Veteran actress and Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan, who turns 65 Tuesday, says her role as a mother matters more to her than any thing else. She also admits that she takes her duty as a parliamentarian seriously and that she is still game for movie roles, provided they are challenging.
She gave up superstardom in 1973, when she ruled the box-office, to become wife to Amitabh Bachchan and subsequently mother to Shweta and Abhishek.
"Everyone saw it as a big sacrifice and painted me as mother India. But the fact is, I did what I wanted to. There was no martryrdom involved because I am not that kind of a person. No one can make me do what I don't want to," she said.
The pioneering performer heralded naturalistic acting into mainstream Hindi cinema. Before her, there was Nutan, and after her there are Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi.
But Jaya occupies a unique position. When she came into the movies with her two back-to-back performances in Guddi and Uphaar in 1971, Jaya's complete denial of filmy glamour became a trend-setting phenomenon.
While one tends to think of Jaya Bhaduri as the actress in a crumpled cotton sari and loose hair playing authentic middle-class characters in middle-of-the-road movies by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Asit Sen, Gulzar and Anil Ganguly, she, in fact, created a fashion statement.
In 1972-73, her hairstyle and specially-designed blouses with puffed sleeves, became a rage among women in the country. Jaya was a fashion icon.
"Oh, I thought other actresses were fashion icons. I was just Jaya," she laughed uproariously.
"I just wore and did what seemed right for me. To me, the thought of doing anything that doesn't come naturally to me, seems unacceptable," she said.
Everyone sees Abhishek as his father's son when, in fact, he has more of his mother than his father in him. The smile and those eyes -- they have been bequeathed to the Bachchan heir by his illustrious mother, who at one point in the history of cinema was very huge.
So far, she has been seen with her son only once in a Bengali film called Des, where she played a social crusader who is about to be whisked out of the country by her NRI son. Abhishek played the son.
What needs reiteration is the intense success-streak that she enjoyed from 1971 to 1973, right up to Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Abhimaan, Mili and Chupke Chupke -- all three with her husband -- before she called it quits.
Virtually every film that she consented to do made money at the box office. For a while it seemed there was no other leading lady except Hema Malini to challenge Jaya's reign at the top.
"I never thought of all that. I just did the quality and quantity of work that suited me. Then I moved on to look after my home and family. Today when the two boys in my life don't need my presence, compulsively I have taken on the responsibility of being a Rajya Sabha member. That's so no self-indulgence for me. I take my job as parliamentarian very seriously," she said.
"Where are the roles? Show me challenging roles for an actress my age and I am game, as I was for Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa or even Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kal Ho Naa Ho, where I didn't have much to do in terms of footage. But at least there was space for me to breathe in the script," she said.