Rani Mukerji turns 40 today. Her film Hichki, which hits screens on March 23, marks her comeback in Bollywood after embracing motherhood. In this interview, Rani talks about her roles and making a comeback.
Twenty years in the industry, and you’ve played some very out-of-the-box characters. You played a rape victim in your first film and now a teacher fighting for inclusivity in Hichki.
I organically feel these things. I have literally grown up in this industry. I was sixteen when I started and now I am turning forty. It is a gradual process of a person’s life. How we evolve. How we become over the years. What kind of people we become. What subjects matter to you in different stages of our life and career. Both have been interconnected for me. So, I have played roles that have attracted me, or spoken to me at that time.
How did you prepare for Naina Mathur’s role? What is she striving to say?
The film’s primary message is to turn your weakness into your strength. It is also about the discrimination that people face from the outside world. When people tell you that you cannot achieve something because of your ‘weakness’, you have to prove them wrong in your own way. Naina is trying to say through this movie that nobody can decide what you can and cannot achieve in life. A person has to take charge of their own issue, overcome it and turn it into their strength. A weak person won’t feel weak if the outside world doesn’t make them feel that way.
We have also spoken about how every child deserves equal opportunity. Children who are brighter get more attention than children who are not that bright, or maybe a child from a certain socio-economic background is treated differently than the one who are less fortunate. That is the message Naina strives to deliver.
You are also talking about various social ‘hichkis’. What are some ‘hichkis’ that you have personally faced, and the ones that have upset you?
The fact that when I entered this industry and people spoke about my height, I kind of turned that into my strength. People thought I didn’t have the height, looks and voice to be an actor. I reached the heights of achievements, and not my actual physical height.
Then of course, my voice. It was a bit of a concern in the beginning, but then I worked on it, and it worked out in turn. I used to stammer too, but I worked very hard on it and didn’t let it affect my acting. So, in my life, I have dealt with so many ‘hichkis’ that if I talk about those now, then other people who are facing certain ‘hichkis’ in their lives, will be able to get over theirs. Especially when people discriminate between a girl child and a boy child, my whole emphasis is why do we even have to call a child a girl or a boy, why can’t a child be a child? This kind of discrimination, we should get over and done with.
An actor grows with every role they play. What are the roles you think really made you the person you are today?
When I worked with Mani Ratnam for Yuva. He made me understand that performance is not always about trying to perform. It is more about being there, being in that moment, and just saying your lines like you would in a normal conversation.
When I did Hey Ram with Kamal Haasan, I understood that an actor doesn’t always have to be with loads of make-up. You can look naturally beautiful on-screen even without make-up, and it is up to the cameraman who shoots you. That’s the first time I shot without make-up, and I was comfortable and confident in my own skin.
Then in Black, I got the opportunity to play someone I was not, and it was so challenging and rewarding at the same time. I also really learnt a lot while working on Saathiya.
When it comes to marriage and having children, female actors’ decisions are scrutinized at every step, but it doesn’t happen with male actors.
I think it is high time that the audience in India become like the audience in the west. The west has actors marrying at whatever age they want, have children, probably marry twice or thrice without being judged. They freely work in the profession they want to work in, and they are treated as thorough professionals. Their personal lives don’t have a connection with their professional lives. Similarly, I think things here are also changing. Actresses are getting married, having children and being part of films they want to be. The key to this is that the actor has to look the part and should be able to portray the character in the right spirit, only then will people start changing their views towards the actors.