She was a background Odissi dancer for actress-dancer Meenakshi Seshadri long before she entered films.
Today, Rani Mukerji sports a new look -- straight, coloured hair with kohl-lined eyes.
The actress does not have many hits to her credit in her six-year career in the industry. Her debut film, Ashok Gaekwad's Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (co-starring Shadaab, son of the late Amjad Khan) vanished into oblivion.
She does have a lot of fans, however -- both within the industry and outside it. That started before the Bengali beauty made people notice her in Vikram Bhatt's Ghulam (1998), as she held her own against co-star Aamir Khan.
In fact, on the popular Indian television show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, Vikram recounted one of Rani's first shots in Ghulam. The shot required her to run into Aamir's arms. He said the actress was so nervous that she ran hard into Aamir, and both toppled over. For the next shot, Aamir braced himself. This time, she did not run quite as hard -- both fell forward.
She is also one of the few actresses who shares a fabulous rapport with her female co-stars. Take her special bond with her Chori Chori Chupke Chupke co-star Preity Zinta. And the Khan family -- Salman, Arbaaz, Sohail and their father Salim -- dote on her. Rani has worked with Salman in Hello Brother, Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega, Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke.
Last year did not begin well for her. Pyaar Diwana Hota Hai, Chalo Ishq Ladaye and Mujhse Dosti Karoge sank without a trace, while Chori Chori (Ajay Devgan) has been indefinitely delayed because of the untimely death of its producer Raju Narula.
But her last release in 2002, Saathiya, won her the Filmfare Critics' Award for Best Actress. The film was also one of the few hits of the otherwise barren year.
Now, Aziz Mirza's Chalte Chalte, where Rani plays Shah Rukh's wife, is slated for a June 13 release. The role seems similar to what she had done in Saathiya, you would think. But she begs to differ: "Saathiya was about a married couple, but it addressed different problems. It was about the nitty-gritties and problems a young couple who have just started living together face. Chalte Chalte deals with a more mature and deeper form of love. It is about how a man and woman react to situations. Indian films concentrate a lot on emotions and relationships like mother-father, father-son, married couple, unmarried couple, etc. You cannot really get very different with the characters, but you can put them against a different background and different scripts."
This is her first film as Shah Rukh Khan's heroine. The two have so far made only guest appearances in each other's films. Rani had a cameo in Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Shah Rukh had made guest appearances in Raj Kanwar's Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega and Shaad Ali's Saathiya.
Rani admits SRK used to scold her to during the shooting of Chalte Chalte. "I had to really work hard to match up with his talent and energy. It was like a school for me because I would learn something every day. But I did not have to do any homework. He scolded me quite often if I performed badly. Things have not changed at all since Kuch Kuch Hota Hai," she smiles.
Chalte Chalte is about a couple with contrasting personalities who fall in love. Raj (Shah Rukh) is emotional and impulsive; Priya (Rani) is a perfectionist. They marry. Then the problems start, as trivial domestic issues blow out of proportion and lead to adjustment problems.
Rani elaborates, "The film is about two individuals who are completely different in their thinking, upbringing, and nature, how they meet and fall in love. Of course, there has to be a clash because they are different people with different ideas."
This is Rani's first film with director Aziz Mirza. "Aziz has a very simple way of portraying things," she says. "Portraying simple and natural emotions is more difficult than dramatic scenes.
"For me, a director is more important than a big banner. A great director can do wonders. Of course, banners do matter because, ultimately, after all the hard work you put it, the film must release. This will happen only if you work with a good banner or a producer who markets your film well, gives the director whatever he wants, and releases the film."
The actress, who plays a journalist in her next film, Sudhir Mishra's Calcutta Mail (Anil Kapoor), was considered for some of the best projects of 2004 -- Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani (Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor), Ketan Mehta's The Rising (Aamir Khan) and Ashutosh Gowariker's Swades (Shah Rukh). While she was dropped from the first, she has still not signed on the dotted line for the other two.
Rani considers each of her 20-plus films different from one another. She says, "Directors portray characters differently. I too try to make the characters look different in my own way. Besides, with every co-star, you have a different experience. You learn different ways of acting and doing scenes. That makes the characters look different."