Special interview: Kajal Aggarwal talks about her new Hindi film, Uma, and her journey as an actress
When she is not attending virtual classes on astrophysics or the Bhagavad Gita or crocheting, the glamorous actor Kajal Aggarwal is reading OTT scripts. From debuting in the Aishwarya Rai and Vivek Oberoi starrer Kyun! Ho Gaya Na... (2004) to having a wax replica at Madame Tussauds in Singapore, it has been a long uphill journey for the actress.
“It’s humbling, to say the least, and the learning has been huge. I have made a few mistakes but I don’t really regret them because they have made me the individual that I am today and enriched me as a person. I have had some great experiences working with some wonderful technicians, actors and directors. Also, I am thankful to my audience for their love and appreciation. It’s a very nice feeling to have a wax statue that is everlasting. That’s an inspiration to quite a few as well,” reflects the actress.
While a lot of us struggled through the pandemic to keep our sanity in place, Kajal coped by learning new things and helping the less privileged. “The lockdown was definitely a very difficult period for all of us. With the second wave hitting us harder, it was far more difficult to cope mentally than physically. I attended virtual classes and learned metaphysics, astronomy and the Bhagavad Gita. I meditated, ate healthily and exercised. I love all sorts of handicrafts and through the lockdown; I have been knitting, crocheting and painting. I also taught English to my maid’s five-year-old son,” she adds.
The actor, who just turned 36 on June 19, recently signed her next Hindi film, Uma, where she plays the titular role. Also, only the last leg of shooting is left for her next big Telegu action-drama Acharya starring actor Chiranjeevi and his son Ram Charan. We talk to Kajal about her films, completing 17 years in the film industry, her fashion and health choices and more...
You were last seen in Mumbai Saga. Tell us about your new Hindi film Uma?
I have recently signed Uma. It’s a Mary Poppins kind of film, where fantasy meets reality and I play the title role of Uma and I am currently preparing for it. I keep having a lot of Zoom discussions with my director to understand how he envisages the character. Uma is basically a ray of sunshine and helps people deal with their problems through folktales. That’s what my character is in a nutshell. There are several layers and dimensions to Uma but I won’t be able to divulge much right now.
Why do you think you are more successful in the South Indian film industries than in Bollywood?
I was always very clear about the kind of films and roles I wanted to do. I believe the South Indian film industries are full of very talented people, amazing technicians, lovely scripts and are creatively superior, and hence I gravitated towards the roles I was offered down South.
Born in a Punjabi family and settled in Mumbai, how difficult was it for you to grasp the languages in the South?
I do know Tamil and Telugu and understand the languages pretty well and I can speak Telugu fluently. I do not know Kannada and Malayalam, although I can understand them a bit since I have never worked in those languages. Of course, initially, it was very difficult for me to pick up these languages and I learned them on the job. I would speak to everyone on set, be it the directors or technicians, in those languages and that helped me to pick up, not just the language but the dialects as well. For me, language has never been a barrier while acting. Your emotions don’t require a particular language for expression, they are universal. So, I had been pretty comfortable from the word go.
What’s your biggest learning in these 17 years?
The biggest learning for me in all these years is to trust my gut and my own judgment. No one knows what’s good for me better than myself. Gut feelings are always accurate. I have also decided to never settle for mediocrity. Striving for excellence is a top priority for me now.
Do you think the audience will return to theatres post the pandemic?
The film industry has been hit a lot because of the pandemic and the OTT platforms have become a very big deal now. But I don’t think that the cinematic experience can be replaced by OTTs. The audience has a lot more to choose from and that opens up new er avenues for a lot of new talent as well. But a cinematic experience will be something that will always excite people and theatres will make a comeback as soon as we combat COV ID-19 and the majority of us get vaccinated.
Are you keen on exploring the OTT space?
The kind of roles that you can explore in the OTTs is not possible in mainstream cinema. I have already got a taste of it with a Disney+ Hotstar show, Live Telecast, and I am reading a few more scripts.
How was it working with Chiranjeevi in Acharya?
Working with Chiranjeevi was fabulous. There is so much to learn from him. This is the second time we are working together after Khaidi No. 150. In Acharya, I play a very feisty girl from a small town called Dharmastalam.
Quick six with Kajal
Sibling bonding: I am extremely close to my sister Nisha (also an actor). Like all siblings, we fight a lot. We share everything from wardrobes to hair care and skincare products. We are always recommending things to each other. Both of us are very passionate about a healthy lifestyle and we bond over fitness and healthy eating. Tea sessions are extremely important to us and we love sipping our afternoon tea sitting around the table, chatting away, losing track of time. Now, we love indulging in her baby Ishaan. He is totally wrapped around me.
Fashion choices: I staunchly believe that fashion is an extension of one’s personality. It’s about being creative and comfortable in your own skin and being what you are. I don’t follow fads for the sake of it. I love classic pieces like a great pair of jeans, big black stilettos, saris and white shirts. You would also find a lot of monochromes in my wardrobe. I have key pieces in jewellery and I love diamonds. I love to wear designer outfits but I also love wearing pieces picked up at thrift stores and mixing and matching things together. I love Anamika Khanna and Rahul Mishra, Giambattista Valli and when it comes to streetwear, I like Scotch & Soda.
Fitness routine: I used to be a gym buff and did a lot of weight training. But ever since the lockdown, I have started doing functional training at home and joined Physique 57 for barre workouts and mat pilates. I also practise yoga. Once things normalise, I hope to resume regular weight training and pilates. I love going for walks with my husband. We find it very therapeutic to walk, chat and catch up.
Skin and hair care routine: I use iS Clinical products and I love their face cleanser. I make sure to remove make-up properly and I don’t wear any make-up when not working. I use hair masks and also oil my hair. I apply yoghurt with lime to keep my scalp healthy.
Beauty essentials in bag: Lip balm, lip and cheek tint, moisturiser, nail polish remover, hairbrush, hair serum and a little hair iron, just in case of emergencies.
Daily diet: I try to combine carbs, fibre as well as protein in every meal that I eat. I have eggs and a jowar roti with vegetables for breakfast and a mid-day snack of fruit. For lunch, I have rice, daal and vegetables. In the evenings I have a toast or a sandwich and dinner is the same as lunch. I am a vegetarian and I do consume protein shakes. I love drinking coconut water and Earl Grey tea and my comfort foods include rajma chawal, paneer and mom’s handmade paranthas.