Juhi Chawla has always been seen in fun-filled and positive roles. Ask the bubbly actress as to what made her take on a negative role in Gulaab Gang, and she bursts out laughing, giving the clichéd line of having loved the script of the film, when director Soumik Sen read it out to her. At the end of it, she exclaims of her character, “She is just mean!”
It was on her insistence that the character was rewritten, adding some softness to it. “But the film kind of died. I told them to retain the original as that had a spark to it,” reveals the actress, who is awaiting the release of her first ever negative role in a 30-year old film career.
Another hurdle for Chawla, when signing the film was that being the ‘hero’ of the film, Madhuri Dixit Nene would have all the punch lines, along with a longer role, songs, dance and fights. “I thought if Madhuri gets to do everything, what am I doing besides being mean? But later I began looking at it differently. I thought if ‘I’ play this character, there will be a different spark to the entire film. It would also be a challenge for me. So putting aside my ego, I started enjoying my work,” said the actress, who was taught by Sen the art of being mean. In the film, she said, being mean is not about snarling into the camera, but about smiling or sometimes just cutting the person with sweet talk. “It was very refreshing for me, to give different expressions to those little twisted lines,” she laughs.
Breaking the ice
Chawla was working with Dixit for the first time in their 30-year film career. Except for exchanging pleasantries in the passing, they had never really interacted at length, she says. When the director realised that the duo had never really met, he put them in a room when they visited his office and left them. “We spoke, shared our thoughts and that meeting broke the ice. When I went for the shoot, there was a much warmer feeling,” beams the actress, recalling that the first six-day schedule of the film was with only these two actresses.
Empowerment of the women
Gulaab Gang has a strong message, that of women empowerment. Chawla, who till a few years was a carefree person, began realising the problems plaguing the society and has done been doing her bit for it. “I have supported social causes. I saw disease and death up close in my family and realised what it is like when people need your help. So I start helping them. When I had my own children, I realised how much I love them and how protective I am of them. Yet there are kids growing on the streets. Since the last ten years I have been feeding these children who I never noticed earlier. It is your experiences that teaches you. I don’t think I ever thought of anyone else apart from myself earlier. When I felt the pain and hurt, I realised other’s pain and hurt. However, when the opportunity arises I would like to do something for such people,” says the actress getting misty-eyed.
Gulaab Gang vs Gulabi Gang
A smile comes to her lips when she is asked about the similarity between her film and Gulabi Gang, the documentary on Sampat Pal’s group that works against domestic abuse and violence against women. While justifying, Chawla says, “The title of our film and the gulaabi (pink) sarees are inspired from them, but our story is commercial, larger-than-life and entertaining whereas the documentary is based on the real gang and its achievements. Keeping aside our film, I look up at them with admiration and respect. Those women come from smaller homes, they have so little yet they have the courage to take the time out and help other women. We have so much today, yet how much of our time do we devote to others. Hence I say, aap (Pal and her gang) humse bahut aage hain.”
The chain of violence targeting women of late is exactly why Chawla is all out to endorse the importance of education for women. “Education is important, especially for little girls because that is one of the most important ways of empowering women. This gives them a chance to grow up to be a better person,” states the actress, who will be seen next in a special appearance in Manjeet and Gurdas Maan’s Punjabi film slated to release in May. Juhi will also be seen in a Steven Spielberg production, her first Hollywood film. Directed by Lasse Hallström, The Hundred-Foot Journey will see Om Puri play her husband.