‘Shah Rukh Khan once told me I should learn how to act’: Kajol – From understanding the craft of acting to the importance of body language and on-screen chemistry, Kajol learnt the basics of her profession one film at a time over her two decade-long career. In an interview ahead of her upcoming film Helicopter Eela, Kajol, one of the most spontaneous actors in the industry, talks learning the ropes of acting on set.
The actor lists down three films — her 1992 debut Bekhudi, Udhar Ki Zindagi (1994) and Dushman (1998) as her favourites. While the first two films may not have been blockbusters, but they helped her grow as an artiste.
“All the films are completely different from ‘Bekhudi’ to Udhar Ki Zindagi’ to ‘Dushman’ to ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. There was no connect but that’s what drove me to take up these films as I learnt something new every time as an actor,” Kajol says.
Bekhudi, directed by Rahul Rawail, marked Kajol’s entry in films and the actor credits the movie for teaching her the basic essentials of filmmaking – from facing the camera to gaining technical knowledge. “I learnt so much on that film. Rahul uncle was one of the best teachers in that aspect as far as the nuances were concerned. It was one of the first films in which I worked with screenwriter and fashion photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha and make-up artiste Mickey Contractor, they were amazing with me.” The film also has a special place in her heart as her real-life mother Tanuja played her on-screen mom.
Talking about Udhar Ki Zindagi, Kajol says the film was so intense that she suffered from a burnout in “a weird way”. “… I remember having a conversation during ‘Baazigar’ with Shah Rukh Khan and he told me, I should learn how to act and I was like, ‘I am doing so fabulously well’. He told me I need to burn out as an actor, I felt, he talks nonsense sometimes. But when I was shooting for ‘Udhar Ki Zindagi’, I was like, ‘I can’t do films that are so heavy, it sucks so much out of you’. I did not want to do that anymore.”
Kajol remembers discussing with Tanuja that she wanted to do lighter films and not be part of emotionally draining movies. “… I (told her) that I want to do films with three songs, three scenes, etc. So I signed up films like ‘Hulchul’ and ‘Gundaraj’, among others.”
But after taking up a series of light-hearted films, Kajol changed her mind and featured in hard-hitting film like Dushman. The actor says she had initially rejected the project. “I had said ‘no’ to it because I did not want to do a film with a rape scene in it. I didn’t want to enact that. I felt it would be difficult for me. I am not comfortable with somebody doing that to me on-screen, even for a shot or whatever,” Kajol adds.
But director Tanuja Chandra and producer Pooja Bhatt assured her that they will shoot the scene aesthetically and use a body double. “They told me they just need one close-up shot and that they will manage it. They lived up to their promise. When you watch the film, you can’t make out. They handled it so well. I am glad I did the film.”
The 1998 psychological thriller was well received by critics and it was the seventh highest grossing Hindi film of the that year. It was Dushman that helped Kajol master the art of body language, she says. “There were two sisters, so you have comparisons against yourself. You had to be better than yourself in a weird way. We had to work towards that, but it was a fabulous learning experience. There were so many parts in the film where there were no dialogues. There were lengthy scenes but at the same time, a lot was established without saying too much. Everything was done in a subtle way.”
Kajol says with Karan Johar’s directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, she realised the importance of chemistry between co-stars. “What I realised is that when you have fun off-screen, it translates on screen. Your off screen equation is conveyed on screen. There is some relatability that comes on screen… You don’t know what is it that attracts people,” the actor, who featured opposite long-time friend Shah Rukh, says.