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January 19, 2000

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'There have been many ups and downs'

Juhi Chawla Chirpy Chawla is an apt name for Juhi. She is one actress who always has smile on her face and a friendly word for everyone. Of course, there are moments when she is pensive and thoughtful -- those are the times when she thinks she has not given her best for a shot.

We caught up with her on the sets of Gang. Her shift, which was supposed to have begun at 7 in the morning, finally started at 12 noon. Her costume for the shot hadnít arrived, but she was right on time. She put on her makeup and waited patiently. Then she continued shooting till well after 6 pm, which was when her shift was supposed to have ended. And without a word of complaint.

Perhaps it's this quality of hers that has made Juhi Chawla one of the longest reigning stars in Bollywood. She entered the industry when Sridevi was numero uno. She survived Madhuri Dixit and later, Karisma Kapoor and Kajol. After all these years, her status in the industry and among her fans remains unchanged.

And now, she turns producer -- along with Shah Rukh Khan and Aziz Mirza -- with the much-hyped Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, to be released on January 21.

When you watch her in action, you realise just how professional Juhi is. She experiments with her expressions, keeps watching the shots on the screen and in between, asks dance director Ahmad Khan whether she has done the sequence the way he wanted her to.

Only when she was fully satisfied with her work, did she take a break and give the interview. Here she is, in conversation with Sharmila Taliculam.

Why does your film Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani have such a heavy dose of patriotism?

Juhi Chawla in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani It doesn't have a heavy dose of patriotism at all. When you see the film, you will realise this. You might find it patriotic towards the end. I think you will like what we are doing on screen. Only in the last 10-15 minutes, you will feel for your country, your people. You would suddenly want to get up and join the people on screen.

There are various layers to the film's subject. There's a whole lot of fun, a love angle and of course, a story. A story which changes the minds and hearts of the protagonists of the film -- that is Shah Rukh and me.

To begin with, we are wicked people. We are today's people. We are rivals and we hate each other. We want to get ahead and become rich and famous and we will do anything to do that. Then, an incident takes place and we just about become friends. We decide to help someone to come out with the truth. It's our struggle to get the truth out and itís not easy.

And that's how it goes till the end. It takes you to a big climax which involves hundreds of people. It becomes a movement. Itís a very different film -- thatís all I can say. Very different, not because you won't understand the emotions or what is going on, but the whole backdrop of the film is new. It's a city-based film and the main characters are work for a television company.

Isn't this the remake of an English film?

I think the film you are talking about had actors as journalists. Now, we are on TV. We were influenced by Switching Channels, but our storyline is very Indian. And, while it is Indian, the setup is modern. The only inspiration or similarity with the Julia Roberts film is that we are journalists like they are. They are rivals and they work for two big newspapers and they cheat each other. Our film is little like that.

This is your first production. How does it feel to be behind the scenes as well?

Juhi Chawla with Aziz Mirza and Shah Rukh Khan I have always been just an actress on the sets. It's only now that I have started looking at other departments of the film. I have just tried to help out in whichever way I could. Like tying up some loose ends. You know helping out also means making mistakes and getting yelled at. I realised there is so much more to films than acting, dubbing, shooting -- which is all I was involved with earlier. There are so many things that you want to do well, it's quite a job.

You seem to be very spontaneous on the setsÖ

Yeah, I try to be that. But I do rehearse on the sets, I pay attention to details. Itís not like somebody tells me to do something and I just do it, even though it probably looks effortless on screen.

Does it become a habit, after a point, to look or act in a certain way?

Not really. There are some things you realise about yourself. Like for example, when you smile, it will have this effect. When you see yourself on screen, you realise what looks good and where you have gone wrong. You learn with time. But beyond that, itís the director who okays the shot. It's his decision that matters.

How did you get so close to Aziz Mirza and Shah Rukh Khan that you ventured into a partnership?

I have known them since the time of Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. That was nine years ago. Though Shah Rukh was new in the industry at that time, he had worked with Azizji in his TV serials. But I had no clue who he was. Anyway, we had a nice time making that film. We had good times together. Shah Rukh used to make us laugh on the sets and it was fun.

Then he repeated us in Yes Boss. Azizji is a warm person. He would treat us like family. That's how I grew to know him a little more. Then I went to his house, visited his family. He wanted to make a third film and he said he would produce it too.

That was fine with us. But then he suggested, 'why donít we three get together, lend our names to the film and form our own company?' It sounded exciting, though I didnít know what it actually involved. One realises all about production details only when one is into it. It's an extension of acting, so I thought why not take it up.

Weren't you wary at all since production also means handling the business aspect of filmmaking?

No, I wasn't -- simply because of the people I'm working with. We get along very well. That doesnít mean we agree on everything. We disagree on every second or third thing. But we are basically like-minded people. And if I had to do this on my own, I would have never done it. Here was a team I really respect and admire, thatís how I agreed to get into this.

Do you agree when you are called the Betty of Bollywood?

I am aware that I'm still known as the girl-next-door. I don't think I can live that down somehow. I am stuck with that. I have to agree with the 'Betty of Bollywood' tag because Betty was the girl next door. And I am not cool and mean like Veronica, so Betty suits my image.

Don't you ever want to do a film with a vampish element in it?

Juhi Chawla in Arjun Pandit I did one film like that -- Arjun Pandit. Though in the end I was justified, it was a role with negative shades. I had a great time doing it. I had a chance to do something more and I did it wholeheartedly. The film didnít do well in Bombay, but it did quite well in the North.

That's just one film -- don't you want to do more such films? Or is the risk far too much?

They are so few and far between. Arjun Pandit was a really nice film. At the interval, you are taken by surprise. You are shocked. You never expected the twist in the story and it is the girl who brings about that twist. I had a very interesting role in the film and I donít think those kind of scripts are written too often.

Letís talk about your first film, Sultanat. How did you feel when you acted in that film along with big stars?

Very scared. When I did Sultanat, I was 18 or 19 and I was new to the industry. I knew absolutely nothing about acting or the industry. I used to be very nervous and scared all the time.

Luckily, my next film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak had all newcomers. So it was like a college play. We would rehearse, laugh, play, shoot -- it was wonderful. It was a completely different experience. From then on, I have had various experiences in various films. Some were with stars and I would again be a little nervous. Now, every film is almost the same.

Did you consciously think of changing your girl-next-door image when you did Lootere?

I didnít plan it that way. Dharmesh Darshan wanted a girl for his film and at that time it was a good film for me to do. It was with Sunny, Chunky and Naseer. And he wanted me to be different. I believe that if you work with different people and they want to project you in a different light, then you come across as a versatile actor. Otherwise you get stuck in a rut. I just gave it a shot and it turned out to be pretty interesting.

But you did get a glamorous image after that filmÖ

Lootere changed a few things for me. Darr reinforced that. I felt I could be glamourous and look nice. But I was also doing my regular stuff.

How involved are you with the films you do -- like with your clothes, makeup etc?

Juhi Chawla My involvement depends on the director. If he doesnít like something, then it is he who decides. He has the final say. You canít really go about changing things as such.

How did you manage to speak Tamil in Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke so effortlessly?

I used to tremble before those shots. We had a Tamilian assistant director working on the sets and Aamir would work on the lines and then we would translate them with his help. There wasn't too much. There were just three four occasions where I would break into Tamil.

I have done Tamil films too, so I knew how it sounded. Incidentally, the person who plays my father is actually a Tamilian. He is Sudha Chandran's father. So when we were dubbing, he used to come over and help us out a lot.

You've had a pretty successful run. You have survived stars like Sridevi, Madhuri, Kajol and Karisma. Have there been too many ups and downs?

Oh, there have been many ups and downs. When you look from outside you feel there weren't too many. Every time there is a flop, I get shaken. I keep getting this feeling about whether I would survive the next year. I have been pretty insecure.

How did you get through those times?

I canít give you lines about being positive and such. When a film flops or when you lose a project (like when I broke my leg and was left out of a film), I feel really bad and upset. But the next day, the entire episode seems a little distant, after a week it doesn't matter and in a month, you are practical enough to say that these things happen. I think everybody has this positive attitude towards things. Itís just not me. In time, it doesn't matter how you survive tragedies and failures in life, you always hope that the next project is going to be better. This way you get on with your life.

What would you attribute your success to?

Lot of good luck, a little bit of sincerity on my part, my mom's blessings and good will in the industry. Also, some hard work.

I noticed that you are constantly laughing and joking. Do you feel angry or sad ever?

Yeah, I do at times. Like five minutes ago, when I almost lost my temper with my staff. I wanted something and he didnít have it. I expect a certain level of efficiency, and if itís not there, it upsets me. But thatís for a little while, not for long. Sometimes I do get into a bad mood, but then I am easily distracted. I look at something else and I forget I was upset. I think this helps me in my work too.

Do you prefer working with a certain set of people because you are comfortable with them?

Juhi Chawla and Jackie Shroff in Bandish You always come across people you like and who are pleasant to work with. Itís a joy to work with them. Only at times, do you come across directors who are confused and angry. I usually try to be happy on the sets and ensure that people around me are also that way. But there are people you like working with.

What are your future plans?

The future will take care of itself. My plans have fallen flat. Nothing that I planned has worked for me so far. So I donít plan anymore. I keep short-term plans.

Why is there so much confusion about your marital status?

I like to keep it that way. As long as I am not confused about it, everybody else can be!

Would you be producing more films under your banner Dreamz Unlimited?

Yes, if everything goes well with this film. Otherwise too, we will see about producing more films under this banner.

RELATED FEATURES:
Dream Theme: Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani...A Real Video exclusive
The Shah Rukh Khan interview
Pyaar aur patriotism: The slide show
'We want to make nice films'
The Juhi Chawla chat
Listen to the heart: The music review

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