MUMBAI— The three decide to meet the media together: Juhi Chawla, Rajkummar Rao, and debutant director and co-writer Shelly Chopra Dhar, at Mehboob Studios. Their film “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga” is set for a Feb. 1 release, and they are gung-ho about it.
The film revolves around a family, sexual preferences, and gender-flip sentiments. Chawla is, of course, the senior in the lot, having begun her innings in 1986 with “Sultanat.” Rao started with “Love Sex Aur Dhokha” in 2010 and Dhar, younger sister of Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who produces this film, is starting now. We start on that note.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Shelly, what took you so long to begin your career?
Shelly: I firmly believe that there is a time and a place for everything. Whatever I was doing before this was also as per that!
Q: Rajkummar, what are the changes “Stree” has brought to your career?
A: The kind of success “Stree” has seen does increase the confidence the industry has on me. Earlier, they knew I am a good actor, but they all felt that my audience was limited. So a hit is important as they have more faith in me now. That’s the commerce aspect, however. I am the same actor.
Q: And that’s how you work.
A: Yes. More than me, for me it has always been the story. I still make films—we all do – with a lot of sincerity and passion. That’s the only way I know. I have always worked because I want to work. I became an actor because I wanted to become an actor and no one was forcing me to do so. I never chose this profession for fame and money, but because I was in love with my craft. This is a line in which in you get to play so many people! So there was no pressure. Yes, I know that there are expectations and that I have to push myself and my boundaries, grow as an actor and accept challenging roles.
Q: Juhi, what are the changes you have seen over the 33 years you have been around?
A: The basics have remained the same, like the good films based on complete scripts. The technology, the organization, the compartmentalization – those things have changed. Good films have worked always.
Q: Shelly, would you call it extreme good luck that you had a title like “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (This is what I felt after looking at the girl)” with you?
A (Laughs): Absolutely! We had a song title from my brother’s film 25 years ago, “1942 - A Love Story” that fit my story beautifully. And this is a song that reached dizzy heights then and still remains in our hearts, even with today’s generation. It is a piece of poetry that brings a smile.
Q: And you gave it a twist: Sonam Kapoor’s sexual orientation.
A (Smiles): Oh, there is more than one twist in the film, so it would be unfair to speak about one. It’s not just one character who is different. You see, when we give out a synopsis, I would call my film a drama. But a drama must entertain, which is the most important thing. All my characters are related to this storytelling. There is no preaching, there are no lectures, but on the contrary, it is for all to enjoy. If you come out of my film with something to take home, that would be great, otherwise, just enjoy it as a movie.
Q: Shelly, you have four major stars in the film. Did they have any reservations about the different and sensitive subject that is probably being tackled so openly for the first time in a big film? Did they require convincing to do the roles and film?
A: As Rajkummar said, he chooses to work on what he wants to do. If these four professionals had any issues, they would not be doing my film at all. Nobody can convince you to do a film. You are either convinced, or you are not! An actor must enjoy something about a film he wants to take up.
Q: Juhi, how was it working with Anil Kapoor again after his home production “Loafer,” “Jhooth Boley Kauwa Kaate,” “Deewana Mastana” and “Salaam-E-Ishq?” Have you see any change in him?
A: This time it was not just Anil-ji, but also Sonam, and they being together for the first time, that made things special. And I had fun moments with Rajkummar Rao. The story was so beautiful; I was like, “Oh my God, the whole package was so wonderful!” I went with just the narration when I met Shelly for the first time, and I thought, what a lovely script, what a well-crafted film – there was romance, friendship, love, emotion, everything familiar!
As for Anil-ji, can I be candid? (Grins) Anil-ji would earlier keep looking into his mirror many times, and when I asked him about this, said, “I want my face to look thin!” (Director) Indra Kumar later revealed that if you wanted to make him tense, all you had to do was to go and tell him, “Anil-ji, what happened? Your face looks a bit puffy!” and then watch the fun the whole day! He does not do that now, so he is much more relaxed.
Q: Juhi, how do you choose your films now?
A: I think people have become selective about me, where I fit in, or people think I belong. I am not into messages in my film – a script must hold my interest. I am a simple, regular person. This script was like watching a movie – it had a beginning, a middle and an end, so I thought the film will be worth watching.
Q: Rajkummar, this is your second film in two years with Anil. Both of you get deeply into your characters. Did you prepare in both the films together?
A: We had a kind of relationship in “Fanney Khan,” but here, I am an independent character. I am not connected with him directly like Sonam is. But it is very illuminative to see veterans like Juhi-ma’am and him not take anything for granted even now and still be so passionate. No, we did not prepare together in both cases.
Q: Shelly, Vidhu is a director himself. How much did he get involved in your film?
A: He will always be a strong creative force. But when he allows someone to direct his film, he allows him to do so. He knows that if he interferes, it will be hotchpotch. A film cannot have two directors, two visions.