MUMBAI— It is a ‘success’ (which means post-success) interview and Rani Mukerji mock-complained to me that I never met her before her film “Hichki”’s release. When I told her I was not invited, she smiled, as I had already confided the same when we had met at the success party earlier. She then got into “Hichki” mode minus any hiccups (the film is based on a teacher with a spasmodic medical ailment called “Tourette’s Syndrome but tackles multiple other social issues simultaneously). And came up with her own candid remarks on films, her career, her age (!) and everything else.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Now that the film is a hit, were you ever prepared that it could have failed?
A: I think every actor is, na? At least, I am, because every Friday cannot be a ‘good’ Friday. Look, we make a film we all love – I am talking about the cast and crew. We then think that the audience will love it too, but that does not happen each time. Maybe the audience does not like what we have made or do not get the message we want to give. But this time, March 23 was a ‘good’ Friday for us, and I am overwhelmed and humbled by all the love that is pouring in even now.
Q: What is the most gratifying aspect of this success?
A: That people did not just like the film but took something back as well. When a film goes beyond just entertainment, it does not become just a hit but is also remembered, like people remember my “Black” 15 years down. I am sure “Hichki” will be similarly remembered, because everyone connected with something or someone in it – my character, the kids, the emotions, the spirit. This film has connected across ages. One journalist was weeping when she remembered something in the story.
And most of all, it has connected with teachers, some of whom told me that they would like to change their approach towards students and follow Naina Mathur’s ways. Now that is the best thing because teachers are the builders of our next generation.
Q: What was really extraordinary was that you managed such an easy and free-flowing performance despite doing all the tics. Doing either could be easy, but it must have been difficult managing both simultaneously.
A: To answer your question in a very simple way – it’s my job as an actor to do any role. If I do not know my job, why act at all? With the prep I do as an actor and the hard work I put in, I am not able to explain in detail, but I must make every character believable, relatable and organic. I work for my audience, and if it gives me a thumbs-up, it is like a pat on my back for a job well-done. It means that my hard work has paid off.
Q: Still…how did you do it?
A (Laughs): One point was clear. The script told me when to take the tics, but I did not follow that part. My performance would have become mechanical and fake. I knew that the spasms come to a Tourette’s-afflicted person at any time, more when a person is anxious, angry, stressed and excited and less when feeling relaxed or confident. I decided to do them as per this graph rather than go “Dialogue plus tic, more dialogues plus two tics” and so on.
Q: You interacted with Brad Cohen, the UK-based teacher on whose life and book the film is based. What were your takeaways from him, and finally from your character of Naina Mathur?
A: Every script I do has to attract me emotionally, impact me and make me learn something. If it inspires me, it will inspire the audience – again something that can go wrong in some cases. With Tourette’s, I know there was no reference to the context, it was a new performance for me, and it was us who were making the first film that would create its awareness.
Brad was so positive, and so charged up with life, and we discussed his work and his ailment with great details. I enjoyed Skype-ing him and have had no time to talk to him after the film’s response, but I will do it soon. I cannot talk to him, I must see him on Skype.
My responsibility as Naina Mathur was not to let him down. My takeaway as Rani is that, come what may and whatever the odds, Naina is positive. As a mother, I want to be that as well. Adira must look up to me as a pillar of support.
Q: Will Adira watch the film?
A: She already has! I took her to the YRF preview theatre, made sure it was not dark and kept the sound soft. Adira sat on my lap, alternating between looking at me and the screen and saying, “Yeh to mera momma hai (this is my mom)!” After 10 minutes, she got down and went around the theatre, stopping to dance and sing when the songs began! I took her home in the second half because I also cry in that part of the film and did not want to disturb her.
Q: One point: did the character of your father, played by Sachin, exist in the original book or was he added for drama?
A: It was an emotion Brad had gone through: his father had not been very supportive.
Q: The most important point: how did Brad metamorphose into Naina?
A: Maneesh Sharma (who produced the film for Yash Raj Films) liked (director-co-writer) Siddharth Malhotra’s script but asked him to rework it with a female protagonist. When Siddharth came back to him with it, I was pregnant, and there was no question of doing the film. They went to another actress who asked for time to make up her mind. By the time she finally said she will not do it, Adira was two months old! So they came to the in-house heroine who was anyway the best (Laughs).
Q: With 22 years in films, what excites you as an actor?
A: The same that excited me then – experiencing different characters’ lives and moving on to the next. And age is not important for me. I should be able to play my age, someone 10 years younger or 20 years older convincingly, that is the only relevant thing for an actor.
Q: Finally, your own best teachers?
A: We had Mrs. Dadarkar who taught us English Literature and History, and they are my favorite subjects because of her. Mrs. Vakil similarly made Geography interesting. And then there was Sangeeta, a deaf-mute herself, who taught me during “Black” and works with the deaf, mute and blind too. She was so inspiring!