The Marvellous Mrs Devgan: On the 20th anniversary of her wedding, Kajol gives her most intimate interview ever!
In conversation with a close friend of 27 years,Kajol, now 44, takes stock of her life as an actor, wife and motherUpdated: Feb 24, 2019 00:30 IST
Access to Kajol has never been a problem. We’ve been friends for 27 years. But pinning her down for an interview has always been an adventure. For instance, she made me dash off to Delhi during Baazigar (1993), where we gossiped, played cards and did everything but the interview. Or the time she called me to Panchgani for a shoot and interview, made me go for a run with her in my boots, but eventually did the shoot and an interview between takes. This time, she persuades me to drive to Lonavala for lunch with her mother, former actress Tanuja, and return to Mumbai in the evening, promising that we’ll do the interview in the car. But soon after lunch she announces she’s sleepy and won’t be able to do the interview, promising to do it on Sunday over lunch.
When I arrive at her home, she remembers that we’ve been friends for longer than most people we know have been married. We started our entertainment careers at the same time – I began working for a film magazine in April, 1992, and she debuted with Bekhudi in July, 1992. I recall, I hadn’t much faith in her talent. But when I watched Bekhudi, I knew I had to know her. She lit up the screen with her vivacious presence. I’ve seen Kajol grow through her career, blossom through her love life, witnessed her marriage, watched her babies grow…. It seems like it all happened just yesterday!
One for all
This year Kajol will complete 20 years of marriage with the love of her life, Ajay Devgn. The couple never make a big deal about their anniversaries, and even the grand 20-year mark does not drive them to make particularly romantic plans.
“I believe age is power. I am dying to be 60. Interview me when I’m 60 and see what happens… ”
That could be because their love has grown deeper with every year. “Contrary to what you may believe about marriage, it’s not all rosy in the beginning,” says Kajol.“Initially you’re trying to please each other, feeling your way around, so it’s difficult to take the relationship to the next level. Only when the storm has settled, and the routine has set in – when you’ve seen the good, bad, indifferent sides of each other – does your relationship evolve. We work at our marriage. We see it as a structure that we need to look after.”
Kajol’s extremely private about her life. I’ve never seen her react to any stories about Ajay. Perhaps being in the same profession helps her understand things. “Yes, it definitely helps,” she says. “Sure there are rumours. But there’s also trust between us. We are straightforward and honest with each other.”
In the very early days of her marriage, she found it hard to adjust to her new home and new life. “It took me six months to ask for a cup of coffee,” she laughs. “I’d come down. Mom (mother-in-law, Veena Devgan) and I would smile at each other, sit silently and awkwardly, at the dining table. Then she’d ask, ‘kuch logi (will you have something)?’ And I’d smile and say, ‘Haan (yes) aunty, coffee please.’ It took me six months to start believing that I’m also a resident of this house.”
Despite the awkwardness of those six months, Kajol transitioned beautifully into a caring daughter-in-law. “My mother-in-law had a lot to do with that,” Kajol says. “She truly eased me in. She never insisted I call her mom. In fact, once when one of her friends was flabbergasted that I didn’t call her Mummy or Ma, she said, ‘jis din bolegi toh dil se bolegi (the day she calls me mom, it’ll be from her heart’). She never expected me to cook and I didn’t get the ghar ki chaabi.” She laughs and adds,
“I would have misplaced them and called her to say I’m locked out!”
But while she does not excel at household chores, you could ask for no better person to keep an eye on your health. Most people shop for clothes and shoes when they go abroad. Kajol shops for medicines! She’s wonderful with her in-laws, constantly checking on them, their health, monitoring their diet and spending time with them.
I remember, years ago, when Kajol began seeing Ajay, I had asked her if he was ‘the one’, “He is,” she replied. But she wasn’t sure then that she’d marry him. “When you marry, you’re not just marrying him you’re marrying his family too,” she’d told me.
Compared to the soft-spoken Devgan family, Kajol’s a tornado; boisterous, loud, cracking jokes, laughing loudly. Nothing about her is subtle. “They had to get used to me,” she laughs. “Initially, they may have thought this is just her defence mechanism, but then they realised, oh, this is going to be forever. It took them a while to digest that!”
Adjustment issues became easier when Kajol became a mother. Before Nysa was born, Kajol was judgmental, intolerant of most people, and impatient. After she began taking care of her baby, she changed. “If a person has unconditional love for his or her child, no matter how big an a*****le that person is, it makes that person redeemable,” grins Kajol.
“So motherhood taught me patience, tolerance and that not everything is black and white.”
It helped that Nysa herself became quite the philosopher as she grew up. “She has an awesome attitude towards life,” says Kajol. “She once said to me, ‘Mom, it’s temporary. I have to sit and be good for the next five minutes. I can do that.’ It hit me then. She’s right. Nothing is permanent. It’s only a question of five minutes. I can manage that.”
“Nysa [my 15-year-old daughter] is embarrassed by me. She would love to disown me in public, but loyalty forbids her from saying ‘I don’t know that woman!’”
Kajol was a helicopter mother to Nysa and Yug. Her life revolved around her children. But she’s been restrained since Nysa moved to Singapore to study. “I give her space, allow her to get accustomed to that environment, rather than thrust myself on her and remind her of home,” she says. “Sure, I message her daily. But I call her only once in two or three days. We have a good system. And of course, when she desperately needs my password or something, I receive frantic missed calls, messages or sarcastic comments like, ‘Why do you have a phone? You never answer’. It doesn’t matter if I am in the middle of a shot or an event!”
Between Ajay and Kajol, she may be the stricter parent, but she’s also a friend to her kids. “But it has to be a fine balance between being a mother and a friend. Sometimes you need to be a friend and cajole them, sometimes you have to fire them, and sometimes you need to give up on both and let them do their thing, “ she laughs. “Just the fact that you’ve been through motherhood and you know that it’s not fatal makes it easier. Nysa is 15 and Yug is eight. Both are well and kicking, touchwood! I succeeded!”
Adolescence & angst
When Kajol was 15, she quit college. Will Nysa be given that option? “Of course,” she confirms. “Right now, she’s in the 10th, and she wants to complete her education. I didn’t think highly of studies at 15, but Nysa knows the importance of it.”
She doesn’t regret quitting studies, because she succeeded in what she pursued. “Had I not succeeded, I’m not sure I would have been as financially stable as I am today. Had I studied further, I would have had a degree to fall back on to allow me to pursue another job.” And if her acting career had failed, she really would have found another job, she says. That’s because, unlike most film stars, Kajol had been taught the value of money. “I was clear that whatever happened in my life, I’d always be financially secure,” she says. “I am extremely careful of my money. I invest it correctly. I don’t indulge in expensive hobbies, except my Kindle and books.”
She tries to instill the same values in her kids. “It’s important that they learn what things cost,” she says. “They must know we work hard to make sure they are provided for, that nothing comes free. Ajay would like to spoil the kids, but I am so clear on this particular topic that he doesn’t have the option to disagree.”
“My mother-in-law never insisted I call her mom. She told her friends ‘jis din bolegi toh dil se bolegi!’
At 15, Nysa comes across as an elegant, poised, and beautiful young lady – as opposed to her loud, gregarious mother. “She’s embarrassed by me,” says Kajol. “She would love to disown me in public, but loyalty forbids her from saying ‘I don’t know that woman!’” She laughs loudly.
But the two share a beautiful relationship. “She’s a lovely girl,” says Kajol. “She’s fabulous, she’s funny, sarcastic, snarky… I like her. I like both my kids. They have a fantastic sense of humour, and a superb vocabulary. I love talking to them. I am so lucky to have them!”
Despite the differences in their personalities, Kajol knows Nysa is a lot like her mother. “I see myself in her,” she says. “The brutally honest manner in which she looks at life is like me, her mannerisms, the way she speaks, she laughs like me, but her temperament and the way she thinks is completely like Ajay. She’s reserved like him, not boisterous like I am.”
“Yug is boisterous like me,” she adds. “Yug has a lot of the Mukherjee genes. He sings so well!”
Back in the day, hits and flops didn’t matter to Kajol, and they still don’t. She even counts last year’s debacle, Helicopter Eela, as a success. “I don’t consider any work I do a failure,” she says. “Eela may not have collected as much money as I would have liked it to, but that has never been an indication of failure to me. I am happy with what I did in the film. I had a great time, made wonderful memories and new friends. That’s my barometer of success.”
“If a person has unconditional love for his or her child, no matter how big an a*****le that person is, it makes the person redeemable”
Perhaps she needs to rethink her career strategy and work with some of the talented new directors? “If you see my track record, I’ve worked maximum with new directors,” she argues. “But whoever the director, at whatever stage, I still need to be convinced about the script and the director. Comfort zones can be created, but they need to start with confidence.”
She had a comfort zone with Karan Johar, until they stopped talking for almost over four years. Today, when they are friends again, have equations altered? “Have you never fought with a friend and made up later?” she asks. “So we had a fight. Big deal. We made up. What’s a friendship without fights and make ups?”
“I haven’t read [Karan Johar’s] book. I don’t plan to either. I’d rather read Jayne Ann Krentz or even a Mills And Boon!”
Did she feel the same way when she read his book, especially the chapter on her? “Quite honestly, I haven’t read his book. I don’t plan to either,” she replies. “I’ve heard a lot about it, but it won’t do me any good to read it. I’d rather read Jayne Ann Krentz or even a Mills and Boon.”
How did she feel about his apology? “It was very big of him to apologise, almost as big as his book,” she answers. “That took guts and it says a lot about him as a person.”
Now in her 40s, Kajol could easily pass off as a 30-something. That doesn’t mean she’s fighting to keep her youth. “I believe age is power. I am dying to be 60 honestly!” she laughs. “Interview me when I’m 60 and see what happens! Age is a combination of your entire life’s experiences put together. It gives you a much more interesting perspective towards life, and people. Today, I could handle any situation much more wisely than I did in my 20s. I am happy with who and what I am. So by ageing gracefully I mean simply enjoy where you are and realise that it’s not a bad place to be in. It’s where you are meant to be.”
Film journalist and former Head of Creative Development at Dharma Productions, Ryan Stephen is a producer, creative developer and co-founder of Electric Apples Entertainment. Kajol and Ryan have been friends for over 27 years. This is his first piece of writing after over 10 years!
Also read: Ajay Devgn’s most personal interview ever!
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From HT Brunch, February 24, 2019
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First Published: Feb 23, 2019 22:50 IST