Dressed in a stunning floral dress and heels, Rani Mukerji doesn't seem to have been touched by time. She settles herself comfortably on a couch and greets me with a heartwarming smile. There's sparkle in her eyes despite back-to-back hectic rounds of interviews.
As we talk, the doe-eyed actress opens up about her recent choice of films, the portrayal of Indian women in movies, Friday jitters and much more.
Excerpts from Filmibeat's exclusive tête-à-tête with the 'Mardaani 2' actress.
'Stories Of Real People Have Always Chosen Me To Do Them'
Q. From playing a rape victim in your debut film to now essaying the role of a cop hunting down a rapist, life has come to a full circle for you. You recently said that you feel it's your responsibility to give a voice to what's happening around you. Is that one of the reasons why we see you take up films like 'Hichki' and 'Mardaani'?
A. Yes, I think so. I wouldn't say that it's my sole responsibility as an actor to do that. My responsibility as an actor is also to entertain. Through the entertainment medium, I need to tell a story and if given a chance, give a message. With 'Hichki' and 'Mardaani', it's my good fortune that the writers came up with wonderful stories like these and through these films, I was able to give a message to the people who have loved me for so many years. To give it back to the society is also one of the responsibilities as an actor along with entertaining everybody, making them laugh, cry, smile. That is also very important.
Q. Just like the name 'Mardaani', you have also been brave in terms of your choice of films. For example, you did a film called 'Mehendi' which tackled with a socially relevant topic like dowry in the same year when you did a 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and 'Ghulam'. What gave you the confidence back then to pick up such variety of roles? There might have been people who must have advised you to focus more on commercial projects and box-office numbers instead...
A. I think somewhere as you know, my choice of roles have always been where I wanted to portray the Indian woman through cinema all my life. So whether it was 'Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat', 'Mehendi', 'Yuva', 'Veer Zara', 'Saathiya', 'Baabul', 'No One Killed Jessica', 'Mardaani', all the films have been where it was important to showcase to the world what Indian women today stand for, to show her strong side and what she is all about through the entertainment medium. So, somewhere there has always been causes that I thought have chosen me more than me choosing them. When you make biopics also, those souls choose who plays them. In this way, I think these stories of real people and real women have always chosen me to do them. So, I have landed up playing those roles and felt for all those causes.
'We As A Society Need To Look Inwards And See Where We Are Going Wrong In Bringing Up Our Children Especially Boys'
Q. You once mentioned in an interview that you always leave the intensity for the camera. But is this process that easy when you have a film like 'Mardaani 2' which is a mirror to the happenings around us? What was your head space like you were doing this film?
A. I think it's that collective anger and the disgust that we have felt each time when you have heard these kind of crimes, somewhere we haven't been able to channelize those feelings of anger and frustration. Through 'Mardaani 2' as a woman, I get to do a role where I am empowering other women to channelize that energy and tap that inner strength in them. That happens with me too when I play the character. So, I get a chance to let out what I have felt or what has been inside me whenever I read these kind of things or get to know.
Q. Was your approach towards your character Shivani Roy different this time considering it's been five years since the first film released?
A. Luckily for me, my character Shivani Roy has been promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police in 'Mardaani 2'. So, there has been a demeanour change. Being a Police officer or an SP, you are challenging and taking the criminal head on because you are there giving interviews. So, the world knows you. There's a face to you and you are heading and maintaining the law and order in the city and that's why your body language and behaviour changes.
But what stays with Shivani Shivaji Roy from the first film to the second is her belief of standing against crimes against women and be completely fearless.
That's what is similar and I would say because she is a SP, she is very different fom Shivani from the first one.
Q. 'Mardaani 2' focuses on crimes committed by juveniles. Do you think we need to have more stringent laws when it comes to crimes committed by underage kids? And how much do you feel parenting plays an important role in this?
A. I strongly believe that the environment in which you grow up actually makes you the person you eventually become in life. But some children are not fortunate enough to be born in favorable environments. There are so many children who are born in jail and radical groups. When you see documentaries on these things, you see a different life that they are growing up in and that's what they grow up thinking is normal.
For a child who is growing up in a city, I would say that if he has parents where he sees his mother getting beaten up or insulted by father, he grows up thinking that's normal and that every man has the right to behave with a woman that way. So, it becomes our social responsibility that we as a society, need to look inwards and see where we are going wrong in bringing up our children especially the boys. Are we actually each teaching our boys to say 'Please'? Are you teaching them to respect women in the true sense? And that's where it all starts. Then of course, the debate about what needs to happen and what kind of punishments need to happen for these people. That's another discussion.
But 'Mardaani' as a franchise is focusing more on making women aware that such crimes are taking place not far from them. People who commit these crimes do not come with a certain age or face. They are faceless criminals who are capable of doing heinous crimes. So, one shouldn't go by anything and instead, be alert at all times.
'You Are Finished As An Actor If You Stop Feeling Jittery About Fridays'
Q. You recently said that it's time for you to take up lighter films because your daughter Adira is growing up? Are you in talks with any directors on the same front?
A. People should come and offer me those kind of films (laughs) Yes for me, it's very important as an actor do different genres. Whichever film that comes to me, if I feel connected with either story or character wise, I would definitely love to do.
Q. After being in the industry for so long and seeing the ups and downs in your career, do you still get anxious when your film is releasing?
A. Of course, I am anxious before, the day and after the release every time. As an actor, the most important thing in our lives is to get feedback from the audience and Friday is the biggest day for knowing whether the hard work that you have put in has given you fruits.
You learn from the audience's reaction if they liked what you set out to make or not. If not then what did they didn't like? That's when you grow as an actor in this field. So, Fridays are very important. The day you stop feeling jittery about Fridays means you are finished as an actor. If it doesn't move you, that means you don't value the audience's feedback.
'I Never Have Any Plans; Everything Just Fell In Place For Me'
Q. You have been part of so many memorable films over the years. Are you happy with how things have shaped up for you? Do you look back and have those moments of retrospection?
A. In my case, I have always been happy because I never set out to be an actor. When you are setting out to be an actor from childhood or if that's been your passion, you have probably already tried to put two and two together and built your career a certain way in your head. With me, it happened the other way round.
My career kept me taking off when I started to build my career through the work I did. So, I never had any plans. Everything just fell in place for me. Probably, it was universally destined for me to be an actor and I became one. So, I never had feelings about, 'Oh, I should or shouldn't have done this.' Whatever I got, I felt very grateful and very humbled with the love that I got from the audience.
Q. Finally, is it easy or difficult for you to reinvent yourself as an actor with every film after so many years of experience in the film industry?
A. No number of experience can make you completely set in a way because whenever you are an actor, you try to choose roles that challenge you. The day you don't feel a role challenging you, you won't be interested doing films. So, it's very important to do a film which challenges you enough as an actor and the day it stops challenging you as an actor, you should retire,