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The Rediff Interview / Urmila Matondkar
'My knuckles would turn white'
Sukanya Verma | May 29, 2003
She is a thinking actress who performs spontaneously. But it is her charismatic image that stays with the audience.
She likes to keep herself abreast with the technicalities of filmmaking. Yet, she swears never to become a filmmaker herself.
She doesn't believe in ghosts. But her enthusiasm for her new horror film, Bhoot, is spirited.
Urmila Matondkar is an interesting paradox between what is and what isn't.
In Ram Gopal Varma's Bhoot, Urmila is said to have delivered a daringly uninhibited performance. Displaying emotions is nothing new for this Aquarian. She was the enthusiastic wannabe actress in Rangeela. She was the creepy lunatic in Kaun. She drew sympathy and scorn as the obsessive yet pitiable Ria in Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya.
In an interview with Sukanya Verma, Urmila talks about her new release and her passion for cinema.
The entire cast of Bhoot seems to be spellbound by your performance. Ram Gopal Varma says it's your best performance to date...
Bhoot is definitely one of the most demanding roles I have done so far. I would even go to the extent of saying it is one of the most challenging roles any heroine has done in recent times because of the intensity it required. Since the film has been treated so realistically, the role is very difficult. In a regular drama, you can get away with a bhadda [bad] performance. Bhoot required a certain amount of finesse and panache.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I am not scared of ghosts. I don't believe in ghosts or in the supernatural. But I have always enjoyed doing things I don't otherwise believe in, whether it was in Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya or Bhoot.
The biggest compliment came from Rekha. She waited for an hour just to meet me. She said, 'I have never seen any actor or actress enacting one emotion -- fear -- in so many different ways as you have done.'
Swati [Urmila's character in Bhoot] is like you or me. She is a simple, normal, modern housewife who shifts to this new house. She comes into a new ambience. Then she sees and hears things.
As a child, you had worked with Rekha and Victor Banerjee in Kalyug. How does it feel to be appreciated by them now?
It was fantastic working with them. Actually, you should ask them how it was working with me. My hair was short in Bhoot. Rekha told me she felt time had stopped because I had short hair in Kalyug too [Urmila played Rekha and Raj Babbar's son Parikshit in the Shyam Benegal film]. She felt I still looked the same!
When I worked with them earlier, I was a child who did not know what acting was all about.
This is your first horror film, even though you have done psychological thrillers in the past. How different was Bhoot from your earlier experiences?
It was very different. In Kaun, I played a psychopath. In the second half of the film, if you notice, the girl does look demented. The audience was watching Kaun through me. So, if they did not identify with me, they would not react with the same amount of fear.
In Bhoot, I play a normal girl who faces psychological problems. The experience of playing her was as different as the genre.
Your character in Bhoot undergoes an emotional breakdown. Did it affect you off the screen as well?
Tremendously! I have never had this feeling ever. During the first schedule, Victor Banerjee had asked me if I would be taking a few days off. He was shocked with the amount of intensity I put in. I wondered why he was overreacting. By the next schedule, I was totally oblivious to what was happening around me. I attended parties par mujhe kuch yaad nahi hai [I don't remember anything]. Except the times when my knuckles would turn white.
There is a lot of energy in your performances. Where does it come from?
I am full of passion for life and that comes across in everything I do. I don't do anything just for the heck of it. A lot of people find it hard to believe I am happy being myself. Most people are not. The day I am not [happy], I will stop acting. It's as simple as that.
Bhoot has a lot of fine actors. Is that an added incentive to perform better?
It is so much nicer. As I said earlier, acting is reacting. The more the interaction, the better it is. It keeps you on your toes to perform better.
From someone who is known for her perfect makeup to a no-makeup look in Bhoot and Pinjar, what brought about the transition?
I did Satya when I was at the peak of my glamorous image. If an artiste has the conviction to carry something off, he or she can do anything. Glamour is a very small aspect of being an actress. To me, sex appeal means that when an actress is on the screen, she just engulfs the whole screen. You have to feel, 'Oh God, I am watching someone fantastic.'
Unfortunately in India, people have a very limited vision and understanding of this term. I think I look enticing in Indian as well as Pinjar. But it has nothing to do with my makeup or lack of it. It has more to do with the character. If the character comes across, irrespective of the makeup you will make an impact.
Do you like watching horror films?
No. I am not a horror film buff. [But] I like them.
You are doing a period film, Pinjar, for the first time. Did you do any kind of research?
Pinjar is based on Amrita Pritam's novel. I play a rich, spoilt Punjabi girl from Amritsar. The film is about her and her family before and after Partition. Through her eyes, you witness the country and issues that prevailed in those days. Despite Pinjar being a period film, it has many issues that are relevant to the present. Since I am associated with modern roles, doing Pinjar was very challenging.
Pinjar took a lot of research. I am not Punjabi, so I had to work on my mannerisms. I had to erase my persona as such. Everything -- from gestures to body language -- had to be authentic. Had I been playing a Punjabi girl in modern times, it would not have mattered so much. But Pinjar is based in pre-Partition times, so I wanted to look authentic.
What I find beautiful about Amrita Pritam's novels is that her heroines are not heroines per se. They become heroines as their circumstances and lives unfold. In the whole process, they rise above the situation without realising it.
Your approach to acting is well thought, but your acting is spontaneous.
That's the most interesting part! I would love to be a method actress. But acting has a lot to do with reacting -- the way you feel at that time. The balance is created between what you feel and what you express. It is eventually about communication. I want to be in-between. That's a very tricky rope to walk on. Some actors put in too much effort. When you watch them as an audience member, their performance is too much in your face. In cinema, it is necessary to maintain a balance between method and spontaneity.
Tell us about your forthcoming releases.
Khalid Mohamed's Tehzeeb is a volatile drama between two women. It is the kind of film you watch with a smile on your lips and leave the theatre with tears in your eyes. The story is about a mother-daughter relationship. I play an angry young woman who has unresolved questions and issues. It is a light, emotional film.
Ek Haseena Thi is a realistic, modern-day thriller. It is about this middle-class girl from Pune who comes to Mumbai. Life is good until something out of the blue happens without her knowledge.
How is it working with Khalid Mohamed, who earlier interviewed you and is now directing you?
[Laughs] Luckily, Khalid did not interview me too often. I have always been very friendly with him. I am very fond of him and vice-versa. It was cool working with him. We understand each other. It was nice working in such a wonderful atmosphere. [Cinematographer] Santosh Sivan has done a mind-blowing job in the film.
A lot of your contemporaries [Raveena Tandon, Pooja Bhatt, Manisha Koirala] are now getting into production...
A lot of people tell me I will make a good director because I get very involved with what I do. But I will never become a producer or director. You need patience and tolerance for that. I have neither. I will go mad!
Do you regularly watch films?
I love watching films. After reading, it's my second hobby.
Are there any particular films you can watch time and again?
I can watch Casablanca, Gone With The Wind and Godfather a number of times.
You have played an ambitious girl (Rangeela), college kid (Aflatoon, Kudrat), seductress (Daud), chawl girl (Satya), psychopathic killer (Kaun), obsessed woman (Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya) and an actress (Mast). Is there any other role you would like to play?
Yeah. There are so many roles I still want to do. But I cannot pinpoint them. I just feel that characters should be shown as humans instead of candyfloss characters. I do not mean every actor should be negative. But all of us have negative shades.