Sridevi is gearing up for her next big release MOM, also starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshaye Khanna. The film, where Sridevi plays a mother is a thriller revenge drama and is set to release on July 7. Will the veteran actor be able to recreate the magic of her last film English Vinglish, this time too?
When you acted in English Vinglish (2012), you cited its script as the reason to end your 15-year sabbatical. What drew you to Ravi Udyawar’s Mom?
This time, too, the reason for doing the film is its script. I always go by my instinct. Before I did English Vinglish, I had thought that I would not do another film, but I was drawn to its script. Similarly, when I heard the one-line story of Mom, it really touched me. It had nothing do with challenging the inner actor in me.
Before returning to the sets after a gap, do you undergo any preparation?
Nothing. I am a director’s actor. I surrender myself totally to the director’s vision. That makes everyone’s life and jobs easier. Of course, I go over the script and try to put myself in the character’s shoes as much as possible. For Mom, I withdrew a bit from Boneyji (husband Boney Kapoor). At home, we are constantly cracking joking or pulling each other’s leg. For three months, I took a break from this to focus on the film.
Does being a mother make it easier to play the role of one?
Absolutely. This film is about a mother-daughter relationship as well as that of a father-daughter. Definitely, as a mother, I found it easier to play the role.
But you wouldn’t surrender yourself to just any director. What does the director need to bring to the table for you to take up a project?
No (laughs). I should trust him — not only with my character but with the film. Ravi really inspired that kind of trust. He has done a wonderful job as a director of commercials. They are very high-tech and stylish. That expertise and his passion made it a wonderful experience to work on a movie that is as emotional as Mom.
What about established directors like Yash Chopra or Shekhar Kapur. Did you instinctively believe in them?
With directors like Yash Chopra, a lot of improvisation used to happen during the making of a film. In spite of being such an experienced director, he was open to my suggestions regarding how I was going to do a scene. That’s the kind of comfort level he created for his actors. I still miss him. Shekhar Kapur is a brilliant director, who always gets the best out of his actors. That really helped during Mr India (1987).
You are known to be a very private person. Yet, you completely transform once the camera is switched on.
Look, I have to transform myself in front of the camera. If I am going to be the same, they would pack my bags and say: ‘Aap ghar baitho (you sit at home)’. When you are playing someone else, you have to become that person. Then only the character in the movie will come alive. However, if I am sitting quietly somewhere alone, that does not mean that I don’t want to speak with anyone. I must be thinking about the dialogues, planning what to do in my next shot or how to enact the scene. I don’t like to waste my free time chatting and joking on the sets and then not giving a good shot. I believe it is better that I focus on my work while I’m on the sets. Of course, one has to communicate with the team, but there is a limit.
In the last two Hindi movies that you have done, you have worked with debutant directors and newer actors.
I feel like a newcomer every time. Portraying the role of a mother and her emotions are different but as an actor, I learnt a lot while doing this film. So many talented people have worked in this movie that it turned out to be a great experience. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is so quiet during the shoot. He hardly speaks. He is going through his lines and preparing all the time. Once he gives a shot, he is superb. Akshaye Khanna is amazing too. When he is in the frame, you only notice him. In Mom, Sajal Ali has done an outstanding job as well. The learning process for an actor never ends.
How often do you catch up on new releases?
I watch movies at theatres regularly with my family. Boneyji and Jhanvi decide what movie we are going to watch.
Your Twitter handle introduces you as ‘actor-mother-housewife-actor again’. How connected are you on Twitter?
This is true of me. However, it’s definitely not been put up by me. It must be Jhanvi. I keep track of what’s happening on social media, but my daughters help me with that. On my own, I am not very good at handling it.
It is said that superstardom of female actors in Hindi cinema ended with Madhuri Dixit and you. Do you agree?
There are so many actors who have made a mark for themselves and are doing so well. Actresses like Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra have achieved tremendous success. I never felt the stardom. I used to do my work and go home. I used to keep thinking which cousin is visiting and how we could spend more time together. I am grateful to god that my hard work has been appreciated. Beyond that, I was not taken in by the stardom.
Today, things have changed. Writers are coming up with good stories and producers are coming forward as they consider these to be bankable projects. I am very glad that I am part of the industry now.
You are a great dancer and excel in comedy. What’s your secret?
I am a very funny person at home. In my family, they call me a ‘joker’. Maybe that helped. It has to be within you; I believe in spontaneity. I don’t plan and think much. I believe my first take is my best one. Unfortunately, at times, the camera is out of focus or something else goes wrong. My performance keeps going down with each take. The last take is sure to be a disaster. So, I always ask the team to check everything before we roll the camera.
I am not a professional dancer, but I am fond of dancing. My mother used to tell me that when I was four they used to take me to theatres and I would start dancing whenever music played. She used to get embarrassed.
You are fond of painting too and you had mentioned that after the release of English Vinglish you would hold an exhibition of your work.
I did work on some paintings after English Vinglish. I gave those away to my friends. After that, I was busy with other things. I’m a bit selfish. Painting is one creative pursuit that I can follow from home, so that’s more convenient for me than staying away from home to shoot a film.
You have done many regional movies. Are you clued into the developments that are taking place in this field?
Regional cinema is offering some interesting fare, especially Malayalam and Marathi cinema. Tamil and Telugu cinema have their own stars. In Tamil cinema, they are doing some amazing work, even with small budgets and newcomers. I keep hearing this from my cousin in Chennai.
How often are you approached with scripts?
I hate to talk about the movies I did not do. Boneyji keeps asking me that a certain filmmaker is interested in approaching you, would you like a narration? If it really appeals to me or if the director is someone I respect, then I show interest. There are times I listen to a script even though in my mind I know I won’t be doing the movie as I don’t want to be rude to them.
There is a lot of talk about Jhanvi making her debut. What’s your advice to her at this point.
It is too early to talk about her debut. I thought I would tell her: ‘No pain, no gain’, but since she is a hardworking girl, all I wish to say is that once she joins this profession she should be able to handle both success and failure.