She’s been in the “scene” for over two and a half decades and yet she outshines her ilk with here graceful benevolence, her powerful onscreen presence makes her a force to reckon with. Juhi Chawla’s come a long way since her debut in Sultanat but apart from acting, she has dabbled in different streams of filmmaking such as production and even playback singing! With over a hundred films under her belt, she buckles up for the release of her latest film I AM. The film is directed by Onir of My Brother Nikhil fame, and is based on four stories put together that revolves around the pain and turmoil of four individuals who are faced with discrimination, abuse and prejudice in a liberal world of today. Based on true stories, the film has won accolades overseas with numerous awards. I AM has also been selected as the opening and closing film of several well known film festivals across the world.
Dressed in an oversized I AM T-shirt along with a blue pair of jeans, her feminine enigmatic persona along with her eternal radiant aura can charm the socks out of anyone in her presence including I. Bollywood Hungama gets the pretty and effervescent Juhi to pour her heart out on her character Megha, working again with Onir, being paired with her “rival” Manisha, the perils of shooting in Srinagar and the fragilities of I AM.
“My grandparents had to leave their home… they had large homes with a wonderful lifestyle but when they came here they had to start of from scratch”
It’s inspired from Sanjay Suri’s own story, though what Sanjay went through was much graver, it’s not just an issue with Kashmir pandits, Muslims and their fathers. So many times we’ve seen this happen in many parts of the world, where people due to terrorism, discrimination, political reasons, and wars are forced to give up their lives and flee their homes to find shelter in another country or in another state. Even for reason of employment at times, the means of livelihood is so poor that maybe out of choice they are compelled to do so, maybe because of partition as well. My grandparents had to leave their home, they had large homes with a wonderful lifestyle but when they came here they had to start of from scratch. Well, we’ve not seen such times where a lot of people are displaced in this world, today its happening in Japan, displacement happens everywhere for different reasons, so it’s an issue which is pertinent to this world right now, that goes with all the stories in I AM. Each story talks about betrayal – one is betrayed by her husband or lover, the other is betrayed by the loss of their home, the third one is the betrayal of a loved one and the last one is the betrayal of freedom. You’re a free person and yet you’re not maybe because your sexuality is different or because of any other jibes of discrimination.
“I’ve not done something radical to get into the skin of my character in this film”
It’s not really hard to get into the skin of the character, you just have to imagine that this has been your home, that this has been most of your feelings. You go with the director’s explanation at that point, you listen and it comes to you. In that surrounding you dress that way, finally its just about emotions. I’ve not done something radical to get into the skin of my character in this film but being in Srinagar itself was rousing. We were shooting on real locations the state in which it is in today. When you see around, at every corner there are barbwires, army posts with heavily armed men standing. It was the first time I went to Srinagar and just before we shot for Megha, I went for one day for a Punjabi film and I was shocked to hear about the atrocities that happen at Srinagar. On one end, you’re used to being in Mumbai where you roam freely everywhere and then you land in Srinagar where every street is manned with army men posted with big guns and I thought to myself what a different way to live.
“The police don’t want known artists like Manisha and me hanging around anywhere, because if something were to happen it might create problems for them”
Once there was a terrorist scare where they had to shift location. During filming, you are told to just wait in a place until they call you on location, they don’t make you wait on location because the crowd starts collecting and it’s a protected city. The police don’t want known artists like Manisha and me hanging around anywhere, because if something were to happen, it might create problems for them. The whole film was shot on real locations, like if we were to shoot in a store, it would be an actual store or on the side of the river that was going through Srinagar. We shot in actual Muslim homes, and a busy market location which again was a shocking site because, you haven’t seen something like this. The infrastructure in Srinagar has gone down drastically as there is no tourism happening there for almost 18 yrs now.
“It was an entire colony of black burnt houses”
It was great back then when Shalimar gardens was beautifully manicured and kept, but now since there’s no money or business, slowly the infrastructure has deteriorated, Srinagar is in a state of disrepair today. Near the market area as you turn into a colony, you can only see houses wedged next to each other, which were totally broken and burnt because during the riots that place was attacked and people had to flee those homes, since then they’ve been protected by the police and the army from people taking it over. It was an entire colony of black burnt houses. Megha realizes that this home belongs to her uncle, and the rest is in sound visuals, when you see such things you feel you’re in a different space suddenly, and you feel grateful that you’re in a part of India that is liberal.
“Now that I’ve met Manisha, there was none of that rivalry that one-up-man-ship which was evident back then”
How lovely it was at one time Manisha and I were rivals, contemporaries, she was on one set and I probably used to be in another, we hardly met I never knew her, I only heard and read about her and here after so many years, we’re here together working. I was very happy that Manisha was a cast as my character’s friend because she fit the look very well; it worked very well for her role as Rubina. Now that I’ve met her, there was none of that rivalry that one-up-man-ship was evident back then. Here we were so comfortable and came together to do this film, it was lovely.
Onir I’ve worked with before, he’s very quiet, he explains the scene and doesn’t let you go over the top. He’s very unassuming yet he knows his subjects very well, he feels a lot for what he’s doing. I’m sometimes used to acting loudly and there was this one particular scene between Rubina and Megha where they had an argument when she vented her angst regarding their lives. I wanted more fire in my dialogue and Onir emphasized on it being subtle as he didn’t want it to be dramatized.
“It won’t get out of your head quickly it has quite an impact”
Megha’s story was shot in about six days. I’d like to say please watch the film you will find it very engaging, it will hit you in certain ways, it will make you talk a lot. It won’t get out of your head quickly, it has quite an impact. Onir has raised the finances for the film over the internet… he’s raised more than a crore over the internet which is a lot of money. People have contributed so they believe in it, they wanted it to be a part of a film project, and he may have started a new trend. Many people have come together to make this film happen because they believed in him and the script. This film has gone to festivals and has won awards and now we’re almost at its release in India. I was present at the Australian Indian film festival, it was a film festival for Asian films, so I’d say it was Bollywood and beyond as it had regional and offbeat films as well. I AM was chosen as the opening and the closing film for some of these festivals. In London, it was screened and it was even felicitated with an award. I think that this is a film that you won’t really ignore, you will watch it at some point in time. It’s a film which lends itself, it opens your eyes and makes you grow up.