Where was Roja shot?
We didn’t go to Kashmir as in the ’90s it was not open (for shoots). We shot the Kashmir portions of the film in Manali.
To make a film on terrorism when it was at its peak in Kashmir…
That is Mani sir’s talent; he brings out the most socially relevant subjects with a love story. I think all his films have this as their main theme. Whether it is ‘Bombay’ or ‘Roja’, there is a people’s story and then there is a love story. You really won’t know if ‘Roja’ is a love story or a story on terrorism, or a patriotic film–it probably falls in all categories. The song ‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyaara Hai’ is still played on every Independence Day and Republic Day because it ignites a sense of patriotism.
You and Arvind come together in ‘Thalaivi’ after 30 years…
It felt serendipitous. I am known for ‘Roja’; it is like a trademark film for me. It completed 29 years of release on August 15. Almost 30 years ago, Arvind and I worked together. I had thought it might be awkward to reconnect with him and work together but it felt so smooth. I did not know where those 25 years had gone when I met him on the sets; it just felt perfectly right.
I wondered if this was the correct role to make a comeback to Hindi films with but when I walked on to the set and met the team of Thalaivi and Arvind, it just felt so natural. The friendship and connect we had at that time, is still the same.
On the first day of ‘Thalaivi’ shoot, Nassar sir was also present, so, there were three of us from ‘Roja’. I remember both Kangana and the director AL Vijay acknowledged us and one of them actually said, ‘The Legends of Roja’ are here. It really felt wonderful.
Has Arvind changed from what he was during ‘Roja’?
What I remember from 30 years ago is that he was very affable and friendly. I remember one thing very distinctly was that when I did ‘Roja’, he was not an actor by profession. But when I met him on the sets of ‘Thalaivi’, he was totally a professional actor. That was the change I saw. We were not best friends; we didn’t call each other every time we visited the cities the other lived in. But we have an easygoing bond and I felt the same affable friendly camaraderie from the moment I saw him again.
Any plans of working with Mani Ratnam again?
Well, you never know. I can’t talk about the future but I am excited about my four films that are up for release and three-four projects that are underway. There’s nothing with him as of now, but they are all aware that I am at work, so, it might happen soon. That’s what I am hoping for, as well.
Tell me about the films you have in your kitty…
I am doing a lot of work now. I just finished shooting for ‘Shakuntalam’, which is a magnum opus and is being made on the scale of ‘Bahubali’ in five languages. It has been directed by Gunashekhar, who had directed ‘Rudramadevi’, and it was very exciting as Neeta Lulla has designed the entire look for the film. I am awaiting the release of ‘Thalaivi’, in which I have a cameo but a fantastic role; I play the first wife of Chief Minister MGR. Even though the title role of Thalaivi is being played by Kangana Ranaut, the role of the first wife is pretty exciting.
Did you study the character before you went on set?
I studied the character with the help of director AL Vijay, who had the entire research on his laptop, and it was always available to us on the sets while we were shooting. It helped me get into the skin of the character.
Do you have scenes with Kangana?
I shot for two days with Kangana and she is a fabulous artiste and person. On the sets, she is a highly professional actor and there is no extra fanfare around her. Even though Tamil is not her language, you cannot figure it out as she comes to set fully prepared; it is commendable. You see, she prepares a lot. Especially, for a biopic where you have to look like the person. For that, she had to go to Los Angeles to get the prosthetics right. A lot of work had to be done before the shoot started. In my experience, she doesn’t do anything to hog the limelight at all. She came like any other actor, who comes and waits on the sets.
Share some memories from the sets of ‘Phool Aur Kaante’…
I remember shooting the song ‘Dheere Dheere Pyar Ko Badhana Hai’ at Convent Villa, which does not exist anymore. It was so beautiful! The beach outside the house and how we ran down to the beach–that memory is very vivid in my mind. I think it was in the first schedule for me. I remember my scene with Amrish Puri ji and Ajay (Devgn) when he is shot. It was my first film and I was very young. I had to do a little mature role; it was not just a romantic film. It was my first schedule and I had to perform an emotional scene with Amrish ji but he was not at all intimidating and many years later all three of us came together for ‘Diljale’ and as always Amrish ji was kind and supportive towards me.
But the first lesson I got was from Saroj Khan. I am a very tall girl. Today, there are many tall girls in the film industry but back in the day, I used to feel kind of awkward with my height. So, there I was standing on the set of ‘Phool Aur Kaante’ with a slight slouch. She had a microphone in her hand she yelled, “Seedhi khadi raho”; she told me that a dancer has to stand straight and that is the first lesson you have to learn. Her voice still rings in my head; that is how I connect with Saroj Khan.
If there’s a biopic on Saroj Khan, who would you want to play her?
The first name that comes to my mind is Madhuri Dixit. All her famous songs were choreographed by Saroj ji.
Your relationship with Hema Malini…
We are cousins. I have nothing but respect and I look up to her as a star and as an artiste. She is a legend but more than that, I love her for the person that she is. She inspires every one of us in the family. It is a very natural thing that you follow in the footsteps of what others in your house do. In my home, my mother was a professional Bharatnatyam dancer and became a teacher later. So, I only saw dance and music in the house. Then I saw Hema ji when she was at the peak of her career. We were very close and lived close by. I would go to her house everyday and catch a glimpse of the legends who visited. It had a deep impact on my thought process. I wanted that for myself. That is how I got inspired to be an actor myself.
You think Hema ji should direct more now?
She has directed three films of mine–‘Mohini’, ‘Urvashi’, and a series called ‘Women Of India’. I played Urvashi in that series. Then I did a movie, which she directed me in: ‘Mohini’. Years later, she came to me with ‘Tell Me O Khuda’ which she directed and produced; Esha played the lead role and I had a cameo appearance.
I have many dreams and one of them is to do something with Hema ji and Esha. I keep telling them that we have to do something together. I don’t mind if Hema ji directs it or if she acts, but I would love to be together in a movie done by all three of us; that is one of the dreams I have.