It’s always great catching up with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. I have known her since over 15 years and the actress has remained as grounded, balanced and warm as ever. Yesterday, her latest movie Fanney Khan released to mixed reports. Bu,t Aishwarya says box office success and criticism does not affect her any more. As we start chatting my first question to her is about the remakes she was to do…
What’s happening on the remakes of Raat Aur Din and Woh Kaun Thi?
The idea approached me with the idea and asked me if I would be interested? I liked the idea, we agreed and then the news got announced. Once it’s out there in the turf, it will be consumed so that’s where we left it off at. I was keen to hear the writer’s narrative but I got busy. First Cannes came, then Fanney Khan song shoot happened and the film’s release so for the last two-and-half months the makers and I haven’t met on this at all. Ideally, news shouldn’t come out till everybody says a yes. Now, let me figure what’s going on in that.
Why did you say yes to Fanney Khan?
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and his wife Bharti came to meet me and both have known me since one of my very early commercials and I have known them over the years through advertising. And then obviously we met on Delhi 6 as Abhishek’s new wife on set (laughs) so they are family friends as we meet so often. The fact that they came to me with something, I think naturally it may have been an easy yes but what was nice was that even when they have come to me with something, they haven’t come with the idea that ‘look we have known each other for so long so come on board’. They very correctly came forth and shared this idea and to me it made sense to me as to why those minds would think of asking me, would I consider doing a part like Baby Singh? And it’s a part in a story.
Is it a special appearance?
I don’t go into all that. You all will define it once you watch the movie. Did you people define Saba in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil? I didn’t define both the characters that I played in Iruvar so likewise I don’t want to define these characters because I want to say that everybody is a character artiste here in all the movies that we do so in an ideal world that’s the way it should roll. Perception will still slot and there will be excitement and if that be so, then yes, it makes sense because at the end of the day, if you are saying but you are a star, it makes sense to ask a star to do this part because it is the role of a star. You can see why Rakeysh and Bharti contemplated asking one and I smiled and said that I feel complimented that I am a liberated one at that, who has no issues about doing a part in a film. It’s not about I, me and myself and I am happy to be part and I see me doing it and what it can bring to the table and to the narrative and it makes sense in this given story. That’s where the core earnestness comes from. I am earnest in my choice of doing this part in Fanney Khan. I believe my saying yes contributes to the narrative of this really sweet story with a very large heart and Aishwarya the woman recognizes the large heart of this film. I felt that the movie’s subject (body shaming) needed to be discussed and be given a voice and presence so hopefully being part of this narrative can give a volume to the dialogue. That’s why I definitely wanted to be a part of this film as well.
How much did you connect to Baby Singh?
You have to see the film to understand whether I do or don’t relate to my character. There’s a part of you that does and a part of you that obviously knows that you are essaying a part and that’s what you give out. I guess the writer or director or viewer would assume that someone like me would see a part of my life but honestly I haven’t delved into that particular core in my heart to bring that truth to the screen. I don’t want to make that more than it is because it is just about a rock star and not an actor and she is in that aspect of showbiz where she says it’s about the talent as well and not just about the fanfare. People may or not see a connect with me but honestly, when I am doing a part, I am just doing a part and not delving into what part of my life I can really relate to in all my roles and then it’s about bringing as much truth to that as much as one can.
How was the experience of working with a debutant director and experienced actors like Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao?
The director Atul Manjrekar is a very sweet guy and easy to work with and it’s interesting in your career graph that you get to work with such different, dynamic and interesting personalities. It’s nice to keep experiencing something fresh. At the same time you are working with familiar turf – Rakeysh and Bharti. I was that new student working at weekends when I did that commercial with them so we would have those silent smiles which we would share and exchange.
What about Anil Kapoor?
It’s been great working with him. As I keep teasing him that I should call him Anilji, but from the beginning he has insisted I call him Anil so I still don’t know what term to use for him in interviews but I have the highest respect for him. When I did the first movie with him he was already Anilji then. What a talent and what a committed actor! He has such an amazing childlike enthusiasm, sincerity, sense of questioning and saying maybe we need another take – to find that magic? I think his is a great energy to work with. He just made me smile and cracks me up. I cannot believe it’s been so long… I would tell him that working with him would make me feel as if Taal was just yesterday. That same incredible, committed energy. There isn’t that self-entitled experienced, veteran out there on set when I see Anil. There’s an artiste who is still hungry, enthusiastic, entertaining, searching, very excited and a team player. Despite having worked with him in films, it’s still fresh working with him again because of his fresh enthusiasm each day.
This is the first time that you are working with Rajkummar Rao.
Raj was a talent I was very keen on working with in this film and I am glad he agreed because when I heard the narrative I saw someone like him. When he came on board, I knew this was going to be very interesting and fun and the little bit of work that we have together is exactly what we experienced. It’s fresh. That should answer what I came away with at the end of every working day working together on this.
Fanney Khan deals with body shaming – something you had to deal with post your pregnancy…
I became a model and actress by chance and fell into the cliché of a beauty pageant but today that is a cliché model – beauty pageant and movies. Then after that I became huge post motherhood and that was wonderful! People said all kinds of things but whatever adjectives they called me I said, lovely! I have just been me through it all since I was 19 and being a part of public life and that’s what has come through. I have never attempted to be anybody else even as beauty pageant title holder. For me, it wasn’t for the frivolity of it but always about I am getting to represent the Indian woman so let’s see what I can give to that. If I am choosing to do movies, I will make my choices like this where as there’s this obvious trajectory that one can choose. I have always done what I wanted to do and I am thankful and glad to my audience and filmmakers that I have been able to do that.
In the meanwhile, everything else also happened – like I would never have planned to have got married in the middle of a historical movie (Jodha Akbar). It was very difficult and hard work to another degree and not explain it in words! You know the kind of professional I am and how much I commit and I couldn’t have a filmmaker as sincere, committed, clear-headed and methodical like Ashutosh to have remotely felt otherwise about Aishwarya playing Jodha in his movie. There was summer, impending rains and I am getting married in April so you have to make it all work and that’s a lot of hard work but you do it. Marriage is also a very sincere institution and I worked very hard on that as well. So, there has never been a plan that this is the way I should fashion my career or personal life. I just said I will work really hard to make both work and neither world will feel shortchanged. When I give, I give my all. I invest a lot for myself in whatever I do, be it my personal or professional life, and that seemingly, also why my choices pan out the way they do. Like when I choose a Jazbaa, I choose a subject which I like, would like to be part of and a great talent I get to work with and not choose it because it’s after motherhood and with a filmmaker like Sanjay Gupta whom I could explain how I would like my schedule to work out and it did. He was also a father of two very young kids so he completely understood and we were able to do it together.