'It's nice to be a trendsetter'
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- Published 5.12.11
Rani Mukerji on loving the calcutta audience, learning from the two khans, being a child on set now and playing only landmark characters
Rani Mukerji was in town on Thursday to be crowned Queen B(ollywood) at the Boroplus Anandalok Purashkar 2011 for her spunky portrayal of a dynamic journalist in the year’s sleeper hit No One Killed Jessica. On her way from Science City to the airport, she got chatty with t2…
How does it feel receiving yet another Anandalok award?
For me, it’s just the encouragement… the unconditional love that I get each time when I come here, that keeps bringing me back to Calcutta. Awards have never been more important than the audience for me. When you work very hard through the whole year on a film and are awarded for it, obviously it’s a great feeling, but audience acceptance is the benchmark for me. Getting an award makes me happy; not getting one doesn’t make me unhappy. But having said that, I never miss an Anandalok award when I get one. Wherever I am, I make it a point to come in person and receive my award.
Does receiving an award in Calcutta make it more special?
It sure is special. As a Bengali, I have a responsibility towards my fans in Calcutta. I know that everyone here is extremely proud of my achievements. I am referred to as ‘Amader Rani’ here. It makes me feel so loved, but at the same time, it makes me feel all that more responsible because I know that I can’t let my Calcutta fans down.
Where does No One Killed Jessica feature in your filmography?
It was such a different role to portray. It wasn’t a role that was typical of a Hindi film heroine. Meera was more like a hero. It was a character that actually took the story forward…. Meera made a lot of things happen. It wasn’t something that I had ever done before. I actually had to play a man! And what really worked for me is that the urban and empowered Indian woman today is just like Meera. No more are women coy and shy… they don’t take shit from anyone. They believe that they can change the world — and rightly so. I have so many fans abroad and whenever I do a film, I try and play characters that show the world what the contemporary Indian woman is all about. I also personally believe that women can do any job better than men, and that’s what Meera was all about. Like I really believe that women make better journalists than men!
You’ve played so many strong characters even before No One Killed Jessica. Today, when you see a woman-centric film like The Dirty Picture being applauded, how do you feel?
It’s always nice to be a trendsetter in this industry and see others follow you. It’s very important that women in Bollywood now get their due recognition. We should be acknowledged as the ones who can also drive a film, not only the hero. The industry has always been so male-dominated, but things are changing now. If you see Jessica’s numbers — where there was just Vidya (Balan) and me — and you compare it to
any other hero-centric film that released during that period, you will see how far we have raced ahead. Somewhere down the line, people want to see women-oriented films, but it has to be something really extraordinary. Male-dominated
films can be any kind of masala and people will watch it! (Laughs).
Your next film Talaash pairs you opposite Aamir Khan once again and for the first time in your career you are working with a woman director (Reema Kagti)…
For me, a director is far more important than anyone on set, even the producer. It was lovely being on set with Reema because a woman director always brings something more to the table. I really enjoyed working with her, because she had fresh ideas and an infectious enthusiasm. Of course, having Farhan (Akhtar) and Aamir produce a film is a huge advantage because you know that your film will be marketed well.
As for Aamir, it’s always a wonderful thing to share screen space with someone with whom I literally did one of my first films (Ghulam). With Aamir on set, it’s always been a teacher-student relationship because I always like to observe what he is doing… he’s so dedicated… such a perfectionist. I have learnt a lot from him and from Shah Rukh (Khan) when I first came in. Off set, they may be my friends… I may backslap them and go ‘yaar-dost’… but once on the set, I look at Aamir and Shah Rukh as fabulous actors that I can still learn so much from.
Are you as excited facing the camera today as you were more than a decade ago?
I think it’s more now. When I was new, I wasn’t really all that excited about doing films. I never really wanted to be an actress. I just did it because my mother (Krishna) persuaded me to. The deal with her was that I would do this one film and if it flopped, I didn’t have to act anymore. But then, my first film (Raja Ki Aayegi Baaraat) worked and there was no looking back! It was also a time when things were not good financially for my family and so when the offers started pouring in, I chose to work rather than pursue my studies. But I would just go on set, do my bit and come back… very mechanically. It was just a job for me... just a way of earning money. I wasn’t really ready to woo the audiences as such.
The love for my craft came in much later when I saw the response that I was getting, film after film. I used to get these fan letters and I was like: ‘Wow, so many people love me? Now I can’t let them down’. That’s when I started paying more attention to the kind of films that I signed and the kind of roles that I did. Today, every day on set is a new experience for me. Now, I am like a child in front of the camera, trying to do my best so that the audience, like a teacher, gives me a star! (Laughs).
What kind of roles are you looking for now?
I will not say that I am being choosy, because choosy is a much-abused term in our industry (laughs). But now, when I agree to do a film, it has to be something that merits 200 days of my life in a year. I should be happy, excited when I go on set. Like now, I am doing this film called Aiyya (produced by Anurag Kashyap and co-starring southern superstar Prithviraj) and in every shot, I feel that I have come alive. I want to play characters like the ones in Talaash and Aiyya that take me one step ahead as an actress. For me, it’s never been a question of how many films I am doing. If I had to do films, I would have probably been doing 10 now. Every character I now play has to be a landmark character.
What about a Bengali film?
It’s always been that someone or the other will come from Calcutta and offer me a Bengali film, but nothing has materialised as of now. I am very clear about one thing — I will not do just about any film just because it happens to be in my language. It has to have substance, something that, again, my fans in Calcutta would be proud of. If a Bengali film has to happen sometime, it definitely will happen.