I was parked outside one of the floors of Filmistan Studio, waiting for Shah Rukh Khan to step out so I could fix an interview. Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was being filmed on a ‘closed’ set and I was bubbling with curiosity. The door creaked open. People streamed out… But no SRK. “Is Kajol inside?” I asked the watchman who had kept me at bay for close to an hour. “No, but the other heroine just walked past,” he replied.
I swivelled, and caught a view of Rani Mukherji’s back. She was short, girl-next-doorish type despite the fact that her man Friday was holding an umbrella over her head in true filmi fashion. The begum didn’t impress, I turned to await the badshah.
Hot and happening
When the movie opened in the theatres I was there. And this time I had to admit that Rani impressed. ‘Seedhi saadhi’ became sexy… And with an abbreviated role turned down by Twinkle Khanna, Rani became the ‘hot’ and ‘happening’ star of 1999.
To her delight she even found a place on photographer Jayesh Sheth’s softboard, alongside pin-ups of Rekha, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Karisma Kapoor. After a faltering start, movie moghul S Mukherji’s granddaughter, Ashok Kumar’s grand niece and Kajol’s cousin was up there on stage, accepting a well-deserved award.
I caught up with her just before the release of Hey Ram. She was at Kamal Amrohi studio shooting for some tedhi-medhi love story with Salman Khan. My infant daughter was at home and I was in a hurry to get back. As I waited in her make-up room, I chatted with her cousin who was “helping her out”. And learnt about Rani’s normal upbringing and family bonding, that she hated waking up early and liked fish. After an hour I was impatient to return home. The cousin was sympathetic. She scurried off to see if Rani was “free” and finally I was in the presence of the queen.
Her sizzling lip-to-lip kiss with Kamal Haasan was steaming up the screen and Rani was on the defensive. I took her by surprise when I quizzed her on Gandhi. She was game for a history lesson.
She believed in non-violence too. “In an ideal world there should be no fights, no wars. Why can’t we live happy, successful lives? I guess, all wars are power struggles. And in this power struggle, innocents who don’t have power get hurt,” she pointed out. It’s a mature observation from a 22 year old.
She went on to recall the trauma of her family during the Indo-Pak war in the ’70s when there were regular blackouts and ration crisis. “My aunt was getting married. There were talks of Pakistan attacking India and bombing Kolkata. But at the last minute, the war ended. It was a great climax,” she smiled.
Finally I brought up the subject of the ‘kiss’. She admitted that her family were frankly shocked by the blatant eroticism and had told her, “Rani, no more!”
She’s always been a dutiful daughter but she’s also a pro. If the script demanded it, she was willing to lock lips with any co-star, from Abhishek to Amitabh Bachchan.
Over the years, I’ve watched Rani’s ascent. On the way up, she turned somewhat aloof, her answers got evasive, her interviews became repetitive. But away from the public glare, Rani, continues to be a fun-loving family girl who will dance to the tunes of Dil Bole Hadippa! with her little niece at the drop of a hat.
This is a big week for us as Ma Durga comes down from Mount Kailash to her maika. This year, Rani will be in the city and I expect she will be at her family puja. Giving ‘anjali’, serving ‘bhog’, watching ‘arati’... A demure Bengali girl.
Almost a decade ago, when talking about her Mr Right, she’d smiled, “He doesn’t have to be good-looking but he has to love me honestly and should be able to make me laugh. He should be more intelligent than I am or he will not be able to control me. I need someone who will look after me and love me for who I am… A Rani.”
Rani ki kab ayegi baraat!