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March 10, 2000


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The return of Rati

Rati Agnihotri She's back! Director Rahul Rawail has managed to convince the gorgeous Rati Virwani (nee Agnihotri) to return to the silver screen. She will be teaming up with Rishi Kapoor to play mother to Kajol (in a double role) in Rawail's version of The Parent Trap.

This is her first film in 15 years, though her last Hindi film, the non-starter Jaan-E-Wafaa, was released in 1990, five years after she quit signing films and got married. It also starred Farooque Shaikh and Pradeep Khaiyyaam.

Her first Hindi film, the trend-setting mega-spinner Ek Duje Ke Liye, marked Rati's whirlwind entry into the world of Hindi showbiz. But Rati, a Punjabi girl, was already a big star in the south for over two years before she made her entry into Hindi films via this box-office whopper.

Rati's major hits include Shaukeen, Farz Aur Kanoon, Coolie, Tawaif and Hukumat. But the glam girl also packed some histrionic wallops in films like Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye and Shubhkaamna, besides Ek Duje Ke Liye and Tawaif.

Rati acted in less than 50 Hindi films, but her film-makers included Dev Anand, Shakti Samanta, B R Chopra, Yash Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Nasir Husain, L V Prasad, K Balachander, K Vishwanath, T Rama Rao, Ravi Tandon and Basu Chatterjee. Her co-stars included Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore, Mala Sinha, Nanda, Tanuja, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Raakhee, Hema Malini, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar and -- romantically -- Ashok Kumar, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan!

Rati, who will once again face the arclights in the first week of March, is looking forward to playing mom to not one, but two Kajols, and wife to her Tawaif hero, Rishi Kapoor. Looking young, trim and beautiful, Rati is a delightful and articulate conversationalist as she unspools her past life before talking about both her present and future.

Excerpts from an interview with Dr Rajiv Vijayakar.

It's actually happening, your comeback, after all those rumours over the years of your returning to films.

(Laughs) Those rumours kept circulating probably because I quit at the peak of my career. A comeback was never in my mind, though offers were coming in all along. I was quite certain that I never wanted to work then, though I was never completely closed to the idea of taking up acting again.

Rati Agnihotri You see, I got married to Anil in February, 1985, and my son Tanuj was born soon after. I just wanted to relax and settle down into a family life because, since 1979, I had been working 17-18 hours a day! That kind of slogging is great when you have no attachments, but when you have a husband and then a kid, life takes a different turn altogether. I was very happy being a family person.

Then why did you decide to return? And why now?

Well, my son is almost 14 now. He doesn't need me on a minute-to-minute basis, so I thought that this was the right time to get involved with something. And since the only work I had ever done was acting, obviously that would be what I would return to!

My husband, son and in-laws are very encouraging. They've told me to do whatever I felt like doing, provided I was happy doing it. And since I had always enjoyed my career in films and I had good memories of my profession, there was no question of doing anything else.

But there were no fancy reasons like an irresistible lure of the arclights. Even today, I'd like to strike a balance between my home, my family and my profession. I am just looking for a few intense but major roles.

You are starting out with a role in which you will be playing mother to a contemporary heroine. Is that the right break for someone who still looks young?

Well, I stopped working 15 years ago, and 15 years is a long time! I have no reservations about playing a mother for the simple reason that I have a 14-year-old son. And, in the film, Kajol is shown to be 18 years old. For me, the character is much more important than the age I am playing.

Besides, I play a young mother in the film, which begins at the time when I am shown expecting my child. And don't we see so many parents nowadays who hardly look like parents? They even wear trousers and long skirts like I do in real life.

The screen always reflects real life. I don't have to be sitting in a wraparound saree, with a pallu draped over my head, like the mothers of the earlier generations.

You accepted a role for which Dimple was initially approached.

Rahul Rawail came and offered me the film, and I liked the script and my role. I have never asked him whether I was the first choice or not. As far as I know and believe, I was the first choice.

Do you think you can pick up where you left off? Will there be an element of rawness after this gap?

I generally take things as they come. I might be a bit raw for a day or two, but I don't think I will have any problems. After all, I got my first film at a time when I had not even dreamt of joining films, and I think I was fine!

Not much is known about your pre-Ek Duje Ke Liye phase. How did a Punjabi girl become a star down south way back in the '70s?

Well, as a result of his job, Dad was posted in Madras. I was studying in Good Shepherd's Convent when director Bharati Raja saw me in a play I did for our school's annual day. He was looking out for a young girl -- I was 16 then -- to play the lead in his new film, Pudhiya Varpukkal. He came and met my dad and promised that he would wrap up the film in one month. Dad agreed and he kept his word.

Were you already thinking about a career in acting?

No way! Not for a fleeting moment ! It may sound strange, but I was thinking of becoming a doctor, well, definitely pursuing academics in some form or other!

Rati Agnihotri So how did you react to the offer?

Well, I was so excited... what else will a 16-year-old girl be if she is approached by the topmost director of the time for his film? I was ecstatic! For me, it was a big picnic! The film became a blockbuster in 1979, one thing led to another and I worked in 32 films in three years!

Who was your first hero?

K Bhagyaraj, who is a top director now, was my first hero. It was his first film too! My second film was also for Bharati Raja and was called Neeram Maradapukal.

How did you manage the Tamil dialogues? Did you know the language?

Bhagyaraj, my hero, was very sweet. He would write the dialogues for me in Hindi and would explain them to me in English, and I would speak the lines in Tamil (laughs)!

How would you rate that first performance today?

Very good, I think! I was under the supervision of a brilliant director. I was young, so I moulded well. At that age, your motivations, energy levels and willingness to learn are all much higher. The director kept capitalising on my eyes. The romantic scenes too were artistically done.

What about situations you had not experienced but had to enact?

Undoubtedly I would have done certain roles and scenes better today, since I have now experienced much more of life. But I went into movies straight from school. I had not even gone to college, so I had to use my imagination even when I was playing a college-going girl.

Similarly, I had to imagine what my character in Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye must feel when the man she loves so much jilts her. She is carrying his child and she takes him to court.

After doing Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films, why did you not do any Malayalam films?

The only reason I did not do Malayalam films was probably because I had no time! That was also the reason why I did not do any south Indian films after I made my Hindi debut in 1981 with Ek Duje Ke Liye.

How did you get this film?

Well, everything about Ek Duje Ke Liye was south Indian -- the producer, director and hero. The film was a remake of Maro Charitra, a Telugu film in which some other heroine was cast opposite Kamal Haasan. I had done a lot of films with Kamal before and had also worked with the director (K Balachander) earlier. I was already a top star there, so they approached me.

Could you list your favourite Hindi roles?

Tawaif, for sure. Also, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Shubhkaamna and Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye. I also loved working in the two Basu Chatterjee films I did -- Shaukeen and Pasand Apni Apni.

In your long absence, did you remain in touch with films and trends? How did you occupy your time?

Of course. I love movies! In the first few years, I enjoyed myself like a free bird does. No getting up early in the morning for dubbings or rushing to shoots, no fast-paced life. When Tanuj was born, he occupied most of my time and attention.

But I have always been active in something creative. All these candles you see all over the house are designed and created by me. I paint a lot and do stained glass. I look into the aesthetic aspects of Anil's constructions, like, after a building is ready, I help in designing the foyers and the landscaping. I have always been very fond of creating things -- I even do sculptures from rocks. I make my own dry flowers too.

What about the changes in Hindi films since you left?

Times must change, trends must change. Today's films can make even a seven-year-old film look outdated. And every generation has good and bad films. Film-makers have to move with the times and cater to the market today, so one cannot sit in formal judgment of what's better or worse.

An entire generation has changed. My son shocks me every day, every minute! He comes and puts his arms around me and says, "Mom! Chill it! Cool out!" and all I can say is, "Yeah! Okay, Tanuj!"

I think I understand today's generation because my son is growing up and I am dealing with such changes everyday! You cannot live in the past; you have to live today and tomorrow.

How would you compare your music of your time with today's songs?

Music has now become a major part in a film's marketing process. In our times, it was a part of the film's story. There was no hype. But the music in my films was beautiful -- right from my first film. There were songs like Sajna sun sun sun (Rishta Kagaz Ka), Sadiyan beet gayi (Triveni) and so many others. They had so much melody and the orchestra wasn't jamming a beat into your brains. My son thinks I am totally out-dated though (laughs)!
Rati's Bollywood Stint
Year Film
1981  Ek Duje Ke Liye, Jeene
 Ki Arzoo, Saahas
1982  Shaukeen, Farz Aur
 Kanoon, Waqt Ke
 Shehzaade, Aiyash,
 Star, Johny I Love You,
 Swami Dada
1983  Coolie, Mujhe Insaaf
 Chahiye, Mazdoor,
 Main Awara Hoon,
 Pasand Apni Apni,
 Rishta Kagaz Ka,
1984  All Rounder, Mera
 Faisla, John Jani
 Janardhan, Boxer,
 Mashaal, Paapi Pet Ka
 Sawal Hai, Rakt
1985  Tawaif, Jaanu,
 Karishma Kudrat Ka,
 Bepanaah, Ek Se Bhale
 Do, Bhawani Junction
 (SA), Pigalta Aasmaan,
 Dekha Pyar Tumhara,
 Ulta Seedha, Zabardast,
1986  Triveni, Aap Ke Saath,
 Ek Aur Sikander,
 Beganaa, Zindagani
1987  Hukumat, Dadagiri (SA),
 Dil Tujhko Diya, Albela,
 Mera Suhaag
1988  Zalzala (SA)
 1990   Jaan-E-Wafaa
*SA* = special appearance

Any plans to cut an album?

Oh please! I haven't experimented with my voice and wouldn't like to!

In the short span of eight years in Hindi films, you managed to work romantically or otherwise with practically every senior and contemporary hero and even with the topmost heroines and film-makers. Was this planned, or did it just happen?

Well, I think I was fairly choosy because of my lack of time, though I did do a lot of films. But destiny has a lot to do with your life and I happened to work with everyone, even most of the big banners and filmmakers.

Even in the South I managed to work with all the top heroes -- Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Shobhan Babu, Chiranjeevi, Vishnuvardhan, N T Rama Rao and Nageshwara Rao among others. Both in Bombay and Madras, I have not spared anyone (laughs)!

Would you be open to a good role in television?

I am open to anything if I am convinced about it. I need to be very very convinced and happy about what I do.

And what about an offer from the south?

Why not? I would love to do a good role there too!

Do tell us what you think of this interview