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The word 'fearless' is apt when it comes to describing Rani Mukerji in a word. She has lived life on her own terms and is quite unapologetic about it. Unlike most of the actresses in the industry who prefer to be politically correct, the light-eyed actress doesn't fear to call 'a spade a spade' and 'speaks what her heart says'.
Over to Rani,
'My Choice Of Films Has Changed With The Way I Have Grown Up'
Q. From playing a college girl in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, then Black and now essaying a teacher in Hichki, how do you see the transformation in yourself?
A. I started my career at the age of 16. It's been a journey where I have actually grown in this film industry. Whatever I have learnt, experiences I have had, this journey has been wonderful. Of course there were ups and downs, which also teaches you a lot.
My choice of films has also changed with the way I have grown up. Each phase in my life, whether it was early teenage years or early 20s, late 20s, early 30s, late 30s, all have been a part of my journey in the movie business.
Every time I have chosen a role, it has connected to me at that point in my life.
Today, the point of life in which I am, Hichki was a very special film that connected with my soul and what message I would like to give India, in a way. Or tell the world that this is the kind of films India is churning. Hichki is a special film about overcoming one's weakness and turning them into strength.
It also talks about the education system in our country and also talks about the discrimination that people face from society when they have a weakness.
It talks about how students from different economic backgrounds are treated in school.
The film has a lot of layers. All the things are something very close to my heart.
When I was young I had a stammering issue.Had someone taken that as a weakness of mine, and if I would have made that a very strong weakness then I wouldn't be have been actor. You don't have an actor who has a stammering issue.
It's the first film that has been such a huge tribute to teacher in the country because there's no other noble profession than teaching. You are actually imparting knowledge to the future of the country, who are going to make a different in the society.After you see Hichki everyone is going to call up their favourite teacher because you will get too nostalgic.
'I Find It Funny When People Ask Me How I Survived In The Industry Without Being On Social Media'
Q. You mentioned about having a stammering issue. Did Hichki take you back in time since your character in the film stammers too?
A. Well, that is what life is. I think God tests us at different times in our lives.We have to emerge winners because the life God has given is too special.
When I met the dumb, deaf and blind people during my research for Black, I started thanking God everyday. You suddenly feel so blessed that you can see, talk, walk without anybody's help. When you go through moments like that in your life, you only become a more humble as a human being.
You suddenly gain a lot of wisdom through these experiences and start to live life in a different way. When people ask me how have you survived, being in the industry without being on social media, I find it really funny.
It's not important to me and my life. Everything boils down to ‘was Rani Mukerji good in the film or no'. That is my work, job and profession. I treat this (interview) as a meet and greet that I get some pointer from you guys, some things that I get to learn that what are people thinking. I still consider journalists as a medium between my fans and me.
'With The Way Times Are Going, Our Actors Do Need Acting Classes'
Q. Does formal education aid actors in any manner?
A. Formal education, if you are talking about academics, I don't see how that would help actors but definitely, with the way times are going, our actors do need acting classes.
Q. How was your working experience with the kids in Hichki?
A. Shooting with the kids has been amazing because most of them were facing the camera for the first time.They had a lot of real and organic quality in them which was great because we wanted the classroom scenes to look real.
When you have kids who go to sleep in the middle of the take, it's great na, so you can wake them up and say, ‘Hello, the take is going on, so get up'.
Some of them were trained actors, one is from television, so they came with their set of experience. What is amazing with the kids is that they don't have an image or a particular way of performing. They give it their all.
'How Does It Matter To Anybody What Shape An Actor Is In After He's Done With A Particular Role?'
Q. In recent times, actors are under constant pressure stay fit and stay in shape. Recently you mention on a TV reality show (Sourav Ganguly Dadagiri) that you love macher jhol bhat. How difficult is it to eat everything you love and still manage to look great?
A. Firstly, I don't understand this pressure. Today, I think actors are really spoilt and pampered.There are 10 people: PR person, media person, managers, fitness person, security, blah blah. It is a never ending story. We were never pampered.
Earlier, if we said something wrong, we used to get criticized for it and we learnt from those mistakes and didn't repeat them.Today, the PRs write all the dos and the don'ts.The young actors are so pampered since the moment they step out.
There's so much training, I don't think there's any pressure.
Actors are wearing rented clothes for free, what pressure will they have?
You are getting to wear beautiful clothes, people are there to get you ready, make you beautiful, what's the pressure? Even weight wise, what's the pressure? Khao peyo, khush raho. Kya itna tension leneka.
When you see an Aamir Khan in Dangal, you see him as a character.When you see him in Dhoom 3 you are seeing another character, so weight depends on what you are doing for your role. How does it matter to anybody what shape an actor is in after he's done with a particular role?
Does it matter to you that I'm wearing a particular jean today? But it will matter to you if I am not playing my role well. That is what is important. How I looked during pregnancy and post pregnancy, how does it matter? What should matter is, is Naina Mathur (her character in Hichki) convincing? Is she real?
That is what matters for actors, we are not models.
We have to do justice to who we are on screen. We have to be believable.
Somewhere, Aamir is an institution of how an actor should be.Even Kamal Haasan, these actors have redefined their characters and their position.
Today, because of social media, people are interested in how they are looking.
How we are looking when we are going to the gym or to the airport. Arre how does it matter? Kya farak padta hai bhai? At the end of the day, this pressure and all is rubbish. It is a stupid belief. I come from an era where I bought my own clothes.
I feel scared to wear rented clothes ki kahin khujli na ho jaye... kaun kaha se pehenke aa raha hai, uss insaan ne nahaya nahi hai. Hame kya pata? (You never know if the person wearing the clothes before you had a bath or no). Today, when Sabhyasachi makes an outfit for me, he makes it especially for me and that's why I wear it. I don't ask for any rented clothes.
I wear my own clothes.Whatever I can afford and buy, I wear that. My manager feels very hyper and says, ‘ma'am don't repeat your clothes'.Aree why? Why can't I repeat it? They are my clothes and sometimes I will have to repeat it.
Let the media write, it is their job. Why will I change how I am for the media?
For whom it makes a difference, it makes a difference.When I had become an actress, the brand culture was introduced to India and everyone was saying ‘you wear a brand' and I was like why should I wear it?
I said no back then also and today too I don't wear it. If I have personally purchased some clothes then I wear them. If you ask me what I am wearing today, I myself won't know it. I wore what I liked.
'I Don't Want To Be In The Limelight With A Quote'
Q. Rani, you are quite fearless...
A. But I have always been like that. Today what happens is, unfortunately, people like to misinterpret what you're saying or what you communicate or put words into your mouth, then it becomes a problem.
If I am being clear about something, I am being clear. My only request would be not to try and take out a story out of that or try and two and two together to make a controversy.
Today I think what sells, unfortunately, is whenever it can make a headline.That is very unfortunate because I am not asking anybody to make a headline out of what I am speaking. I don't want to be in the limelight with a quote.
I don't want to say something that will create troubles between people or create disharmony. I like to do my work, go back to my daughter, my family, come back work, do that and go back home.I am not here to make some great statement and become some hero. That's not my agenda.
I speak what my heart says, something I speak in humour and only if it can be written as humour, can help.
'A Different Kind Of Love Translates Into Your Work After You Become A Mother'
Q. Has motherhood changed you or your choice when it comes to picking up films?
A. Motherhood obviously does change you because there is a different kind of passion, a different kind of love that you feel after you become a mother and you can translate that into your work.
When my father passed away, I truly understood what sadness is. Or what missing somebody in your life is, a vacuum can be by one of your parents not being there. When I have performed those scenes in earlier films, it was probably just an aspect of my performance which I thought, hypothetically, what is it to miss a parent.
I just interpreted it in the way I thought it would be. But when it actually happens to you, how it hits you, what that sadness is, you can really feel it when it happens to you. I've been pregnant and had babies in so many of my films, but I can never begin to explain how different it is when you actually go through the process.
'Today, My Voice Is My Identity'
Q. You started your career at quite a young age. What sort of 'hichkis' did you faced in your life?
A. Obviously, my height, my voice, those were the things.. but luckily, I had Aamir (Khan) opposite me.Then when I worked with Abhishek (Bachchan) the height became a thing but then it became very nice that I was short.We were being compared to his parents (Amitabh-Jaya Bachchan) being in films. So it kind of worked.
If I had come in an era only where there were tall heroes, then it would have become a problem. I came in era where we had Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir and I looked pretty good with them, considering that I don't have that much of height.
Voice was a huge issue. During Ghulam, Aamir, Mukeshji (Bhatt( and Vikram Bhatt felt that my voice was not as thin as of the heroines of that time. Heroines had quite a shrill voice at that point. So, they dubbed my voice because they didn't think my voice suited.
Then when Kuch Kuch Hota Hai happened, I remember Karan (Johar) coming up to me, it was his first film, he showed a lot of grace and asked me, ‘Rani, why is your voice being dubbed in Ghulam?'.I said that may be they didn't think my voice was not correct for the film or character.
So, he asked me, 'did you dub for your first film (Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat)?
I said yes and he said ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai you will dub'. I said okay. I remember Aamir calling me after seeing Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and saying, ‘Babes, I made a mistake, ya, your voice is really good. We should have dubbed it in Ghulam'.
So in life, these things happen but sometimes you have to believe in yourself, other people have to have belief. Today, my voice has become my identity.
With my height, I've crossed the hurdle, because you need to be tall with your achievement and not by your physical height. That is something I have worked towards. When you give flops, people will write you off. People will say ‘you are finished, you are over'.
In my career of 22 years, I've been written off many times, but it's the audience which has always wanted me back. It's the love which my audiences have for me which has kept me going. So inspite of people writing me off or considering that I am over, I have always bounced back with a sweet, sensitive film and a good performance.
Q. Between 'Black' and 'Hichki' which was the more challenging role?
A. Both were challenging. When you play such sensitive characters, you have to keep in mind the sensitivity of the people who are actually having that (disability).
With Hichki, my whole thing constantly was that it could become comical at any time.
People suffering from Tourette syndrome are often laughed upon at. But in the US, a lot of people suffering from Tourette Syndrome have become standup comedians.They don't mind people laughing at them, but pay for it so they make a career out of it.
I can't be doing that in films. I can't make Naina Mathur a stand-up comedian.
So it has to be in a sensitive way, in a way that when people see Naina Mathur, even if they begin with laughing but from there they should change and feel empathetic towards people who have the Tourette Syndrome. There are lot of complexities and sensitivity that comes with playing a role like that.
'When I Come Back From Work, The First Thing My Husband Tells Me, 'Go, Remove Your Makeup'
Q. Now after Adira's birth, how do you manage to strike a balance between work and personal life?
A. When I was shooting for the film, I used to go early in the morning.I used to finish 5-6 hours of work in the morning and get back home before her lunch time so that she doesn't miss me too much.
When a baby wakes up she has her whole routine.I used to make sure that before she kind of misses me I used to be back.Now, slowly, slowly we've started to tell her that I go for shooting.
Recently when I came back from my promotions she said ‘mumma aap shooting pe gaye the?'‘Makeup nikal diya'(she asked) I said ‘nikal diya'.
She understands because when she sees me without make up she sees I'm completely (different).Suddenly she'll see these things happening (makeup) and she'll be like ‘yeh kya hai, mumma' then I have to explain to her yeh make up hai.
When I go clean she asks make up nikal diya then she's very happy. Both her father and she have this complain that I should never be in makeup. Even my husband, when I come back first he says ‘go remove your makeup'.
Q. Finally, will we ever see your husband Aditya Chopra directing you in a film?
A. (laughs), Usko bolo naa...you all start writing 'direct your wife'.