Has it been a big turf change from the Oscar feted Life of Pi to Jai Ho?
Some films you do for recreation. In fact, when I was deliberating whether to do the film Sohail (Khan, director) told me, “Acting doosri filmon mein kar lena… iss film mein enjoy karo.” That’s exactly what and why I did Jai Ho — to enjoy myself.
What is your current mindspace?
Currently I’m in a good space. There’s been a huge shift in my equation with my career. I’ve developed an easy relationship with my work, which has empowered me more to take decisions. Things which had a lot of significance earlier, trivial things, have gone away. There have been so many realisations.
Realisations like what?
For instance, I’ve realised that the perception that people have of me is very different to what I actually am. For instance, I’ve noticed that people who meet me think I’ll wax eloquent about international cinema and make digs at commercial cinema. These people go back quite surprised because I don’t do that.
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So you like to keep people guessing?
(Laughs) No, I don’t know but I assessed this bit about me a few days ago. People are so sure that I’m like who they think I’m because of the films I’ve done. They identify me so strongly with the roles I’ve played that they think I’m the role. In the eyes of the audience, an actor becomes the film but that’s not the case since a film is more the director’s voice. The actor can only own his/her process. Like Vishal (Bhardwaj) keeps joking with me, “tumhari yeh jo image ban gayi hai na..” I think my image is so strong that people don’t expect me to say what I do sometimes.
It can be a tightrope when image becomes identity. But would you say you are comfortable being an actor?
Yes I’ll say so. I admit that initially I had some conflict with thinking about my identity — being it, wearing it or even denying it, but in the past few years I’ve tried to get a grip on it. I’ve learnt how to even stop fighting who I am. The thing is that we are so obsessed with labels and tags — a politician should behave like this, a doctor should behave in a particular way — that they add additional baggage. I used to think that maybe since I’m an actress, there is a particular way I should behave but there is no rule book. I think it’s also the film industry — the obsession with actors is so huge in our country that it has a life of its own. But I’ve realised that I don’t need to mix it, so I do what I do and I let people perceive me as they want to. I guess it’s always been like this but I’ve just declared it to myself now.
Shah Rukh Khan says he wears his stardom like a t-shirt and not a tuxedo. How do you wear yours?
I don’t even know if I wear my stardom. I’m not conscious of it. Maybe I want to be this humble person and I don’t want this constant voice in my head saying that I’m a star. I know I’m famous and that I’m popular. I know who I am but I don’t know how much of that I wear, I deny or I’m comfortable with. For me, real achievement is a leap that I take professionally. I’ve always had more value for growth than what is perceived as achievement or stardom.
Currently, what is engaging you?
Professionally, I’m completely engaged in Haider. It’s Shakespeare. It’s Hamlet. And then it’s Vishal and I. Exactly 10 years after Maqbool, I’m working with Vishal. The landscape and backdrop is completely different. Maqbool was hot and dry Bhopal while Haider is in cold and snowy Kashmir.
Are you perturbed that your part in Haider will be compared with Maqbool where you played Lady Macbeth to perfection?
If I think like that then my approach might change. I’ve understood that it’s not important to go back to a frame of reference because the role that you are playing now is about your emotions, expressions and your life now. Ultimately, it’s about the script and how the director has perceived the character. You just have to find your relationship with your character.
So what sort of relationship have you made with your character in Haider?
When Vishal came for the first time with this film, he narrated just two scenes to me. Those were enough to excite me. I know that Vishal will never come to me with something that isn’t worth my while. We know each other so well that we can complete each other’s sentences. The scenes did something to me after which nothing else mattered. What was important was in front of me.
What was shooting in Kashmir like?
It’s my most cherished shoot ever. I went to Kashmir after 26 years. The last time I went was when my sister Farah was shooting for Hamara Khandaan and Palay Khan. I genuinely believe Kashmir is the most beautiful place. They call it jannat, naa? Well, they are right. I’ve travelled all over the world but I’ve never found a more beautiful place than Kashmir.
I remember you wrote a beautiful piece, Maqbool and I, while shooting for the film. Has Kashmir inspired you to write an ode to it?
I’ve been writing a lot. I feel it’s one of those phases when you are in a better creative flow to write and express.
But these writings should come out. Any plans of publishing your poems and musings?
Yes. I definitely want to do something about it but it’s such a process when an actor comes out with a book as a writer. I need to sit and hunt all my copies and diaries. I’ve written a lot. Maybe it’s time to share it with the world.
Talking of sharing, will we ever see you on a social networking sites such as Twitter?
Nope. Twitter is not for me. For the simple reason that I don’t have a skill for it and I don’t want to cultivate a skill now because it’ll be very difficult to do something you haven’t been used to. There comes a time in your life when if you are lucky you can understand your minefield. I’ve understood mujhe kahaan jaana chahiye.. aur kahaan nahin jaana chahiye aur agar main kahin jaa rahi hoon toh main apni marzi se jaa rahi hoon. The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is that jo kaam aap apni marzi se karte hain uske baad kuch difficult nahin lagta.
Saying no, does it come easy to you?
Is it difficult? I don’t know. It depends on what you are saying no to, and how it is placed in your value system.
Since you’ve played such diverse and memorable roles I’m curious to know if you could invite any five characters to dinner, who would you choose?
Nimmi (Maqbool), Mumtaz (Chandni Bar), Aditi (Astitva), Panna (Hu Tu Tu), and Veeran (Maachis). I must add that when I look back, I feel I could have approached my role in Maachis differently. I was so young when I did it. I’m better informed now and my own life experiences, which I’ve gained over time, could have gone into it. But then that’s life. What your awareness is at that point, you can only work from there.