'Jhalak has made me a better person'
Urmila Matondkar has been pretty much off the media radar in recent months. Her time has been consumed primarily by her first major television stint - as a judge on reality show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa- which she seems to have enjoyed to the hilt.
"I see life in a different light," Urmila told IANS in an interview. "Very honestly I'm ecstatic about being able to be part of this show. I was facing the participants and audience for the first time. There were no written lines, no cues, no second chances. Either it worked or it didn't work for you."
Even though she has been exposed to public events and limelight from an early age, the TV dance show has been an unforgettable experience for Urmila.
"Yes, I'm comfortable being in public places. I feel if you're a celebrity you need to be comfortable with crowds. But, believe me, it wasn't easy for me to judge people who were far more senior and sometimes much more accomplished than me. The comments were all extempore."
In a truly warm and emotional look-back at her days on TV the diva talks nineteen-to-the-dozen about her dancing friends.
You seem to have enjoyed the task of judging amateur dancers on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa?
Very honestly, I'm ecstatic about being able to be part of this show. I was facing the participants and audience for the first time. There were no written lines, no cues, no second chances. Either it worked or it didn't work for you.
It required a lot of quick thinking. It was a concept that I liked, and the participants were celebrities in their own right. I loved the idea of them trying to dance. But it didn't mean I'd sugar coat my comments. I had to be frank. And it was tough. The experience got me lots of accolades. Everywhere I go I'm complimented about my personality and comments.
But you were exposed to quite a lot of public events.
Yes, I'm comfortable being in public places. I feel if you're a celebrity you need to be comfortable with crowds. But, believe me, it wasn't easy for me to judge people who were far more senior and sometimes much more accomplished than me. I had to show I was only doing my job. It required a lot of mental presence. The comments were all extempore. Fortunately everyone seems to have liked what I did.
You often broke into a song during the show.
I know! It was a conscious effort to lighten the load of some of my stronger comments. Sometimes a song expresses a bitter truth far more effectively and inoffensively than mere words. It was certainly not the channel's idea that I sing. Everything I did on the judge's chair was my own decision.
You openly said Sandhya Mridul deserved to win after Prachi Desai's victory?
And why not? I felt Sandhya would win. When she didn't I felt terrible on her behalf. So I said so. I thought it was my duty as a judge to state my opinion on the potential winner. I know not many people on the hot seat would be so vocal. But when I saw how moved Sandhya was at my words I felt I had done my duty. My greatest victory was when at the after-finals party Prachi's mother congratulated me for balancing out the trio of judges on the show.
Being an expert dancer, was it hard to lower your standards to judge the amateur dancing?
Believe it or not, I've never been trained to dance. I had it within me and I didn't even know it. The urge to dance will remain with me till the day I die. The fact is I've never learnt dancing. Yet I've done classical and salsa. It took me no time to get the salsa right in Bas Ek Pal. Dancing isn't just about getting it technically right. For me, it's about expressing oneself beyond words. I've performed many dances on screen without even a choreographer by just feeling the music and its rhythm.
I never strove to be a perfect dancer. But whatever dance was given to me I made it my own. In Geela geela pani in Satya all I had to do was tilt my head and sway my body slightly.
How did you lower your perceptions of dancing to suit the amateur dancers?
I never looked at the dancers on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa as amateurs, though admittedly some of them were really naïve when they started the contest. But I'm a positive person. And I only thought of these celebrities giving dancing their best shot. To me that's fantastic. When I read someone commenting that Mir Ranjan Negi (the hockey champ) looks ridiculous dancing at his age, I wondered what age had to do with it!
For him to even get out of the green room when he had never lifted a limb to dance required a lot of guts. Sudha Chandran with all her hurdles was so fantastic. I was blown by her hip-hop.
For me, taking up challenges had always been important. Model Tapur must've looked down on Bollywood jhatkas. And there she was giving it her best shot. I had to encourage and correct them. People didn't expect me to speak so knowledgeably on dancing. I want to ask them if they thought of me as a pretty airhead.
Were your tears for the camera only?
I never cried on camera. But there were extremely emotional moments. Thank god! I haven't lost touch with my human side. The contestants have said good and bad things about the judges. But I didn't mind. In the process of interacting you grow as a human being. When Mini Mathur, Tapur or Sudha Chandran got eliminated I was very disturbed.
When Negi was out I could feel his dream shatter. I had seen my parents' reaction when I lost out as a child at a dance competition. I didn't have to make super-human efforts to connect with the participants. I'm really fond of Tapur, Mini, Sudha and Negi. They're such simple normal people!
I've criticised the contestants, but without malice. There was Jai Bhanushali who faltered but kept fighting, Prachi Desai who kept fighting back the negativity and of course Sandhya Mridul who's been the finest dancer but never took anything for granted. And Sonali Kulkarni...I really hated it when she was eliminated. I hated shooting on Saturday mornings when we shot the elimination rounds.
Your interaction with the other two judges?
Fantastic! Shiamak Davar is mad and fun. I've known him for years. He has choreographed my stage events though never any film. During Jhalak... he was constantly reaching to me to understand the Hindi words. He kept me well fed with cookies and sandwiches. One day he got Parsi food for all of us.
And Jeetendra-ji...I've known his son Tusshar for years. Now I know where Tusshar inherits his gentle nature from. Jeetuji made such apt comments on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa. It was wonderful hearing anecdotes about the film industry from him. The respect among the three judges came across. I've often taken up for Shiamak and Jeetu-ji. I liked being the balancing factors between the two judges.
Has the show changed you?
I see life in a different light. Your performance depends on so many factors. I think judging Jhalak Dikhla Jaa has made me a better person. Initially I was hesitant about taking this up. But once I was on there was no looking back. There was so much genuine emotion shared among us all. I remember the day Sonali Kulkarni was eliminated I was very depressed.
Shiamak came to my van and entertained me. I've realised that despite the deserving and the hardworking being left out, the show must go on.