WITH rotating club lights filtering into the dark corridors of Capitol, one of Mumbai’s oldest theatres, Raveena Tandon creates a captivating silhouette as she strides down in her high-stilettos and flowing one-shoulder crimson gown. At the end of the corridor, she pauses to flick her perfectly coiffed hair and looks into the cameras that are following her while director Onir pours over the monitor, watching her every move. In-between these takes, where the last leg of Onir’s Shab is being shot, Tandon confesses: “Today, I am exhausted. Spaced out.”
Even if Tandon’s big-screen appearances have become sporadic after her marriage in 2004, she has been working continuously since January. She was busy wrapping up Shab and working on the children’s reality show Sabse Bada Kalakar on Sony TV, when the Ashtar Sayed-directed Maatr, which she had shot last year, got a release date. That threw her schedule into a tizzy. “I had not foreseen this. I plan one thing at a time,” says the 42-year-old actor as she tries to cope with a flurry of promotional activities prior to its release on April 21.
However, the actor is not complaining as she believes in her title role in Maatr — of an aggrieved mother who seeks revenge when justice is denied to her and her 12-year-old daughter, after they are sexually assaulted by the son of a top politician and his cronies.
During Tandon’s break between the shots, we move to her van to finish the interview while the make-up artist does the necessary touch-up. Even as shimmer and greasepaint are being applied on her face, she says, “How can we be progressive if women are treated the way they are. No other religion has so many goddesses as Hinduism does. We have had warriors, and woman scholars who wrote the vedas. The law has to be harsher to make rape a deterrent.”
The script of Maatr ticked certain boxes for Tandon. “I want to take up something that’s socially-relevant and would challenge me,” says Tandon, who has a daughter and a son from her marriage with film producer Anil Thadani, apart from two adopted daughters. The actor declined to act in a number movies including, Gulaab Gang (2014) and Chashme Buddoor (2013).
Though she was popular for her comic timing and signature latka-jhatkas, Tandon’s attempt to cut through the clutter started with Shool (1999). “At one point in the ’90s, I did 30 films in a year: Five days on one set, six days on another and 10 days on yet another set. We used to dub for a film and forget about it. We would do may be five interviews,” says Tandon, who made her debut in 1991 with Patthar Ke Phool opposite Salman Khan and went on to deliver hits such as Andaz Apna Apna (1994), Mohra (1994), Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996), Ghulam-E-Mustafa (1997), and Anari No 1 (1999).
Some time in the late ’90s, recalls Tandon, she was waiting for her shots wearing pigtails and sporting a denim jacket, while shooting a song in Mauritius, when the ennui of playing the same frothy, popular characters got the better of her. “What am I doing? And, for how long would I continue doing this?,” I wondered, “I enjoyed grooving to a song. But as an actor, I wanted to evolve, to grow and figure out my limitations.” But, not everyone was convinced about casting her in a serious role.
For filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, she was the “Akhiyon-se-goli-maare girl” till he saw her in a sari without make-up during the photoshoot of E Nivas-directed Shool, which he was co-producing. In the years that followed, she acted in Kalpana Lajmi’s 2001-film Daman (for which she won the National Award for Best Actress), Aks (2001) and Satta (2003). “It took some effort to convince people that I could do those roles. However, I am lucky to have straddled both the worlds. These lines are getting blurred now,” she says.
Today, the actor chooses to sacrifice her space and time with her children only when a project touches her enough. “I did my first film just after completing Class X. I have worked for so long now. Cinema is not my life. It is a part of my life. There are times, I need my space: may be just to potter around my home, check the garden or put up a birdhouse,” she says, and adds that as her children have grown older, their studies and exams too demand her attention.
Of late, the actor has been vocal on a number of social issues, especially on social media. Will she consider a career in politics? “I am torn. I understand, you should become the change that you want to see instead of making living room conversations. Yet, I don’t want to toe any party line. I have a strong voice of my own. I don’t know if I am ready to suppress that.”