As Rani Mukherjee swept into Sydney for opening up Sydney’s Indian Film Festival for 2010, I met with her at a press conference held at the Siebel and put to her a few questions her fans were curious to know. I don’t quite know what I was expecting, but what I wasn’t expecting was a bubbly, talkative congenial Rani that walked into the room and answered every question put to her with perfect alacrity and charm.
When did you start acting?
I started acting at the age of 17. Before that I was at school, being scolded by baba (dad) and ma (mum), not baba, ma! I used to go on the school bus to school and come back. I was born in Kolkata. You know my first film was Raja ki Ayegi Baraat not biyer phool. I shot for Raja ki ayegi Baraat first and then my father’s film biyer phool but they released on the same day, 18th October 1996.
You know it was by sheer luck I did Raja ki Ayegi Baraat, I had no idea what I was doing, imagine if someone came up to me today and said, ‘Rani-ji ki apki liye ek role hai, koi apko rape karega aur aap use shaadi karte hai’ (I have a role for you where you marry your rapist) I would say, ‘Achaa? Ye film to mei nehi karungi.’ (Really? I won’t do this film)
But at that point probably I wasn’t thinking and I did a lot of films because I was too excited to get a film as a newcomer. So that time I did a lot of films that helped me chose the path I wanted to take because they made me realise I wanted to do meaningful cinema and shape the industry, not just any role that comes my way.
So I just took it up and when I finished on Raja ki Ayegi Baraat and I brought all my school friends over to watch the film I realised how bad it was. I was so embarrassed because throughout the film and they were laughing at me. When I was crying in the film, they were laughing.
And my brother remarked you are not crying you are dancing, will you stop shaking while you cry? I was like ok…. When I hear Raja ki Ayegi Baraat so many memories come rushing to my head.
Do you have any plans to direct your own film?
You know actually I would like to do a lot of things in life, you never get to do everything you hope to do, but you know this question is often asked of an actor that has completed ten years of acting and although I have no plans at present I will never say never because I don’t know what plans God has in store for me.
Maybe down the track I will direct a film and you will say, Oh! Rani had said she doesn’t want to direct and now she is directing!’ If I get energy rush in my body and find a project I believe in then I will direct.
Do you think the recent films- whether it is story line or role have been doing you justice?
You know I have been playing a very diverse range of roles and I worked with such talented people and its helped me grow as an actor and a person.
I played a blind and deaf girl in Black who had to grow so much in the film and at the same time a romantic film like Paheli where I am in love with a ghost. There is so much to learn from the blind and deaf people I visited during the making of Black.
Every film is different to me, in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (KANK) I played a woman that cheats on her husband, it wasn’t about cheating or having an affair, it was about following your heart and that was the message I was trying to convey.
So you have to balance out you know? You can’t say Hey! She cheated on her husband and that makes it ok.
How do you keep your body so fit and what do you do to make yourself more flexible for dance moves?
I am a classical dancer so.. you know I didn’t like dancing to begin with and my brother used to dance and my mother forced me and that is how I got into dancing. But now dancing is something that I really enjoy and it comes naturally to me. I am a classical dancer.
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
Probably married in Kolkata somewhere with a husband and two kids, making chappatis (bread) and putting my pallu (sari) in my kamar (waist). (laughs) I really didn’t have any plans in life, my mother drove me to acting and I owe my success to her.
Will your new found love for cricket result in buying a cricket team?
Oh my god! You know actors are not as rich as you make us out to be! No no, I have no plans to buy any team.
There is a close relationship between Bengalis and Punjabis; you play a lot of Punjabi roles…
Yaaa! I am telling you, even the marriages are lovely! You know actually there is a very interesting story to understand my link to Punjabis. I was actually exchanged in the hospital. No really! You are laughing but I don’t know my true identity whether I am a Sardar or Bengali.
(laughter) As a baby, I remember my mother said she was fighting for me and getting me back because I had brown eyes (removes sunglasses to show her brown eyes to a chorus of ‘finally!’ and more cameras flashing) so uh.. because of my brown eyes.
You know the first time she saw me she noticed my brown eyes and then the next day the nurse gave her a different baby and she went to feed her and noticed the baby didn’t have brown eyes and she went around to each room in the hospital screaming where is my baby?
Ye to mera bacha nehi hai! (This is not my baby) And my chacha was like, ‘What! ye tumhara bacha nehi hai! Kaha hai tumhara bacha? Chalo jaake dhoondte hai’ (This isn’t your baby? Where is your baby then? Let’s go find her!)
And she found me with a Punjabi family and fought with them for me and so that is my link to Punjabis! To this day I don’t know if I am Punjabi or not but that is probably why I feel at ease in Punjabi roles and when Dil Bole Hadippa came along I said, ‘ye to mein ek jhatke mein kar sakti hoon!’ (I can totally do this!)
Which Hollywood and Bollywood actor/actresses inspire you?
I like Meryl Streep, I watch every one of her films and I think she has done wonderful films of a wide range and variety year after year and I die to watch any Meryl Streep movie as soon as it comes out. I also like Tom Hanks, I think he is a very good actor and make a point to watch his films, they are very inspiring.
In Bollywood my favourite actor is Dillip Kumar. He is so effortless in front of the camera; also because he acted in my father’s films you know from then he inspired me. For me, there is no greater actor than him. And actress is Mumtaz.