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"I lose track of time, sleep.. while working" - Ash

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, November 06, 2006
Umrao Jaan takes you back to the elegant kotha culture. It takes an Aishwarya Rai's elegance to recreate that culture.
That's quite a compliment. I just want to thank my directors for providing me opportunities in such rare genres. It doesn't oft-come in these times. So I feel good about it. All creative people are hungry for such experiences, eager to come away enriched from doing films like Devdas, Raincoat, Umrao Jaan, Dhoom 2 and Guru. I guess I'm blessed.

Abhishek's does his first costume drama...
Yes Umrao Jaan is his first costume drama. But I've done another beautiful costume drama earlier Devdas. If I may say so, I'm equipped to go back to that era of elegant dancing and old-world culture because I'm a girl very rooted to Indian culture. I mean, the sari is my most favourite apparel in the world. I'm teased that I belong to some other era. But at the end of the day I am a contemporary woman of the world. It's cinematic experiences such as Devdas, Umrao Jaan and Guru that give me the privilege of going back to another era.

Please explain.
You know we communicate mostly in English. The Hindi we speak is hybridized . Being a South Indian, people like me and Rekhaji have worked very hard at brushing up our Hindi. But Urdu which is such a beautiful language, is totally alien to me and to most of us in Umrao Jaan, including J.P. Dutta. We were all tremendously aided by JP Saab's father O.P Dutta saab. To have a director like J.P Dutta who's perceived as a task master, was a blessing.

He's known to be a tyrant on the sets.
You think Sanjay Bhansali is any less of a tyrant on the sets? Any director who's passionate about his work will be perceived as a tyrant. Whatever the decibel at which a committed director instructs his actors, he wants his point made across. It's the teacher-pupil relationship. There're different kinds of teachers in school. I've worked with all kinds of directors from Sanjay to JP Saab to Adi Chopra to Subhash Ghai. They're all known to be passionate in their own way . Why, even Karan Johar whom I haven't worked with, is known to fly off the handle on the sets. And don't forget Mani Rathnam. My God! He's my first director (in Iruvar). And now I've worked with him again in Guru. Of course he's known to lose his cool.

But there's a story about how J.P.Dutta cut your costume in a fit of rage.
Now let's not make a mountain out of a molehill. I don't get rattled by the passionate declarations and discussions on the sets. Nothing that a conversation cannot solve. There might have been a day when JP got rattled. If he did he was very sweet about it afterwards . When you know it's nothing personal , the director's outburst is totally understandable. I'm not egoistic about these things. The entire teamon Umrao Jaan or Dhoom 2 and Guru are committed to their work. And I'm as passionate about my work as the director. You've known me very closely. You've seen how I lose track of time when I get involved with a film. Sleep, food all forgotten. We needed to not just work on our Urdu but also the body language of the time. Sometimes I'd want to go subtle while JP wanted it louder. He wanted the drama of the times to shine through . Sometimes the 'Hai Allah' needed more punctuation than I gave.

Abhishek had set aside during shooting when all of us would just crack up. Nothing could stop it. You're uncomfortable with the higher notes.
That's the way I am in real life. You won't find me screaming in real life or on screen. Of course I've gone through a spectrum of emotions with Sanjay Bhansali. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas had high points of drama. That's where you mould your talents to every genre.

What about the fun aspect of such passionate team work?
Oh yes! I must tell you about this particular hour that Abhishek had set aside during shooting when all of us would just crack up. Nothing could stop it. Even JP was in fits of laughter. In fact he'd look at the watch and say, 'It's going to happen now, right? Nothing can stop it from happening.' And then OP Saab would say, 'Children are at it again. What do I do?' The children would of course include JP. And then we'd settle down to work again.

Did you enjoy doing the Mujra in Umrao Jaan?
You know, to know to dance is one thing. But to get the finer nuances of a Mujra, down to its smothered energy and expressions of restrained poignancy, is very very difficult. Vaibhavi Merchant and I got together after Kajra re. She knows Kathak. She brought the classical element into the dances. Along with her choreography there was a huge contribution by JP Saab. After three rehearsals he'd suddenly bring in changes and I'd be like, 'Okaaay.' The Mujras in Umrao Jaan required myriad expressions in one sweep. JP had a three-camera set up. He operated one of them. So I had to give different expressions into different cameras. By far this was the most challenging film for its dancing.

And Abhishek?
He was the veteran of the unit, having worked with JP twice before. Shabanaji, me we were all the babies.

Abhishek thinks Umrao is your best performance.
That's very generous of him. Me? I can't assess myself. There're films and roles that I've thoroughly enjoyed. And you know which ones they are. Because it shows in my work. Umrao Jaan is one of them.

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