Swamy and Bhootnath are little experiments on my part’ – Juhi Chawla

From Ishq and Mr and Mrs Khiladi to My Brother Nikhil, Jhankaar Beats and Swamy… your focus seems to have changed from bigger films to small, experimentative cinema. Comment.

Yes, my focus has changed. Bigger films are more commercial and run of the mill. They have similar story lines, typical situations; the same love stories and family comedies.


The ones who make stories, can’t afford a star cast and a big-scale production, so they make it smaller. These films are more suitable for me because I get to perform and they are more character driven. Of course, I have done the bigger films now and again, like there is Salaam-E-Ishq now, and earlier I did a Punjabi film Des Hoyaa Pardes, which for the makers, was a very big film.


Is this inclination towards experimentative films more so now, because you are established, and in a position to pick and choose?

Sure. When you’re younger, you want to be on the shelf and you want to be able to say that you’re doing 10 films. I don’t have to do that any longer. Since you say I am known enough, I can take my time to decide on a project; or even limit my work to just one or two meaningful films. I want to feel enthusiastic when I come on the sets. I want to feel challenged enough.


Now, there are other things that have taken up a part of my life. Earlier it was just me and my films, me and the studio but now I have a family. I am very happy being with them and am also learning music in my free time. I am learning Hindustani classical, and I am not doing this for a film; it’s just for me.


Do you feel disappointed when good films don’t make it at the box office or do you make such films with no expectations?

No, I am pleasantly surprised at the response. Let’s take Jhankaar Beats… one wasn’t expecting it to be the next Sholay, but it was appreciated. When people saw Jhankaar Beats, Teen Deewarein or My Brother Nikhil, their reactions were very encouraging. These are nice, educated people, who otherwise turn up their noses at Hindi films and would normally not compliment me on my performances. It makes me very happy.


Also, I feel such films have a longer life. You may not have people come in droves to the theatre, but when it comes on TV, it’s viewed and liked by another set of people. My Brother Nikhil went to so many film festivals and everywhere it won awards and acclaim. So I was happy that at least it’s reaching out. I am glad I did these films.


So there are no expectations at all?

There are no unrealistic expectations. Maybe we shouldn’t expect people who see Garam Masala to appreciate a My Brother Nikhil. The general audience wants their ‘masti’ films. You know that such films will appeal to only a section of the audience that has more sensibility and want to see well-made films on various subjects. A rickshaw-wallah wants to see his Lage Raho Munnabhai and have a great time.


I am doing Swamy and Bhootnath currently. Now again, these are little experiments on my part. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, I’ll say ok… I chose to do these films, I take the credit or discredit. But I chose to do them.


You play a middle class housewife in Swamy…

Yes, Swamy is a very simple film about a man’s journey. The story has no villains; it’s just about life, and how it flows. I play Radha, Swamy’s wife. We come to Mumbai from a small town to realise our little dream. The film trails the couple’s life in the big city.


What about Bhootnath?

That’s a very sweet, very funny and again, a very emotional film. Amitji is playing the title role. I play a mother. Hopefully, we’ll have a guest appearance by Shah Rukh Khan. I‘ve barely started shooting; I’ve shot for only a day. It’s more a children’s film; funny and heartwarming. But in its own way, it’s turned out big, because of the cast.


You’re paired opposite Anil Kapoor in Salaam–E–Ishq… Tell us about that.

Yes, the film has separate tracks and Anilji and I play one track. We play a married couple and it’s very true life. It’s about what happens to married couples seven to eight years after marriage.


Is it something like Saathiya and Chalte Chalte?

Not really, those films explored the just-married stage. In Salaam–E-Ishq, I play mother to a kid who is around six years old. So it’s about a couple married for a longer time.


Dreamz Unlimited, the production house that you, Shah Rukh Khan and director Aziz Mirza started; made some great films. The last from its stable was Chalte Chalte in 2003. After that Aziz Mirza suffered a personal crisis, and no films were made. Are you three planning to revive it in the future?

At the moment, we haven’t gotten down to doing more work there. But it’s open; it’s there. (Thinks) Yes, I am sure we’ll do something in the future.


Do you follow what’s happening in the industry — trends, new releases, film festivals etcetera?

No, I don’t follow films or film festivals. (Laughs) People like me should be thrown out of the industry. I keep myself updated now and then, but I don’t know the business, as I used to. Five years ago, I was completely involved in acting, production, and the works. Now, I’ve taken it easy.


What about the recent spurt of remakes? Are you for or against?

Nothing wrong with it. But then, people’s expectations are on another dimension. They’ve probably loved the original, so you’re going to have to make sure that you make an equally good film, if not better. People making these remixes, sorry, new versions of earlier hit films must be really passionate and driven about it. This is a creative business; there’s no right or wrong. It’s just that sometimes you can create magic, and sometimes you can’t.

Sonia Chopra

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