May 1, 1991. A just-out-of-school Kajol bounded into Gautam Rajadhyaksha’s studio with her uncle Jaideep Samanth. The ace photographer had finished a script and director Rahul Rawail was scouting around for fresh faces. “Take a look at Tanu’s (Tanuja) daughter,” Gautam suggested. And Rahul turned up for the photo shoot, expecting nothing.
Within five minutes of meeting her, Kajol was in. Bekhudi was launched three months later, with Tanuja’s daughter and Sharmila Tagore’s son in the lead. Saif Ali Khan didn’t stick around long and was replaced by his best friend Kamal Sadanah. But carefree Kajol who, growing up, had flitted from one career option to another, much to her parents’ surprise, stayed on.Moment in spotlight
Bekhudi opened in the theatres on July 30, 1992. I’d met Kajol for the first time at an award show about six months earlier. She had come with her mother and sister Tanisha. They were late, having been caught in traffic on their way from town. We were playing a song clip from Bekhudi that was one of the year’s big attractions. For days, Kajol had been looking forward to her first moment in the spotlight.
“Is it over?” were her first words to me. I assured her that there was time yet for the specially edited trailers to run. “Good, I can visit the restroom then,” Tanuja announced. “Hurry mum,” Kajol pleaded. A few minutes later, I handed the trio over to one of our ushers, telling him to get them good seats. He escorted them to a back row. Tanuja stormed out, Kajol missed her opening night, and I’ve lived with the regret all these years.
Bekhudi wasn't a blockbuster but Kajol’s effervescence shone through. The following year, Kajol was back on stage at an award function, with Shah Rukh Khan raving over her kaali kaali aankhen… and gore gore gaal… Baazigar was the big break for both of them and the beginning of buddy times. I’ve seen Kajol run riot in Mehboob Studio with Shah Rukh and Salman, her make-up man chasing after her to finish touching up her face that was only half done.
Karan Arjun’s other leading lady, Mamta Kulkarni, sat coolly poised under an umbrella fitted with a little whirring fan. Baazigar (’93), Karan Arjun (’94), Yeh Dillagi (’94), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (’95), Gupt (’96), Ishq (’97), Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya (’97)…. A string of superhits turned Kajol into the box-office queen. She was a queen who had never coveted the crown and had defied every rule of show business.
So, when Karan Johar came to her with his first script, she immediately gave it the nod even though as a director, he was untried and untested. But he was a friend and for Kajol, that was enough. Karan’s first film was all about friends. And it was only right that it featured his two best friends, Shah Rukh and Kajol, and one soon-to-be best friend, Rani Mukherji.
I was told that after the first shot was canned, Shah Rukh, Karan and Kajol spontaneously rushed towards each other. It was a moment of great bonding, a bonding that I remember today on Friendship Day, along with a scene from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The train is pulling out of the station when Rahul suddenly realises that Anjali is not just his best buddy, she’s the love of his life.
But epiphany has struck too late. Anjali is gone and Tina has read his feelings on his face. That’s why in her last letter to her daughter, she urges her to bring Anjali back. “Your daddy always says that love is friendship. I could become his friend but not his best friend. I could never take Anjali’s place in his life or heart,” she writes.
In the years that followed, Sahh Rukh and Kajol were voted the Best Screen Jodi of Hindi cinema. A lot has been written about their sizzling chemistry. But I know that what comes through on screen, is the comfort and camaraderie that they share. Gautam, who’s been like a surrogate father to Kajol, once described her as Shakespeare’s Ariel. “A free spirit who lives for the moment. She may be a brat but success hasn’t spoilt her. Fortune hasn’t tainted her. There’s a life for her away from films.”
She’s just five days away from her 35th birthday, months away from delivering her second child. She’s now a wife to Ajay Devgn, a mother to Nysa and sometimes an actress too. Shah Rukh and Karan are still her best buddies. And Kajol is still following her heart…