Returning to screen with 'Helicopter Eela', the actor talks about her favourite roles and why she will always be choosy
Considered one of contemporary Indian cinema’s powerhouse performers, Kajol has appeared in only a handful of leading roles over the last decade, including My Name Is Khan (2010), Dilwale (2015) and a Tamil movie, Velaiilla Pattadhari 2 (2017). She will soon be seen playing an overzealous mother to a teenager in Helicopter Eela. By her own admission, the 44-year-old actor is selective. Edited excerpts from an interview:
‘Helicopter Eela’ seems to have a message on parenting and family.
It’s about dreams, hope, the idea of a single, working mother (Eela). It’s also the idea of tags—what tags are given to you and what you want to be known as. It’s the coming of age story of Eela rather than the boy.
Single parents and children have a special bond. Not only is there double responsibility on the parent but the child also has a sense of responsibility to take care of the parent. You are raising the child, but the child is also helping the parent grow and leading you in different directions.
What was it like working with a 19-year-old co-star, Riddhi Sen?
He’s a fabulous actor and a really sweet boy off screen as well. This made a big difference to the onscreen chemistry as well. I think he got slapped the most, though that was Dada’s (director Pradeep Sarkar’s) idea. It will be funny, he said. There are all kinds of slaps—playful, painful, angry—and that’s pretty much the relationship and the story.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor Khan and you, among others, have debunked the old notion that actresses cannot have thriving careers after marriage and motherhood.
I think that notion was in the minds of heroines, and our own thinking needed to change. People have often said they are looking forward to seeing me back on screen or are happy to see my trailer, etc. I am always asked why I am not doing more movies. It was our mindset, which is now that I have had a baby, what will people think? Fortunately, all that is breaking down and people are also getting more secure partly because of social media and having more visibility. Trying to find a work-life balance is scary. You feel you will fail at one or the other, and both failures are unacceptable because both have such great meaning in your life. When you do go back to work (after having a child), there is a certain amount of guilt attached to it. You will do everything to avoid that guilt, including run yourself to the ground to ensure you don’t feel like you have not done enough.
You continue to be selective. Is that because there aren’t enough good parts?
I am selective and I will continue to be so because I cannot see myself doing films that are absolutely meaningless, neither will I do a film just for the sake of it. I want to do a film I will enjoy in which I have something new to say. There are enough good parts being written, but I don’t think they are being written well. I don’t think there are enough good scripts and screenplays. If I am going to tell you to alter 10 parts of the script anyway, then it doesn’t make sense for me to do it. It’s better I refuse you gently than ask you to alter those parts.
You were the first woman to win a Filmfare award for Best Performance in a Negative Role for ‘Gupt’ in 1997. Would you be open to another negative/dark character?
Yes, totally. I would love to play a completely dark character like The Joker. I could not manage Cat Woman as I would have to diet for too long, but I can see myself in a round penguin outfit with make-up and the whole look.
These days, especially with the proliferation of the paparazzi, there seems to be a great deal of attention on the children of movie stars.
I find it intrusive at times. I don’t like the idea of my daughter being followed when she’s leaving a restaurant or when she is out with friends. That is not something they signed up for. We signed up for it as parents who are part of the film industry and though it can be intrusive for us too, at least I can say this is one of the disadvantages of the job. But children are at that age where everything matters a lot, especially to Nysa; Yug is still small. She likes that little time away at boarding school, which allows her some normal time out. When the kids complain, I remind them that you fly first class to London and spend three weeks there, so appreciate the perks of the job as well.
Are there particular roles from your filmography that you hold dear?
Of course, Simran from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. I loved Priya from Baazigar. Then there’s Fanaa, Gupt, My Name Is Khan and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I also loved my character Piya in U Me Aur Hum. Sanjana in Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha was so cool and did such funny stuff that I love her. My character in Udhaar Ki Zindagi was a turning point. I realized I could not do more films like that. I needed to do fluffy stuff and get my breath back. I didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to feel anything, and I didn’t want to take anything seriously. I was only 19 and it emotionally squeezed out every bit of my soul. I had done Baazigar just before that and I remember Shah Rukh (Khan) telling me that I had to learn how to disconnect, that it was not possible to put your heart and soul into everything like this. And he was right.