Our interview is conducted at Yash Raj studios, a venue that baffles us. Rani Mukerji’s next two films, Aiyyaa and Talaash, have no connection to Yash Raj in any way. So why were we meeting there? Could it have something to do with Rani’s relationship with Aditya Chopra? For months now, there has been speculation that Rani is secretly married to Yash Chopra’s son, the man behind Yash Raj Films (YRF).
But the actor isn’t upset. Instead, flaunting a new self-assurance, she clears the air about Adi Chopra, her ‘comeback’ with Aiyyaa, and life in Bollywood.
Apparently, staffers at YRF address you as ‘bhabhi’. Are you married to Aditya Chopra?
I don’t know what people call me behind my back. People may b***h or praise me, but unless it’s to my face, I cannot comment on it. And on record, I say this: I am not married. That is an irresponsible rumour. I am a girl from a respectable family that would take pride in their daughter’s marriage. They don’t need to lie. I have been brought up with lots of love and respect and such rumours affect my family. Marriage is a sacred thing. When I decide to get married, I’ll do it in a respectful manner and not in a covert way. Anything that is hidden or has a clandestine approach to it is an affair, not a marriage. You can’t hide a marriage. When I tie the knot, I’ll tell the world.
That sounds like a cliché.
But that’s how it is, at the moment. Just as I can’t tell you anything about my death, similarly I can’t confirm the marriage. It’s very important, not just to me, but also to my parents. I will guard my personal life very fiercely till I am officially married, because once I am, you are going to talk about it anyway.
People say you are hiding it because of your career.
Listen, I am a tigress, a fighter and a very bindaas girl. I don’t want anyone, especially the media, to paint a picture of me as a wimp, an insecure coward or an under-confident person, who’s trying to protect her career under such an irresponsible pretext. I’m a secure person and actor. I take these assumptions as an insult to me as a person and as an actor. Forget marriage, I’ll continue acting even after I have babies. Acting is my first love and will always be. Marriage is a good thing and when it happens, we will share it with the world.
What’s your equation with the Chopra family?
My association with the family has been very good. Yash uncle is a very warm, friendly, indulgent and loving person. And he is like this with all the heroines he has worked with.
Tell us something about Adi.
My connection with Adi goes back a long way. And I learned about this only recently. In fact, when Karan (Johar) was making Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Adi and Shah Rukh Khan actually recommended me to Karan. They had seen me in Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1997). Nine actresses were rejected for this role. So far, I’ve done about seven films with YRF. It’s been a great association. As a producer, Adi is a team player — he is cooperative and indulgent, not just towards the actors, but also the technicians. As a friend, he has been supportive, and has always been there.
You’re making a comeback now?
No... I didn’t go anywhere to return. ‘Comeback’ is a term usually used for those actors who choose to settle down, have kids and, after few years, decide to return. In my case, you guys haven’t seen me for a year or so. I was working round the clock for Talaash and Aiyyaa. Also, Talaash’s release dates have been shuffling for some time. Had the movie come out on time, nobody would ask me this question. So, certainly, Aiyyaa is not my comeback film.
Your absence has sparked a lot of speculation.
I take that as a compliment. People miss those who they love. It brings tears to my eyes to see the longing for me. But it’s my decision to do fewer films and more protagonist-based roles. For me to take up something, it has to make a lot of sense to me.
So you haven’t been getting good offers?
Not all offers I get are exciting and inspiring. I would rather sit at home and not work than jump into mediocrity for the sake of just moving ahead. If it’s a good script, I would sacrifice my personal time and grab it. Earlier, I’d do about nine films a year, which required about 20 days (of work). My contribution to those films was only that much. Then I started doing author-backed roles, as my fans demanded. From 20 days it became 90 days, as such roles take preparation and lots of research. So that that’s the kind of time I could give to my films and my directors. As a result, I ended up doing only two films. Hence the gap. But tell me, why doesn’t anyone use the term ‘comeback’ for male actors?
What do you mean?
When male actors adopt the same approach to work, they are lauded for their dedication. Unfortunately, with actresses, it’s looked upon as a ‘comeback’ and it’s unfortunate that women journalists ask us these questions! As it is, women go through so many struggles in life. It’s unfair, but I guess we have to deal with it.
You’ve been in the industry for 17 years now.
I started when I was 17 and have worked all my life. When I turned 30, I realised the value of time and with it, the other important things in life. That’s when I did up my house, started spending time with my family and friends and did all that a normal girl would do. All these things I was balancing with my work.
Do you feel the industry is unkind to female actors after a time?
I look at it more positively. A filmmaker chooses an actress keeping the best interest of the film in mind. If he doesn’t cast you, it doesn’t mean there’s a personal agenda. Change is constant and if you have agreed to be part of this industry, you will have to go with the change. The films and filmmakers, even the audience has changed. You cannot sit at home and crib. Instead, work hard and keep looking beautiful and be open to roles that are exciting and inspiring. Success and failure are not in my hand, but hard work and perseverance are. The biggest example of this is Amitabh Bachchan. He fought it out and reinvented himself. You have to understand the mechanics of durability and longetivity and go with the flow.
But he is a male actor!
That doesn’t matter. Life, in the end, metes out the same treatment to one and all. Let me give you the example of Meryl Streep. I feel very inspired by her. The kind of awe, admiration and author-backed roles she inspires is remarkable. Films revolve around her even at this age and she competes with younger actresses for the Oscars! What’s more, she walks away with them. It must be such a satisfying journey. I have done three different dance forms in Aiyyaa and I feel satisfied. You can be young, at the peak of your career and yet be boring, but you can still be exciting even if you are not at the peak of your career, with the kind of roles you do. Bottomline: keep exciting the audience.
Who has influenced your career?
Both Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have been instrumental in shaping my career to a great extent. I looked up to them in many ways — how they would conduct their careers, their lives, etc. I learnt that you cannot have it easy in this industry. Being such big stars, they are so focused and dedicated. Today, when I meet them at home, without make-up, it’s a very different equation. Especially with Aamir. We are back-slapping buddies off the sets, but on the sets, I am like an obedient student and a very well-behaved child. I guess I recall the Ghulam (1998) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) days.