It’s the summer vacation, and a new strain of the flu is in the air. Kajol is having a mommy moment—she has to ensure that her daughter is suitably entertained during the school break and that her son recovers from a weather-related illness.

One of the brightest stars of the 1990s now spends most of her time arranging play dates and making movie plans for her 10-year-old daughter, Nysa, and tending to her three-year-old son, Yug. “I am sitting and organizing my daughter’s social life—I feel like a secretary," she says without a trace of regret.

Of course, no matter how hard she tries, Kajol can’t just fade into mommyhood. The 39-year-old actor took a five-year break after getting married to actor Ajay Devgn in 1999 and reappeared in Fanaa in 2006. The terrorism-themed drama, also starring Aamir Khan, was a blockbuster. Subsequent films like U Me Aur Hum (2008) and We Are Family (2010) didn’t set the Arabian Sea on fire, but My Name Is Khan (2010) was a career-best performance, with a particularly effective scene in a morgue where she mourns the death of her son in a hate crime. “I did the movie for that one scene," she says.

Meanwhile, Kajol has dramatically altered her appearance. Even at the height of her career, she was usually as well turned out as a female member of the audience who had braved a crowded train to get to the cinema on time. Kajol circa 2013 is an altogether different creature—svelte, with swept- back hair and light make-up that matches her outfit for the interview (ivory top, hot pink slim-fit pants, beige platforms). There is no trace of the frumpy clothing and devil-may-care hair.

Fortunately, no make-up artiste has been allowed to take a tweezer to the famous unibrow—yet.

It’s ironic, but also typical, that Kajol has opted for fashion magazine cover-worthy looks only after she stepped down as a leading lady. She has a reputation for being headstrong and brash, for caring a fig for the limelight even when she was at the centre of it. She isn’t out to exploit her recently acquired modishness, at least not for the movies. Kajol is by no means a recluse—she makes several public appearances and appears in advertisements and television shows—but she is choosy about interviews. “I am really boring—no offence to the journalistic community," she says about her low-fi engagement with the media. “You end up answering the same questions again and again and trying to sound interesting. I’d rather not do that. My life is truly and utterly and fabulously boring. I love it that way."

She is even choosier about movie projects. Directors and writers who are aching to cast Kajol will have to make sure that their scripts are epic enough to distract her from motherhood. She is watching her children grow into “interesting people", she says, and she wants to be around them. “I have a full life—two kids, a husband, in-laws, that is a huge, big life that doesn’t involve work," she says. “When people say why aren’t you working, I say I am, but I’m just not doing what you think I am supposed to be doing. It’s just that I am not getting paid for it."

Any fleeting urge to get back under the arc lights is tempered by the need to be around her children. “I had my kids so that I could bring them up myself, not so that somebody else could bring them up," she says. “If I have to do a film and take time out, it has to be something I really want to do and believe in." Kajol fans can take heart from the fact that she is looking at a few scripts, and might make up her mind over the next six months.

Kajol’s well-documented insouciance has remained a constant through a career that started off unremarkably with Bekhudi in 1992, and then soared upwards with a series of hits, many of them with friends and film-makers whom she knew and trusted. Many of the people Kajol has worked with are second- or third-generation members of film families, just like her own. As the new lot on the block took their first tentative steps in the movie business, a bunch of them opted for the comfort of familiarity and associated themselves with people they had grown up with or those who had equally famous parents. While Kajol has acted in a range of movies, her best efforts have been reserved for projects by her buddies, like Aditya Chopra (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) and Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham...). She has been cast opposite several men, including Devgn, but her most magical on-screen partnership is with another friend, Shah Rukh Khan.

“I am more comfortable working with friends, I need to be comfortable with whoever I am working with," Kajol explains. “You are able to communicate more easily, and it adds to your character and role. It’s not that I haven’t experimented, but it’s just that I need a connect with the director. It’s hard to create a connect after you start working."

Whenever Kajol has stepped out of her comfort zone, the results have been interesting. One of her favourite roles is in the 1994 family drama Udhaar ki Zindagi, which few people watched but many appreciated for her performance as a woman trying to reach out to her estranged grandfather. She also appeared in Rajiv Menon’s Tamil movie Minsaru Kanavu in 1997 (the movie was also dubbed into Hindi as Sapnay) as an aspiring nun who steals the hearts of Arvind Swamy and Prabhudeva. Rajiv Menon’s wife, advertising film-maker Latha Menon, suggested Kajol’s name to him. “She is a peculiar combination of somebody who is a tomboy but is also very feminine," Rajiv says. “There is an air of impatience about her, a don’t-bullshit-me attitude. She also represents the joie de vivre of the decade (the 1990s)."

Kajol’s widely praised spontaneity and effortlessness suited the parts she chose just fine, but her disinterest in pushing herself too hard has prevented her from having “that one great film, her own Mother India", Rajiv suggests. “When you think of her, you see her as the girl in the mustard field."

Kajol dismisses any backward glances at her filmography, and says she approaches her craft through instinct rather than design. “I am pretty much instinctive, I don’t script what I am supposed to," she says. “Acting has to be instinctive if it has to be good. The minute you plan it, it’s on your face, and the camera won’t lie."

She appears to have worn the burden of her lineage lightly, but the great granddaughter of the 1930s actor and singer Rattan Bai, the granddaughter of Shobhna Samarth, the niece of Nutan, and the daughter of Tanuja and film-maker Shomu Mukherjee says her journey wasn’t any easier because of her storied family. “The fact that I got my first film may have owed something to my lineage, but that’s how it is for star kids—at the end of the day they have to prove themselves," she says. Her lodestar—and pressure point—was her mother. “My mum was so well-loved and respected that I always felt the need to protect her name and carry it forward," Kajol says. “My mum brought me up by saying that whatever I do today or tomorrow will always reflect on her. I didn’t want anything I did or said to come back to her. It was a different kind of pressure—I have to be on time, I have to be professional, my work has to be top of the line."

She hasn’t seen too many of her mother’s films or, for that matter, too many other movies either. “I was very bad, I hated watching her movies where everybody else called her mom," Kajol says. “In any case, I am not a big movie fan, I would rather pick up a book. But I love to discuss bad films."

She hasn’t kept pace with much of new Bollywood either. “I must have seen three films in the last year," she says. “I even bunk some of my husband’s films, though I have seen Himmatwala, Bol Bachchan and Son of Sardaar." She coasted through the movies in the 1990s, and she is similarly wafting through life, running after her children and waiting for the one bright idea that will draw her back into public glare. “What I have been given, I am grateful for," she says. “It’s not mine to wish for or want."

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