Kajol on Salaam Venky: Wasn’t comfortable playing a mother whose child was dying

Talking about the Revathy directorial, the star gets candid on her fears and reuniting with first co-actor Kamal Sadanah
Kajol’s upcoming film 'Salaam Venky'
Kajol’s upcoming film 'Salaam Venky'

Over the years, the family has been a core theme in Kajol’s filmography. Starting from Karan Johar’s magnum opus Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), to husband Ajay Devgn’s tragic love tale U Me Aur Hum (2008), followed by My Name is Khan (2008) and We Are Family (2010), she has played characters exploring love and blood-ties. Since 2018, it seems like her roles have become more centred on motherhood. She has portrayed maternal fears both comically (in Helicopter Eela (2018)) and tragically (in Tribhanga (2021)). Now, in her 30th year in the film industry, she has taken up the challenge to explore the biggest grief of them all: losing your child.

Kajol’s upcoming film Salaam Venky, directed by Revathy, is based on the true story of K Sujatha and her son Venkatesh aka Venky who suffers from a terminal disease. Kajol plays Sujatha, while Mardaani 2-fame Vishal Jethwa will portray Venky on screen. Initially, Kajol shared, she had rejected the film. “I had decided not to do it. I called Revathy and told her I respect her a lot, but I can’t go forward with it.”

It was not the role or the writing. “It was fear,” she says. “I was hesitant because the film was about a mother and a son and something happening to a child. As a mother, I don’t want to do films in which I have to pretend that my child is dying. I wasn’t comfortable.”

Eventually, she came around. “I heard the script and thought I couldn’t let my fear dictate my actions,” she says.

With the film, Kajol is also reuniting with her debut Bekhudi (1992) co-star Kamal Sadanah. Recently, in an endearing video, the actor was seen, pleasantly surprised, meeting and hugging Kamal on the film’s sets. “It was just the timing of it,” she says, remembering the moment. “I had done my first film with him and here I am, completing 30 years in the industry, and working with him again. It was surreal.”

Vishal, who made a striking lead debut as the psychopathic serial rapist Sunny in Mardaani 2 (2019) alongside Rani Mukerji, is now essaying the contrasting role of free-spirited Venky. Talking about working with Kajol, he shares, with a laugh, “I think I have a connection with the Mukerji's. My lead debut was with Rani Mukerji and now I am working with her cousin Kajol. Even the first album I worked on was with a Mukerji.”

In the film, Venky suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a fatal disease in which the patient’s muscles stop functioning. For actors, the physicality and body language of a character come in handy during a performance. It is arduous to play a role in one can only express through the face. “Thus, I had to make sure my smile as Venky is infectious,” says Vishal. “I asked Revathy ma’am to tell me after each shot how much and which of my body parts should move. It was very tough because I didn’t have a particular body language to show. Everything I had to do was through my face. In characters like Sunny in Mardaani 2 and Mangu in Human, there is a certain body language, a particular style they walk in. In this film, either I am on the hospital bed or on a wheelchair, so there were limitations.”

Kajol was last seen in theatres as Savitri Bai, wife of Subedar Tanhaji Malusare (Ajay Devgn) in the historical epic Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (2020). Talking about how different it is to play the role of somebody who is alive, she says, “The responsibility is more. The real Sujatha has to live with my performance so I had to make sure I don’t deviate too much from her personality.”

When asked what she took home from the film, she shares, “The fact that I can’t let my fears rule my children’s lives.”

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