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March 19, 1998


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The return of Razdan

Suparn Verma

Soni Razdan. Click for bigger pic!
An important role in Such A Long Journey has given Soni Razdan a new lease of life. For she plays the protagonist Gustad Noble's long-suffering wife, Dilnawaaz.

Soni, who was slowly beginning to be identified only as director Mahesh Bhatt's better half, is certainly enjoying all the attention she is getting. "The lady is the backbone of the family, a housewife who wants to hold her family together anyway she can. She even tries black magic to get her family back together. But, basically, she is a very sincere person," says the actress.

Soni had earlier auditioned for the role when Deepa Mehta was planning to direct it. Sturla brought her back in after two screen tests last November.

Though Soni hadn't read the book when she auditioned, once selected, she promptly picked up the novel thereafter.

"I was amazed at the clearly etched characters who are part of the Parsi family. Very few books have been written about people who you see everyday around you, and the book doesn't make you feel the characters are removed from reality; they are very much based in the environment around you. The film is full of details, and details matter the most."

Soni is pleased the way the film has been going though, she says, her best scenes still lie ahead. "So far so good, it's been exactly the way I had imagined it to be. The people who are working in the film are focussed and thinking on the same wavelength. That's very important for a film structured on interpersonal relationships. The director obviously has vision, without which a film won't work."

She sees her film as a challenge "The film has more or less everything of what is written in the book. It is a really good book and it's very difficult to do justice to it... So this is a difficult film to make."

Click for bigger pic!
Soni, who studied acting at the Guildhall school of music and drama in London, worked with Roshan Seth early in her career when she acted in the television series Padosi. "He is a very fine actor," she says.

Soni's career started promisingly with her debut in Aparna Sen's 36 Chowringee Lane. She worked with directors like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Mahesh Bhatt in critically acclaimed films like Mandi, Trikaal, Saaransh, Khamosh, Kaal Chakra, the serial Buniyaad and then... "Then I got pregnant.

"There was a long gap and I was drawn into domestic life... being married to a famous film director. There was a lot of work going on at that time, but when I would approach them they would be like, 'She is Mahesh Bhatt's wife, why does she want to work?' You realise that you are still part of the system and have to function in it."

Trying to come back a second time was even more difficult then getting in. Soni seems to have come to terms with the fact that at this juncture of her career, she won't have a choice of roles. "Where would I fit in Hindi cinema today? Maybe 10 years ago, but today the roles that come your way aren't just good enough. For a woman there is a complete dearth of roles to do. Abroad, you really have good roles, and by good roles I don't mean the film has to be women oriented, I wouldn't mind playing a well written small role. That is why I'm doing more of television..."

Soni is currently acting in Ramesh Sippy's Gaatha. She had earlier acted in his serial, Buniyaad. "Television has more scope, and the serials are based on the daily lives of people." But television apparently isn't enough for Soni.

Click for bigger pic!
"In this country, if a woman wants to work she has very little choice. After you cross the age suitable for a heroine, there is nothing in the middle, the next thing you do is you become a mother... On television you have more scope, but then television is still very limited..."

Soni shares her husband director Mahesh Bhatt's candour, easily admitting that she is still upset with Mahesh for not promoting her as an actress after their marriage.

"I was upset and still am with him, but I didn't want him doing me a favour. I didn't marry him because I wanted to be cast by him.... I'd made it clear that I would continue to work after marriage; it was an understanding between us. But I'm glad I wasn't dependant on him for work; it's not fair on him to put the onus on him."

"But I've been working and earning my own money and I've been standing on my own two feet for the last two years..." But this role, she feels, is going to do her a power of good.

Soni describes herself as "a very emotional person. I really don't calculate who I'm going to fall in love with. Had I been more ambitious I wouldn't have married. Because marrying for us (actresses) is bad news."

Her plans for the future are very simple. "I'm an actress," she says. "I'm ready to work anytime. Someone said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." In this business you can't make any plans."

Photographs by Jewella C Miranda

Seth and match
The return of Razdan

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