Fragile and yet strong. Beautiful in a durable kind of way. Raakhee has just returned from a hectic 15-day shoot of Rituparno Ghosh's Shubho Mahurat in Kolkata. The parting with the unit was emotional--it can never be any other way with Raakhee. Back in Mumbai, there's no time for regret and longing. Raakhee has to immediately join the unit of Suneel Darshan's Talaash for a stint. Then just before leaving for South Africa for a schedule of Naresh Malhotra's Dil Ka Rishta, while arranging for her papers for the trip abroad, she takes a reluctant break for some serious gupshup.
What prompted you to do a Bengali film again? Why only a Bengali film? I want to do films in every language. Besides Bengali, I've done films in Assamese and Oriya. Now I want to do a Marathi film. Though I'd love to, I don't have the guts to do a South Indian film. I can't mug up my lines and spew them at random like other actresses from Mumbai. If I ever do a South Indian film, I'll have to give it lots of time and attention. I can afford to do so now.
As for Bengali films, I used to do one almost every year. After I became an established actress in Mumbai, I did Chameli Memsaab in Bengali. That too was a very big hit. I've done around ten Bengali films so far. The last one was in 1993. Why did you stop? The offers kept coming but there was nothing exciting. This time around when Rituparno Ghosh offered me something different, a role with lots of laughter and sunshine, I immediately accepted. I've wanted to do something like it for a long time. Shubho Mahurat gave me a chance to prove that I can do light-hearted roles. I'm always made to do serious roles. I don't like it. But what to do? That's the image I have. What makes this Bengali film so special? The script is excellent. It isn't a Ritu-chaap script. It's very different from his other films. I think it's a healthy trend for any director to make films on diverse subjects. I was also very impressed to find him organised. They're never like that in Bengali films. We had all the details worked out, including the colours of Sharmila's and my saris. These days I miss shooting with such well-organised units. Ritu finished my work in 15 days.
I think that's remarkable. Rituparno wanted to make amends with you for having ditched you during Bariwali. But why? Why should he feel guilty about doing his job? When Ritu called from Kolkata one morning, I readily agreed to let him come over to narrate the script. Why should I feel bad about Bariwali? Koi kissiki jagir to hai nahin. I told Ritu to forget about Bariwali. The film is over and done with. The role was played by another actress who won a National award for it. But the role in Bariwali was quite obviously written for you. Yes, that's true. But once I'm not doing it, why should I carry any malice in my heart? That's not me. The producer changed. If Anupam Kher was the producer, no one could expect me to play the lead. It's as simple that. Kiron Kher is quite a capable actress. True, if I was in Ritu's place I wouldn't have made the film for another producer. But he needed to prove himself at that point of time. And he did. Beyond that I can't comment on Bariwali because I haven't seen it.
What kind of a role do you have in Shubho Mahurat? Though it's light-hearted, I certainly don't play a comedienne. My facial expressions and body language are normal. The dialogue that Ritu has given will make people laugh. So far I've made people cry. The light roles I've done were in insignificant films like Shaadi Ke Baad, Pagli and Aankhon Aankhon Mein. In Shubho Mahurat Sharmila has more footage. Weren't you daunted by that? When have I ever been bothered with footage? Right from the beginning of my career when I did Reshma Aur Shera to Baazigar and Soldier, the length of the role never mattered. Even in Daag I had much less footage than Sharmila. She had all the songs and dances.
Again in Shubho Mahurat Sharmila Tagore is the formal heroine. (Laughs) I know what's coming. The press had blown up our hostility to ussey maine pin maar diya. All these ego clashes etc, happen only in civilized societies. Sharmila and I belong to the jungles therefore no such thing happened. When we met in Kolkata, there were no fireworks. She wasn't shooting the day I arrived on the sets. When I located her, I went to her room. We embraced. All our years melted away. It was almost as though we were meeting after three months instead of 30 years.So the two of you met as friends? Not friends. Good co-stars. We shared a good working relationship throughout the shooting. We didn't run individually to the monitors after every shot. Instead, we sat together chatting between shots. The co-ordination was perfect. Besides, Ritu had every shot and sequence down on paper. Was there a sense of one-upmanship between Sharmila and you during Daag? We only had a couple of scenes together. But yes, I had heard rumours that she'd asked for some scenes to be re-shot. Of course eventually, we didn't re-shoot anything. Though she had more footage, mine was the author-backed role. The film was based on Gulshan Nanda's novel Maili Chandni and I played Chandni. So there was friction between the two of you? Looking back at the so-called rivalry, when I came into films I was made to believe I'd replace Sharmila Tagore. It wasn't my idea. That's how the publicity was pitched. In my 32-year-long career I've never felt insecure about anyone. I've worked Hema Malini, Rekha and Zeenat Aman. I've never been anxious about what they were doing. Since I was no volcano of talent, I always concentrated on my work and worked towards improving myself.
Suddenly you're doing a lot of films. Yes, three films is too much for me. Suneel Darshan was the first to come for his Talaash. I've a very interesting role in his film. After signing me, Suneel got busy with other portions of the film. Then suddenly when I was shooting for Aishwarya Rai's home production Dil Ka Rishta, both Ritu and Suneel wanted dates. Since I couldn't keep going to Kolkata, I had to complete Ritu's film at one stretch. March was sheer hell. I was shooting double shifts throughout. After Shraddhanjali, you've teamed up with Suresh Oberoi once again in Talaash. Yes, he's still the same. I call him `Kit-kitty'. You know, a strange thing happens when I meet up with people after a long gap. Time just doesn't seem to make a difference to my relationship with them. How's it working with Aishwarya Rai in Dil Ka Rishta?For the first time I get to play mother to a daughter. Yes, you heard me right (laughs). I've only played mothers to sons so far. The role is very nice. Have I been chosen because I resemble Aishhwarya? I don't know, maybe. But we're both relaxed. In Dil Ka Rishta I also get to work with my oldest and one my most favourite cameramen Ashok Mehta. What do you feel about the audience reaction to your daughter Meghna's Filhaal? I won't discourage her from making her kind of films. She must stick to her convictions. I was shocked by the nasty reviews she got for Filhaal. She didn't deserve that. All I'd like is that she make films which can be seen by the entire family. Do you feel she should've pushed herself a little more to make the treatment of the sensitive subject more hard-hitting?Come on, give the girl some credit! She's just 26. Filhaal was a very complex subject. But that's her sensibility. Why should she do anything she doesn't believe in? Even Gulzar saab started with Mere Apne and went on to make Parichay and Khushboo. But with Mere Apne Gulzar saab was instantly hailed as an important film-maker. Yes. But he had the advantage of doing a remake, of Tapan Sinha's Bengali film Apan Jaan. Bosky's (Meghna) film is completely original, from story to treatment. She didn't take anyone's help, not even her father's let alone mine. Filhaal should have been released in limited theatres. When I was in Kolkata, people couldn't stop talking about it. Anyway, Filhaal wasn't a losing proposition for anyone. Bosky's already working on her next subject.Would you accept a film with Meghna? If she gives me a good role, I'll accept it. Bosky is self-made, just like me. When I came into the movies I had no godfather. My first film Jeevan Mrityu had been turned down by all the major heroines. Jo padaa hua khana tha woh diya mujhe. I was destined to be where she is. Bosky too will find her level in life. Incidentally, Kamal Haasan who's your unabashed fan named Manisha Koirala Sharmilee in Abhay after your film. We share a mutual admiration society. But I admire his earlier roles. I have reservations about his recent films. I'd like to see him without his mask. I loved him in Ek Duuje Ke Liye. He was so flexible and convincing even though he wasn't familiar with the language. I haven't seen him with his own face in any film after Sadma and Saagar. I don't like the paddings and make-up he uses to play all his characters. Acting is about exposing your personality, not disguising it. - Lata Sinha