Exclusive: My parents met and fell in love during Durga Puja festivities: Rani Mukerji
On the occasion of Durga Puja (September 26), Rani Mukerji, who is back to the film world with Hichki, says it would be “lovely” if she can make her daughter, Adira also experience the same things that she did as a kid vis-à-vis the annual festival.bollywood Updated: Sep 25, 2017 19:14 IST
As a kid, she would eagerly play Lord Krishna or a butterfly and participate in various cultural programmes during Durga Puja celebrations. But then, in the late 90s, Rani Mukerji went on to become a star, and that, of course, limited her participation in the festivities. Still, one can’t miss the warmth and excitement with which the actor recalls her Durga Puja memories, especially at the Mukerji family’s annual festival celebrations in Mumbai. “For Bengalis, the five days of Durga Puja is probably Diwali, Holi and Eid combined,” she says. To mark the occasion of Durga Puja, HT does an exclusive photo shoot and interview with her about the festival, daughter Adira, comeback film and more.
What are your earliest memories of Durga Puja?
My earliest memories are from the time when I was three. At that point, Durga Puja was a very close-knit family affair. All the kids from my family had to perform on stage because it’s sort of must for Bengalis. So, I also remember performing on stage and have been it since three. I became a butterfly once, and also Lord Krishna besides participating in so many of dances based on Rabindranath Tagore’s plays and other works.
So, in a way, Durga Puja has also meant lots of cultural influences…
You know, Bengalis and especially, probashi Bangalis (who don’t stay in West Bengal) are so conscious that the children should learn about the culture that it’s a must that the children had to do something to do with Tagore. So, we have learnt Rabindra Sangeet, Tagore songs and everything else through Durga Puja. For Bengalis, the five days of Durga Puja is probably Diwali, Holi and Eid combined (laughs).
After becoming a star, things must have changed rapidly vis-à-vis the celebrations?
Now, unfortunately, when I go [for family’s Durga puja celebrations], there is a mini stampede. I would call that also Maa’s blessings because without that, I wouldn’t have got such fan following love and adulation. Somewhere, it’s like a dichotomy because it is Maa’s blessings that today I don’t even get to spend two minutes at the Durga Puja. I still try to make an effort to go at least one day so I do the poribeshon as that’s also something very close to my heart. I have done that from childhood so I want to continue that. Of course, with time, if I can make Adira do the same, it will be lovely. Just the fact that the whole family comes together under one roof once a year makes it very exciting.
Now that you have Adira in your life, are you excited that she will also experience the same things?
I don’t know because it all was very unadulterated at that time. Now even the fact that we have attended Durga Puja is covered by the media. So, if I am doing a ritual at the puja, a camera constantly follows me. I don’t think Adira would experience things like that because if she goes to the pandal, she would get a lot of attention that we didn’t get as kids. When you are one of the many, your experiences are different.
You will be back on the big screen with Hichki. Excited or nervous?
I am very excited that I could finish a movie with Adira by my side, which was my biggest challenge (smiles). It’s a special film not only because it is my first film since giving birth but also because the subject of the film is really sensitive and relevant. It deals with an issue that people will get to know once we start promotions.
Did you miss being in front of the camera?
I am very happy to face the camera again. Though I had a gap of about two years before the pregnancy, I didn’t feel that I had been away from it when I faced the camera again. I enjoy being an actor and relish my work. I would like to do more films for my fans and for myself. I feel, you first need to make yourself happy and then others. But now, I have my daughter, so I have to balance things out really well.
Not just you, Durga Puja has always been extremely special for the entire Mukerji clan. Right?
Absolutely! In fact, my parents met for the first time and fell in love during Durga Puja celebrations when a singer didn’t turn up and my mother filled in, so he flipped hearing her sing. So, I think the festival has a lot of memories – from my parents meeting for the first time to me remembering how actively my dad and mum were involved [in arrangements]. Even now, my mother is involved but my dad hasn’t been keeping well.
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What about your memories of food around Durga Puja?
Yes, so, the other early memory I’ve is of serving food to everybody because it’s customary that whoever comes to Mukerji family Puja will be served bhog by the family members along with others. So, that’s something we have doing since we were kids. The five days of Durga Puja was also complete madness that also included making new clothes. The way people make new clothes on Diwali, we Bengalis do the same for Durga Puja. So, what clothes we would wear for five days – in the mornings, afternoons and evenings – brings a lot of. All of that makes things very sweet.
Do you think you enjoyed the festival more since it used to be a big family affair?
Yes, as I remember that the days leading to Durga Puja used to be like a family picnic because every Saturday or Sunday, all the kids used to meet to do the practice. A lot of food would be going around so as kids we were more interested in food more than dancing but it was a must and would be a lot of fun. Now, of course, Durga Puja happens on a bigger scale and is more commercial. But I used to enjoy it much more when probably nobody knew me the way they do now as it meant I could be more participative.
Do you miss the innocence and simplicity?
Yes, of course. In Mumbai, earlier, we used to have it (family’s Durga Puja) at Poddar High School but then we had to shift out a lot of people started coming in and we couldn’t accommodate everyone. Now, it’s done on a huge scale. Of course, the charm was different when we were kids, especially the cute dance dramas. So, you name the dance drama and we have done it. For all such acts, the dresses would come from Maganlal Dresswalla. I remember one particular instance when I was around four and played baby Krishna. In the middle of the act, I started itching profusely, so I used Krishna’s flute to scratch my back (laughs). While everyone was laughing, I was like, ‘Krishna ko chhodo; let me scratch myself with baasuri (laughs).’
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Nowadays, how much do you involve yourself with the festival preparations of family’s Durga Puja?
Nowadays, I can’t do that because unfortunately, once I started doing films, I couldn’t have told my producers, ‘please give me a five-day break to celebrate Durga Puja.’ So, in the last 20 years, sometimes, I used to be out of India and at other times, I used to be busy shooting and would barely go in the middle of the night to just see Maa’s protima. But my mom and dad have been very involved with the Durga Puja.
Work-wise, it has been over 20 years since you made your Bollywood debut. How has the journey been?
It’s been quite a learning process actually because at the start, I didn’t want to be an actor. So, for a person who didn’t want to be an actor to someone who has completed 20 years or two decades, you can imagine how much I must have learnt through my journey – whether it was working with directors or teaming up with senior actors. I also got an opportunity to work with Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir in my first three films; and my learning started when I saw them put in the kind of hard-work they do. It has been a huge learning experience for me because with every film, every director and every actor, there is something new that you get to learn regardless of whether the film works at the box office or not.
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Also, Hindi cinema itself has undergone so many changes…
It’s amazing how cinema has changed in so many different ways in the last couple of decades. We are going through a wonderful time wherein there is a lovely mix. So just to see different kind of film-makers and technicians working together, teaming up and learning from them has been quite an enriching journey.
You hit the big league with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH) that completes 20 years in 2018. How do you look back at that film?
In the industry, you always look for that one big successful film and say, ‘from this film, that person never looked back.’ But if don’t look back, how will you know how has your journey been and how it is going to be ahead. So looking back is important. KKHH was a big commercial hit and also I don’t think people were expecting so much from a newcomer as compared to the lead pair (Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol), who were already established as stars. The songs from the film also took off really well. Luckily, before that, Ghulam’s songs also became very popular. I remember people addressing me as ‘Khandala girl’ for quite some time. So it has been quite a journey for me – from being the Khandala girl to being called Mardaani now.
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First Published: Sep 25, 2017 19:13 IST