December 14 2015
Star tells us she didn’t want to make a regular, run of the mill, formula masala movie and said the time has come for more Indian women-centric films and audiences are ready for more unusual stories…
SOMEONE please give Kajol Devgan (Mukherjee) a modern, contemporary movie all to herself.
Since women leads in Bollywood are no longer as rare as the hunks taking their shirts off at every given opportunity, it’s about time Kajol (better known as just this) got a modern day crack at a ball-busting (more metaphorical than anything else) role in a contemporary blockbuster.
That she has star quality should be in no doubt – her frequent pairing with India’s No1 film star, Shah Rukh Khan, is testament to that, as are her many awards and accolades. She holds her ground and then some.
“There is change,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com in a one to one interview in London when the “Dilwale” film publicity juggernaut rammed London earlier this month. “You can have a woman in the lead,” she continued. “Honestly…” she sighed graphically, to make her point.
The Bollywood aficionados will recall Kajol in Satish Kaushik’s “Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain” (1999) but perhaps this was before its time.
Dressed smartly and for business, it’s hard to believe she’s reached her 40s – there’s still something of the smouldering siren about her and it’s easy to picture her in a role which combines grit and steeliness with glamour and sexiness.
“It’s not like woman-centric films haven’t been made before (in Bollywood) but the point is that it was sporadic, it was done as chance, now it’s actually become a business plan.”
There has been a very slight shift in recent years, films such as – “Mary Kom” (2014) with Priyanka Chopra, and “Jazbaa” (2015) with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and the lesser star vehicle film of “Queen” (2014) in which rising box office draw, Kangana Ranaut, is centre screen – have all shown that Bollywood is more prepared to put leading ladies centre-screen.
“You can make it a successful business plan – which is intrinsically different today from how it was 20 years back,” Kajol argued.
But while there is some progress – Bollywood, like Hollywood, remains indifferent on the matter of equal pay.
She laughed. “No way, we are a long, long way from that,” she declared, tickled even by the question.
However, the day has come when you can sell a Bollywood film on the basis of a woman lead solely. And if it can be done for Ash in “Jazbaa”, there’s no reason why the same could not be done for Kajol?
Or is there?
When these two are paired together, there is usually box office magic, and producers are beside themselves at the prospect of all that cash piling up like a Mount Everest of money. You only need to see the hoopla right now around this Christmas release, “Dilwale” to get all that.
The two go back some way – indeed many would say that it was “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (‘The Brave Hearted will win the Bride‘), also known as ‘DDLJ’ (1995), that has put them both on the map as one of Bollywood’s most enduring couples.
Change that: Bollywood’s no1 couple. How else would they manage to get a BBC1 prime time evening spot on “The One Show” without such billing?
They have chemistry, evident to anyone who sees them together on and off-screen. They are friends, and SRK at the press conference, said it came from them working together since their early days and being comfortable in each other’s company.
Many cinemagoers have been waiting for the pair to return – for Kajol, it’s been a five year absence from the big screen. She last appeared, alongside SRK, in the sentimental tear-jeaker, “My Name is Khan” with SRK playing an autistic man determined to let every white, unthinking American know being a Muslim did not equal terrorist.
Since that, marriage and motherhood have been Kajol’s overriding priorities and she told us that even the lure of SRK would not alone be enough.
“It’s not really that,” she answered in response to the question about why she is so selective about the films she now does. “A little bit of it is that (acting alongside SRK), but the reason I did ‘Dilwale’ is that it has a good director (Rohit Shetty) attached to it. It’s a good production house (Red Chillies Entertainment, SRK’s own) and that 70-80 per cent of it would be the script and my character. She’s really like a cool character, she’s got a lot of angst, a lot of passion, a lot of furious energy, and she’s really, really emotional, and felt like I could do something with her.”
Her actual husband, fellow actor Ajay Devgan, stayed put in Mumbai with the couple’s two children, while she flew half way around the world: Iceland, Bulgaria, to make “Dilwale“.
“Honestly, I am not too much a fan of travelling, I’ve been doing it too long and also because of my kids I don’t feel like leaving them. That is a big issue. Fortunately for me, my husband decided to stay in Bombay and very kindly offered to babysit. He is wonderful that way and adjusted and made sure that he was in Bombay during the time I wasn’t and that was one of the most romantic things he could have ever done for me.”
Kajol hails from a film family – her mother, Tanuja, was an actor and her late father, Shomu, a director and producer. Among her relations are the legendary Nutan from the early days of Indian cinema, and another Bollywood contemporary, Rani Mukerji.
In the old days, and perhaps even today, many Bollywood films are still conceptualised around the stars – the story and script follow a good idea and star availability and combinations.
It’s refreshing to hear Kajol talk about the primacy of a script. Slowly, it is becoming more important and heralds a more professional approach and one that enables writers to be treated better (not necessarily well, but at least accorded a little more respect in the Bollywood production food chain).
“So I am one of those script-bound actresses. I need a bound script, I love a good script in the same way I love a good book. You can never get enough of one of those, honestly.
“We’ve made a good story into a good film, which I know is rare but a good script often does make a good film.”
To date, the plot details of “Dilwale” have been sketchy to say the least. It’s clear that the SRK’s character (‘Raj’) and Kajol’s (‘Meera’) have been romantically involved and that they are reunited in less than helpful circumstances somewhere into the future.
What part SRK’s younger brother in the film, ‘Veer’ (Varun Dhawan) and his love interest, ‘Ishita’ (Kriti Sanon), play in bringing the above two together is not clear; but Kajol was emphatic in one respect, both in our interview and in the proceeding press conference on December 2 in London.
This will be a different type of romance, she insisted.
“SRK and me have done so many films together. We’ve probably touched on every romantic genre there is in romance, so if we have to do something today, we cannot recreate what we have done before, it’s too tricky to try and recreate something that has worked before.
“We have to do something different – we cannot do a run of the mill regular romance – I wouldn’t agree to it, even if (SRK) does, I will not.”
She feels Bollywood has become more accepting and that the days of simple formulas: boy meet girl, fights, music, reconciliation, happy endings (often one or all elements are known in the business as ‘masala movies’), are giving way to more interesting and risky fare.
“It’s economically feasible to make films that are different and do not have a regular, typical, formula run of the mill script – they do not have to be that ‘masala’ action thriller. They continue to be made and they will always be made but the point is that audiences are changing.
“They want to see different kinds of films being made and it is economically possible.”
So, while there is a lot of masala in this movie (see the trailer: shootouts, car chases and breath-taking romantic sequences), there is something else too. It makes it all worthwhile, she intimates.
“My abiding memory of making this film is shooting in Iceland. It was the most hectic and chilling physical conditions we could have ever worked under – and it was in their summer – I can’t imagine what they do in winter. I was wearing minimal clothing – a chiffon sari. I don’t consider that apt winter clothing. It was wet and cold, I am not sure I could do it again.
“But from a film point of view, I enjoyed each and every minute of it, wherever we shot in Bulgaria or Hyderabad.
“When you have a good script, a good producer, a good director, a good co-star, it makes a difference. It makes a difference who you are working with – it’s never about one person, a film never is, it’s about all these people coming together as a team and making something wonderful and unique, and everybody works really hard under ridiculous circumstances with huge physical, mental and emotional pressures.”
She remembered a different time, perhaps when the actual filmmaking was even more difficult.
“I often tell SRK we are the lucky ones – because we have seen what this industry was 25 years back and seen how in the last 15 it has changed dramatically – we didn’t even have cell phones, we had simple land lines that used to die in the storms; we now have vanity vans (where stars can relax in downtime) and ridiculous pieces of luxury and he and I look at each other and we think…’oh god, damn, how did we ever do this before, with nothing?’
“I think filmmakers are still passionate and you have to be a little mad to be a filmmaker.”
And you, we ask, do you want to make one?
“No,” Kajol said emphatically.
- ‘Dilwale‘ opens worldwide this Friday December 18.
‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jeyange’ (‘DDLJ’) was the subject of a special screening at the British Film Institute’s (BFI) #BFIlove season last month – read about that HERE