahead! That’s how I accepted the film. Also Dadima (Teji Bachchan) was very critical at that stage. I explained Indian tradition to the Sony people that god forbid there be a situation… I would need to come back. It’s very difficult for international productions to accommodate all this. But when they said they were ready to work around that, it was an instant yes!

on rahman’s oscar wins
I wouldn’t say that the Oscar is the epitome of recognition but yes it has been an aspiration. It definitely is an event that gets world attention. Having said that, Rahman has always been celebrated. I have been a fan from the beginning. I am really so thrilled that most of my movies have been composed by him. And I always think, wow, your work is going to live on because of the recall of his music

Also the cast must have been too tempting to let go?

Oh, it was a fabulous cast! I could see it in the script. They had sent me the script for approval. So I knew about this terrific ensemble cast. And they were all actors. Steve Martin, of course. Then there’s Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Jeremy Irons, Lily Tomlin, Jean Reno, John Cleese… everybody… you take the list of names, they all have incredible careers.

The foreign reviews say there’s not much of you on screen. Were you never bothered about the screen time?

It is a Steve Martin vehicle. None of us was dreaming: hello, is it going to be all about me! It’s all about him. It’s (Jacques) Clouseau. It’s always been. All these brilliant actors, they have all done fantastic acting pieces and they were all willing to come on board and be silly. It doesn’t matter what their screen time is. They are all here, just to make it a joyride. I appreciate that approach to work. I again go back to Iruvar. That is how we all came on board in that film. Look at the cast… Revathy and Tabu were doing these small small bits in that film. That’s the spirit. After a point of time, it goes beyond how much time am I going to be seen, how many dialogues do I have… I have never had that. Within the scheme of things, Sonia had a defining character. They were not giving me a fly-by-night thing, someone who comes and poses against a pillar. She is critical to the story and I was happy! I am glad I did it because I came away having had a fabulous experience working on the film.

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