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July 15, 1998


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Aati kya Khandala?

Suparn Verma

The million dollar question? You bet! Suddenly, everyone wants to know -- who is that girl Aamir Khan is pataoing?

Rani Mukherjee. Click for bigger pic!
That one song has given Rani Mukherjee much more than her first film, Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, ever did. Suddenly she is an identity, a pretty face distinct from the other pretty faces that crowd Bollywood.

Rani is easy to spot on the studio floor -- she is sitting, with a child artiste, on a swing in the middle of the set for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. She's been sitting there for the last two hours, and continues to do so for the next two, until debutant director Karan Johar is finally satisfied with the shot.

Her smile does not fade -- not even when she stretches her legs to get rid of the pins-and-needles. Her back is set in a stiff line as she gazes into nothing, lost in a make-believe world of her own. Coming back to life every time the camera moves into position, she delivers her lines perfectly, her eyes gleaming with a multitude of emotions.


She reverts to gazing into nothing.

Finally, Johar is satisfied, and the unit breaks for lunch.

On her way to her make-up room, she bumps into director Sooraj Barjatiya. Who congratulates her on her performance in Ghulam, before inviting her to drop into the adjoining set where he's shooting for Hum Saath Saath Hain. Which she promptly does. A whispered session with Karishma Kapoor follows and then, it's back to lunch and the make-up room.

Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherjee. Click for bigger pic!
The latter is a cramped space, occupied by her mother, some well-wishers, a television crew and a few odd containers of food.

The light-eyed actress debuted into filmdom with Salim Akhtar's Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat. The film sank without a trace, but not before people had time to notice Rani. A two-year break, Ghulam, and bingo! Success.

"I don't intend to be affected by my failures or successes. It didn't matter that my first film didn't do well, I gave it my best shot and it was noticed. That is what I intend to do continue doing, because no one can predict the fate of a film."

At that time, she was still trying to figure the direction of her life. And it was difficult, since all her friends already knew what they wanted to do. "I had done home science and, like everyone else, I started by ticking off what I didn't want to do. I was quite ugly as a kid, so I never really thought of acting. That was when uncle Salim approached me for Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat. I agreed, even though my screen test was miserable. After all, how many times does a girl get approached to do a role? Normally, you have to do the running around."

Rani Mukherjee Click for bigger pic!
She was noticed in the film, a plus she has consolidated with Ghulam. "Though it's an individual viewpoint, I feel that that acting is something you do only if you love it. People say it is difficult because we face situations that are larger-than-life and you start to hallucinate in order to portray that character.

"Like, I cannot identify with my character in Ghulam; we come from completely different backgrounds. Her parents are divorced, her mother lives separately and she roams the streets with punks. I come from a very close-knit family, I'm not even allowed to stay out after 8 pm."

Does that mean Rani's never been to Khandala? "Oh," laughs the 20-year-old, "I've been to Khandala. It was a fun song, and Aamir and Vikram (Bhatt, the director) had me laughing all through the shoot."

Was she worried about being sidetracked in an Aamir Khan film? "I would never worry about that in any of my films. My father has made films, so I know that no director would play games at the editing table. Every director has the good of his film in mind. So there were no fears of that sort, ever. We were all doing our best. If the film is a hit, everyone compliments you on your acting and everything about that film suddenly becomes good. If the film is a flop, everyone finds fault with the actors, the music, the director, the story. So I don't bother to think about those things. When you work you have to think about the benefit of the film."

Rani Mukherjee in Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat
Click for bigger pic!
Meanwhile, Rani is looking forward to her next releases. "Mehendi, which releases in August, is a woman-oriented film about the evils of the dowry system. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is a quadrangle with Shahrukh (Khan) and Kajol, and I can't tell you anything else about it." A not-so-well-kept secret is the fact that Salman Khan plays the fourth angle.

Does she feel intimidated acting with cousin Kajol, who is already a well-established actress? Rani smiles, and patiently answers the oft-asked question, "There is no rivalry whatsoever."

And then, a call from the sets -- and it's time for the next shot.

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