Rani Mukerji: I realised a lot of people wanted to see me – After a four-year break from films, Rani Mukerji returned to the big screen with Hichki in March this year. She portrayed a woman whose passion is teaching but suffers from Tourette Syndrome. The project was also her comeback to showbiz post the birth of her daughter, Adira. The tale of the teacher’s bond with a bunch of lesser-privileged students struck a chord with the audience, not just in India but also in China. Rani will soon be seen on the big screen again as Shivani Shivaji Roy in Mardaani 2. We met the actress recently to talk about the year that was and her choice of roles. Excerpts from the chat…
The projects you have picked — Mardaani and Hichki — are message-oriented. Is that the way ahead for you?
Both the films spoke about powerful women in different walks of life. Mardaani is a female police officer tackling flesh trade and child trafficking, which are extremely important and grave issues in our country as well as the world. I remember many parents telling me that they didn’t want to watch the film as they’d feel uncomfortable, or that they didn’t want their children to watch it. I told them that, on the contrary, the movie was for them and their children. It helps society become aware that this is not happening in a faraway land, but right in our neighbourhood. We can’t view the world with rose-tinted glasses. I wanted to be a part of such a story, that too, told from the point of view of a female police officer. Hichki was about a teacher with Tourette, who is asked to tutor a bunch of underprivileged children. In a strange way, both of them are in the same boat. Together, they learn that you can turn your weakness into strength.
What was it about these characters that impressed you?
They are based on subjects that are relevant —child trafficking and issues with the education system. They also pointed to the fact that people judge you for your outer appearance instead of your merit. When you see a woman in a cop’s uniform, you may wonder whether she will be able to protect you. But that shouldn’t be the case because an officer is that, irrespective of the gender. Similarly, a teacher’s Tourette Syndrome doesn’t mean she won’t be good at her job. There were so many layers to these characters.
I think, when people look back at these films, they will realise how important they were. When a movie releases in the midst of what you are living in, you may not realise its importance at that point in time but you will, five years down the line. It will impact change in the society and the thought process. It takes time for an actual change to come about in a society, but these films will help kick-start that process.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the success of your film this year?
I have always believed that content is king. Whenever a story tugs at your heartstrings and has an emotional connect, it will find an audience. Now, how big a viewership it will get is when you need to look at the box office. Even if it’s a moderate hit, you know that it has been liked. For me, the learning has been to always listen to your gut and instinct because when I signed both these movies, I didn’t expect them to become the hits that they did. But I believed in the stories. I knew that I wanted these stories to be told because these subjects were relevant. It was about believing in myself and the stories. I also realised that if there is a producer willing to make a film like this, then as an actor, I have to back it too. Whether or not it does well, the intention is right. And when the film succeeds, that’s a bonus because what you had set out to achieve, you have managed to meet it.
With Hichki, there were many more question marks because I was married, a mother. So, would the audience want to see me? That myth was broken and I realised a lot of people wanted to see me (smiles), so that was great. I can be part of the cinema and the stories I want to tell. At the same time, I love entertaining films, so whenever I do a film with a message, it is necessary to make them entertaining as well. Nobody wants to hear a lecture that’s boring. I want to be part of films that can strike a balance between both these aspects. When I know that there’s an audience who wants to see me, I can dabble in various genres. It gives me happiness to know that the viewer doesn’t shut you out because you are married or have kids. They do that when you don’t make good films, it’s as simple as that.
How do you analyse the success of Hichki in China?
I think there are some similarities between our cultures, backgrounds and family values. Perhaps, Hichki worked so well over there because they related to the teacher-student relationship. It’s the victory of the script and content. The Chinese government really loved the movie and agreed to release it there. I remember being in a room full of Chinese audience watching a Hindi movie, clapping and crying. That was a surreal feeling. Then to meet professors from the university and for them to say they wanted to be like Naina… it was something else. Even when we had a screening in Mumbai for 300 teachers across Maharashtra, they and the principals got emotional. Many of them said Naina has become an inspiration to them. And I got to hear the same thing in China. That was amazing.
Do you think there are more author-backed roles for actresses now?
I can’t really say that because I never faced that problem. In fact, I’ve always got meaty roles, right from Raja Ki Aayegi Baarat to Yuva or Black and Bunty Aur Babli. They were equal to the men or even more, but never less. As an actor, it’s our responsibility to choose the right characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s like the one I did in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Tina’s part) but it has to be impactful. Length of a role is never the issue, the substance is what matters. Actors shouldn’t confuse a bigger role with an important one. You could have a small part in the film, but it should leave an impact rather than being in the entire film and not making one. I have always wanted to do films that talk about the modern Indian woman. My roles have always depicted her. So, there’s always a direct connect.
What’s your resolution, work-wise and personally, for 2019?
I don’t really make any resolutions. Every new project that I sign becomes my resolution. I know that for this project, I need to achieve a set of goals. For Hichki, I needed to look like I did pre-motherhood. I wanted to get back in shape so that I would look the part. Now, I need to look like a cop for Mardaani 2, so my entire process will be dictated by that. Also, for me, it’s very important that each day I spend with my daughter is special. So, to maintain a balance between my work and personal life is my resolution every year (laughs).