Juhi Chawla: I lacked Madhuri's screen presence, and the way she danced
'I am amazed to see most of my contemporaries are still around.'
Juhi Chawla gets candid with Sonil Dedhia.
There is no difference between the woman on screen, and off it.
Juhi Chawla is as chirpy and spontaneous, and, more importantly, refreshingly candid about her decisions and her Bollywood equations.
Probably unimaginable at one time, it's not difficult now to see why she took up a negative character in Gulaab Gang. That too, in a film starring her former rival Madhuri Dixit.
Juhi Chawla chats with Sonil Dedhia about past insecurities, rejected roles and much more.
What was your first reaction when you were offered a negative role in Gulaab Gang?
I have known Mushtaq Sheikh (family friend and screenplay writer of films like Ra.One and Om Shanti Om) for some time now. He called and said, ‘Juhi, I have a kickass script for you. I am sure you’d love to do this film.’
I went to meet him where director Soumik Sen was also present. They narrated the script, and at first I thought Mushtaq and Soumik had lost their minds.
My character in the film is mean, manipulative, a little quirky and has fiery dialogues. I had never done something like this before. I told them if they wanted me to play the character they had to rewrite my character.
Three weeks later, they came back after making the changes. I realised that the whole zing of the character was lost somewhere, and it would kill the film completely. So, we went ahead with the original character.
Please click Next to see more.
Image: Juhi Chawla
'I was scared and worried if I would be able to do this role'
Why were you apprehensive?
I thought the audience would laugh at me. I was scared and worried if I would be able to do this role. I wondered how people will accept me as a mean, manipulative lady. But then the director explained what he expected me to do.
You won’t see me playing a typical villain in the film. The interesting thing about my role is that even when I get angry, it is without shouting. I do it with a smile, which adds to the two-faced character.
Gulaab Gang is making headlines for bringing Madhuri and you together in one film…
Madhuri has more screen time. She fights, dances and does all the dialoguebaazi!
I am like the namak-mirch (the spices).
There isn’t too much of me, but enough to add masala in this film. It took me a day or two to get into the character.
Image: Juhi Chawla in Gulaab Gang
'Very rarely have I done films with two heroines'
There has been persistent rivalry between Madhuri and you. How did you break the ice?
Soumik called us to his office a day before we started shooting. He gave us the script and left us both alone in a room.
When there are only two people, you end up starting a conversation. We spoke about the film and that broke the ice.
The first day when I started shooting, I felt very comfortable as I knew who the real Madhuri was.
Soumik’s exercise really helped me.
At the trailer launch you mentioned Madhuri as your rival in the 1990s. What was your equation with her back then?
Not only Madhuri, but Karisma (Kapoor), Manisha (Koirala), Raveena (Tandon) -- we were all rivals.
The rivalry remained for some years. We used to meet only on occasions like some film sets or functions. We would just exchange pleasantries and wouldn’t talk beyond that. We all worked in solo heroine films.
Very rarely have I done films with two heroines. There were constant comparisons.
Image: Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit in Gulaab Gang
'I am responsible for Karisma Kapoor's stardom'
Back then did you ever get envious about any of your contemporaries’ work?
Yes. I’ll give you an example of Madhuri. I saw her in Hum Aapke Hai Koun…! and I said to myself, ‘I wish I would have got that film.’
I would have done anything to bag that role. I loved the way she danced and her screen presence. I guess I lack that.
I secretly admired her and aspired to do some things like her, but I couldn’t.
It’s a human tendency to be jealous and envious about other person’s work and it happens with everyone.
Now that you have worked with her, do you regret not working with her earlier?
The only time I got a chance to work with her was in Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Back then I didn’t want to play the second lead to Madhuri.
At that time I was a little bubble-headed (laughs). You make foolish decisions.
I rejected Raja Hindustani and Judaai also. All these films went on to become blockbusters. I am responsible for Karisma’s stardom (Raja Hindustani was a pivotal role in her career).
Image: Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit in Gulaab Gang
'I am amazed to see most of my contemporaries are still around'
Is there a sense of competition even today?
No... I am amazed to see most of my contemporaries are still around. I am glad Gulaab Gang happened.
Today it’s a different feeling. My thought process is to work with Madhuri and rock the film together. I worked with Manisha (Koirala) in I AM, and it was great.
I never thought we would meet and be there in the industry even after so many years.
Most of your films saw you playing very perky characters cast in the girl-next-door mold. Do you think you were trapped in that image for the longest time?
I was very happy with that image. I was working in my comfort zone, and I could play the characters that I did in the past very effortlessly.
I did try to play roles, which were a little different where I would dance and play a seductress, and there was always an apprehension whether I would get it right (laughs).
We have often seen actors being called superstars, but that hasn’t been the case with actresses. Off late though, Deepika Padukone and Vidya Balan have been compared to male co-stars. Do you think times are changing?
I think women move on in life after they get married. They have family to look after and their priorities change. But we did have actresses like Mumtaz, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Madhuri who gave blockbuster films for many years. Sridevi was on top for 15 years. I have always admired Sridevi and her work.
Today Deepika is at the top, and I really want to see if she can last like Sridevi.
Image: Juhi Chawla in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
'I try to convince my kids to come on the sets, but they are not interested'
What has been your husband Jay Mehta’s reaction to the work you do and the films that he enjoys watching you in?
At one time Jay was a big movie buff; he used to go every Friday to see films. Now it is not like that.
Sometimes, if I am confused, I will ask him whether I should accept a particular film. He gives me his point of view, which I disregard and finally do what I want to do (laughs).
So there is no discussion about work anymore?
It is far and few. We don’t consciously sit down to discuss work. I always take his opinion because he always gives an honest opinion. Your closest people will not care about your feelings and give a frank opinion and Jay does that.
How do your kids react when they see you on television?
When they were small, they would be very inquisitive and excited to see me in commercials. There were times when they would mistake me for someone else (laughs). Now they don’t react much.
They are very media shy. I stay in South Mumbai and very rarely do we shoot in that part of town.
If there is any shooting happening, I try to convince them to come on the sets, but they are not interested.
Image: Jay Mehta and Juhi Chawla
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'My relationship with Shah Rukh Khan is not strained'
There were reports of your relationship being strained with Shah Rukh Khan.
No it’s not strained or anything. With our growing lives our schedules are very busy.
Like today, Madhuri Dixit and I are working for a film because our work has brought us together. Then she will be busy with her work and I will be busy with mine. How and when we will meet next we don’t know.
I know for the fact that if I need something and if I call Shah Rukh he will always be available. But I will not trouble him because I know he is very busy and I really need not take his time.
Image: Juhi Chawla and Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar