Though she was already one by then, the first time I met Rani Mukerji I couldn’t believe she was a star.
Short, and pretty plain, she walked into my good friend Akshay Kumar’s makeup room to say hello. They were both shooting in the same studio on adjoining sets… he for Khiladi 420 and she for Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega.
Akshay and I were having lunch with some friends when the door opened and Rani walked in wearing clothes that depict a typical party sequence in our films and heels so high they looked like stilts!
Rani being Rani, she shook hands with everyone in the room with a democratic smile and saved a special smile and a hug for the hero in the room. Akshay pulled Rani’s cheeks and they both exchanged warm glances.
When I met Rani again I reminded her of the incident. She listened with a non committal smile. Obviously she isn’t expected to remember every person she has shaken hands with. Not if she’s Rani Mukerji, the most gregarious girl in Bollywood.
Ask anyone out there, they’ll tell you Rani is one helluva friendly gal. Many people find her democratic friendliness a little hard to take and feel she lays herself out too thinly.
“Make no mistake, Rani is the cleverest girl in showbiz,” observes a senior actor who has been around seen it all enough to be cynical without sounding bitter.
“Rani’s mission in life is to be nice to everyone. But of course she has an inbuilt hierarchy. The ‘nice’ that she extends to Karan Johar would be different from the ‘nice’ that she would be to Raj Kanwar. And the quality of niceness to Amitabh Bachchan cannot hold a candle to its counterpart with Akshay Kumar.”
“But what’s wrong with being nice?” Rani defends herself. “Sure I’m good with everyone. I’m naturally friendly. When I’m shooting I can’t sit in a corner after every shoot. Nor do I withdraw into my makeup room. I remain right there on the set, as the next shot is set up. What’s wrong with that? If people find my attitude fake… well, so be it. I’d rather be called fake than unpleasant.”
Interestingly Rani’s close buddies happen to be mostly men. Her friendship with Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and Kareena Kapoor came to rather inglorious ends with a lot of acrimony and accusation hurled both ways.
Whatever her modus operandi and its extent, it sure is working for her. Rani is undoubtedly in the top league today. In fact most people see her as the top actress today. She’s is the only leading lady of her generation to have worked with the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Mani Ratnam and Yash Chopra, all within the same year.
Shaad Ali who’s said to be half in love her after their successful collaboration Saathiya, deserted close friend Vivek Oberoi for his second film Bubbly Aur Bunty and signed Rani’s favorite Abhishek Bachchan instead.
Every director loves to repeat her. After Mujhse Dosti Karoge one of the leading ladies Kareena distanced herself from what she thought was a disappointing experience. Rani stuck on. Director Kunal Kohli stuck on with Rani for his second film Hum Tum. Everyone wrote off this romantic comedy before release. Everyone has had to eat his or her words back. Hum Tum shocked the cynics by becoming the surprise success of the year.
She, in turn, decided to be a bit more assertive about her stardom and status in life. No more Rani-is-oh-so-nice-to-everyone. She has decided to be just a wee picky about whom she chooses to smile at. And yes, beware! No one can take Rani Mukerji for granted any longer.