Exclusive: Kajol on her role in Tanhaji, working with Ajay Devgn, using Instagram and her dream project
EVER SINCE HER debut in 1992 with Bekhudi, Kajol has given us several characters we couldn’t help but invest in, be it the Anjali of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Priya Chopra of Baazigar, Simran of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Anjali Sharma Raichand of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Mandira Khan of My Name Is Khan or Isha Diwan of Gupt: The Hidden Truth.
Although the actress hasn’t done much work in the major part of the last decade, and her recent outing as a protective mother in Helicopter Eela didn’t do well, the actress left us wanting for more with the trailer of Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, where she plays Tanaji’s wife, Savitribai Malusare.
The film also sees her reuniting onscreen with her husband and actor Ajay Devgn after 12 years, as they were last seen together in U, Me Aur Hum.
Recently, the actress was conducting interactions for her upcoming film in a hotel in Juhu and to our surprise, things were running on time. ‘I like being punctual so much that I prefer reaching 15 minutes early,” declared Kajol, dressed in a yellow kurti and looking absolutely gorgeous.
We hit it off by discussing how Anjali (played by her) in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai should have gone for Aman (played by Salman Khan) as he was genuinely in love with her, rather than marrying Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) who took her for granted in the most part of the film, before discussing her character in Tanhaji, using Instagram, her dream project, and her opinion on having a stylist for every move. Excerpts from the interview:
We saw the trailer of Tanhaji and you look really beautiful!
Thank you! I think so too (smiles). I feel it has a lot to do with the fact that I believe I am beautiful today, which I didn’t have so much faith in when I was in my late teens.
Is it for the first time that you are wearing a nauvari?
Actually, it is the first time that I have worn a nauvari (nine-yard sari) outside my wedding, which was almost 21 years ago. At least, I have before and now pictures of myself in a nauvari. They have that 20-year-challenge, right? I can do that and rock it (laughs)!
Tell us about your character in Tanhaji, and what made you come on board?
My husband made me say yes to it (laughs). He came up to me and said that he would like me to play the character of Savitribai Malusare, and I told him I know he is saying this because 'ghar ki murgi dal barabar', and he was planning not to pay me anything, and that’s why he was asking me to do his film (laughs). And, he was like, ‘No, there is so much depth to this character that I think only you can play this part,’ and he asked me to hear the script.
So, I heard the script and the scenes that they had planned, and I absolutely loved it. The whole script is about very clean-cut characters — Saif is all-black, Ajay is all-white and there is no grey area in between. It is an episodic film and Savitribai is definitely a central character who has immense strength in her. It is not easy to let your husband go to war, and yet live a regular life.
She is a mother, wife, subedaran and Tanaji’s biggest support, and she knows it. There is a lovely scene between them where she knows that if she would ask Tanaji to stay back, he would. There is so much of an undercurrent in their relationship, but at the same time, she has immeasurable faith in him that whatever happens, I have faith in you, and that’s an amazing part of her character.
Such historic characters, who have been read and heard about so much, also demand fair portrayal in every possible way, otherwise you would be scrutinised. How did you go about such concerns?
Yes, and more than anyone else, I would scrutinise it, and that’s why I make sure of what I am doing, and I have taken as much support as I would need.
Mickey Contractor has done my make-up, Om Raut has researched the film, and we had Nachiket Barve who has designed clothes for all the characters, and he has done an absolutely brilliant job when it comes to clothes and jewellery, keeping in mind all the nuances.
Did you also do any research at a personal level, to get the nuances right for Savitribai?
Not really, because I have seen my mother and grandmothers in nauvaris all their lives. I have had a maid who lived with us her entire life, she brought me up and she was with us ever since my mother was a child — she wore nauvaris all her life. So, she was a definitely a reference point.
At the same time, when you wear a nauvari, for that period of time, your walk and even the way you stand or sit changes. When you are holding that padar (pallu) on your head, the entire body language changes. When I would look in the mirror every morning, after getting dressed up, I would see someone else staring at me. It was never Kajol, I felt as if it was Savitri Malushre looking back at me. It was an amazing feeling to know that somewhere down the line, you have brought a character to life.
In the trailer, you look like a different person. Has something changed in you as an actor?
I hope so! I feel we need to reinvent ourselves all the time, don’t we?
When did you feel this need to reinvent yourself?
I was doing We Are Family when I realised that times have changed, and what we could get away with earlier wouldn’t work anymore. Because of the digital revolution, people have seen better, so we have to up our game.
We have to unlearn everything that we have learnt all these years, and look at things from a completely different point of view. And that’s the reason why I also took to Instagram, because I realised that it is a part of changing and learning new things.
Talking about Instagram, how social media savvy are you? Does Nysa approve of your Instagram account?
I am not savvy, I think I am at the basic level. Nysa doesn’t understand my Instagram. She is like, ‘Mom, you are very weird. Look at your captions, who talks like this?’ She thinks that I have the weirdest Instagram account.
According to her, Instagram should be colour-coordinated and everything should be of a certain colour, with a certain filter or background. And I am like, ‘Calm down! Instagram pe aa gayi, bohut bada kaam kar lia maine (I am on Instagram, that in itself is huge). You can’t demand so much from me!’
Does it make much of a difference that Tanhaji is a home production?
No. I take my responsibility as an actor very seriously. I am not the kind of person who would come late just because it is someone else’s film, I never come late. I am most of the times 15 minutes early everywhere. And, this comes from my mom who says, time is money in this industry.
I believe that if I have a schedule, so do you. It is a form of respect. And, if I respect your time, you have to respect mine. I demand it from everybody working around me.
You and Ajay are working together after 11 years. How do you see him as an actor and as a co-actor today?
I think he has grown exponentially since the time I met him, which was when I was 21. In the 25 years since then, he has become a completely different person, but his basics, priorities and his principles have remained the same. He has just nurtured his potential, which is something you very rarely see in people, to see them growing into everything that they are capable of…
As an actor, if you look at his chart, he has made some seriously radical moves in his career. He is doing a franchise of comedy (Golmaal) and then biopics like Bhagat Singh and romantic films and then De De Pyaar De… I think that in itself has put in a stand that I am where I am, and I am happy being where I am. That in itself makes him so much more attractive as a person. I also think he is a conman.
He is definitely one of those people who knows the camera so well that they are able to con a great performance out of the camera, and can do more with little less effort. As a co-actor, it is great, because half his mind is on his performance and half his mind is on my performance, when we are doing scenes together. He would say, ‘Maybe you should ask for one more retake, because you can do better’ or ‘You can say that one line better’.
You are also doing a Netflix Original film, Tribhanga. How was the experience of being directed by Renuka Shahane?
I can’t talk about it, but it was amazing working with Renuka. Somebody was asking me the other day if it makes any difference that she is a women director and I said, not at all. There are only bad directors or good directors, and she is definitely the good one.
As an actor, I can tell you that with complete faith in my ability as an actor, the director’s gender doesn’t matter, and it is their technique, and clarity about their vision that matters, more than anything else.
What do you look for in a script?
I look for the same things that I’ve always looked for. I look for a great script, a fast-paced book, which when you pick, you are okay with staying up until 3 am to finish or you would stretch the last chapter, so that you have something to hold on to for the next day. I definitely want to do something that I haven’t done before.
Being an actress for almost three decades, is it not difficult to do something that you haven’t done before?
It is, and exactly why I am not working that much.
How has the film industry changed over the years?
It has become more streamlined and professional. Earlier, one person would be doing three jobs and I wouldn’t say we managed, because we thrived with that. Now, there are so many little-little job descriptions, and everything is specialised. Also, there were a lot of things that people got away with earlier, but they can’t anymore.
How do you perceive the present culture of stylists — do you enjoy it, or do you find it overwhelming?
I do find it overwhelming, at times. We always had designers on set, but yes, having them at home and coordinating everything from going out for lunch to the airport, is a bit much.
And, who are your favourite designers?
I love Manish Malhotra’s clothes. Whenever I wear an outfit designed by him, I feel better. I also love Sabyasachi, Shiva Naresh, Shantanu and Nikhil, Amit Agarwal.
Lastly, has there been a dream project on your mind. What is it, and when will you be able to work it?
No. I wanted to do Barbara Taylor book, where she plays a character from the age of 20 to 60, each stage having its own challenges. I always wanted to play that character, if not in that story setting than definitely the character. I’d love to do that, but I don’t know if it is possible now (laughs).
Beauty regimen: ‘To like what I see in the mirror every day and smile.’
A beauty mantra you swear by: ‘I am beautiful here and now, and nothing will ever change that.’
Diet: ‘A low-carb, high-protein diet.’
Street food: ‘Batata vada, pav bhaji, vada pav, ragda patties.’
A book you would recommend: ‘Read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and Amar Chitra Katha (comics) at least once.
A piece of advice that shaped you: ‘Will it matter five years from now, and if it won’t then, don’t waste any more time.’
Resolution for 2020: ‘To work with good people and have a blast working on some of the best scripts.’
Favourite work of yours: ‘Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’.
Your vice: ‘Coffee.’