'I was destined to come back'
Sweet sixteen is the age when Rati Agnihotri first faced the camera.
And sweet sixteen is the number of years she stayed put at home after a checkered career as leading lady in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films.
In these 16 long years, she played several roles off-screen - that of wife and creative partner to her builder-husband Anil Virwani and mother to her son Tanuj who studies in Bombay Scottish School.
Filmmakers approached her occasionally to return to the world which had made her a household name. But she declined every offer.
She knew she didn't want to act.
Not that she hated the industry. On the contrary, as Rati puts it, ''I have wonderful memories of the film industry, but I didn't want to come back to what I had left behind.''
Then one day Rahul Rawail, who had never directed her before, telephoned Rati...
So tell us something about that phone conversation...
Rahul called me and said that he had a role for me in his new film. I told him that I had stopped acting. But Rahul insisted that I hear the story first.
I was still not yielding, so he changed tracks and said that he wanted to come home for a cup of tea!
Rahul came home and narrated his story of Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi. I told him, 'The subject is lovely but, you know, I'm not interested in acting now.' So Rahul asked, 'You've really liked the story?
I said, 'Yeah, it's really good.'
He shot back, 'So, do the film,'
And before I knew it, I said, 'Okay, I'll do it.'
So that did it! All credit to Rahul's convincing power, isn't it?
No, Rahul didn't have to convince me at all.
I liked the subject and agreed almost immediately. I think, it was destiny. I was destined to come back and so I'm here.
But here I must add, having said 'yes' to Rahul, I realised that I had taken such a major decision in my life without even consulting or telling my family about it.
Once Rahul left my house, I quickly telephoned Anil but had no guts to break the news to him. I made some silly conversation with him but he caught me quick. 'Is something wrong?' he asked me. I said that there was nothing wrong, but he persisted.
So I said 'I'm returning to work.' He was really surprised, because he didn't know what I was talking about. I told him that we'll talk when he gets back home.
When my son returned home from school, I told him that I was returning to films. He gave me a whack on my back, said, "Wow, that's lovely!' and carried on with his work as if nothing had happened.
It was easier than I had imagined. When Anil returned home and I told him about it, his reaction was similar to my son's. My stars must really have been in my favour that day!
So all your apprehensions about your family objecting to your comeback was set to rest with that?
No, that wasn't all. I had to now convince my brother-in-law (Anil's brother), Deepak and I was sure, that would be a Herculean task because he is a bit conservative in his views.
Still, I couldn't dream of returning to acting without getting his approval because I'm very fond of him.
I called him at one in the morning! When I told him that I was acting again, Deepak wasn't too happy.
I explained to him about how nice the industry was to me when I was an actress before marriage. People may talk a hundred things but finally, I was concerned with what my close people thought about the whole thing.
Very quickly, he understood my point and said, 'White Idli, if you are happy, I am happy.' (He calls me Moti, White Idli, you know!)
Here, I had thought, it would take hours to convince him and it all actually got over in a few minutes!
How was the first day of shooting? Were you nervous?
No, no, nothing of the sort happened.
My first schedule of Kuch Katti Kuch Meethi was in Nasik. The first shot required me to pray before an idol of Lord Ganesh. After the puja, I meet Pooja Batra whom I had to slap.
Once the shot was canned, everybody present on the sets clapped loudly. There was a huge cake which I was asked to cut to celebrate my return to acting.
What do you consider before signing a film?
First and foremost, I must be comfortable with the people I'm going to work with.
Of course, the significance of my role is also very important. I don't mean, the film should revolve around me. But I don't want to play just a decorative piece in films.
What are the other films you are committed to doing?
I'm acting in Ketan Desai's film being directed by David Dhawan, Subhash Ghai's Yaadein and Arjun Sablok's Na Tum Jaano Na Hum. Then there's Vicky Kumar's film, opposite Vinod Khanna.
There must be several people you are working with whom you've also seen as kids in your first stint.
Oh yes! Hrithik Roshan, with whom I'm doing Yaadein and Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, was a kid. He used to be constantly on my lap whenever he came on my sets.
Aamir Khan used to assist Nasir (Husain) Sahab during the making of Zabardast.
I still remember, he was a very shy boy.
When the shot was ready, he used to come into my room to call me. With his face down, he used to tell me, 'Madam, the shot is ready, here are your dialogues.'
I used to always tell him, 'Yeah, but why don't you look up and talk to me? You've got such a handsome face.' He used to blush and run out of the room!
Are you doing the same kind of roles in all the films?
Thankfully, I've got all different roles. In Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi, I play Kajol's mother who is estranged from her husband (Rishi Kapoor).
In Ketan's film, I play Rishi Kapoor's wife who accepts Rishi Kapoor's illegitimate child. Rinke Khanna plays my daughter.
In Yaadein, I play Yaadein - in the sense that I am Jackie Shroff's wife who dies but she keeps reappearing as memories. I have three daughters, including Kareena Kapoor, in the film.
I play Esha Deol's unmarried aunt in Na Tum Jaano Na Hum.
Finally, I have a son in Vicky Kumar's film! I play Bobby Deol's mother in that.
I've also signed a film to be produced by D Rama Naidu and directed by K Ravi Shankar. Fardeen is in the lead role.
With so many films, is television a strict no-no?
No, it's not that. Presently, I don't have the time for television but it is not as if I cannot work in serials. I may, in the future.
How is it that Anil never thought of producing a film?
Oh, he's busy in his business. Besides, there's no question of the Virwanis producing films....