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January 16, 1998


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Rangeela Re!

V S Srinivasan

Urmila Matonkar. Click for bigger pic! Pic courtesy: Magna Publications
It is a big jump from Masoom to Rangeela -- from gamine, childish innocence to aggressive sexuality. Believe us, it is very difficult for Indian audiences to accept such a radical shift. And if they were finally made to overcome all credit to Urmila Matondkar.

Of course, even she couldn't get them to accept her as Jugal Hansraj's sweetheart in their debut venture as adults, Aa Gale Log Jaa. The public could not accept two people imprinted in their minds as siblings mooning over each other. Incest, even by proxy, is still a taboo subject.

Mind you, off-screen Urmila is still the type a chap wouldn't mind taking home to reassure mama that what you see isn't always what you get. But the Maharashtrian maiden's made her compromises to get where she is now. Deciding first that to gain exposure, she must expose on screen. Which is what took her from the elfin artlessness of Chamatkar at one extreme to the hot, hot presence in her next film, Rangeela.

Again, you notice, we return to Rangeela, the film that had the public clamouring for the sensuous seductress that just a few movies had endeared herself of them with her nice girl behaviour.

Click for bigger pic!
Urmila, with some help from designer
Manish Malhotra and a lot from director Ram Gopal Verma, brought a classy sensuousness, an bitchy elegance, that few actresses had brought to their roles till then. Urmila, it appeared, was the new fertility goddess and the audiences flocked to pay obeisance.

That's what they all got wrong, she says. "I have been portraying different role in every film. Just because of Rangeela and Daud, it can't be said that I am a sex symbol."

But she is deemed hot property in the industry and beyond. Isn't she at least partly responsible for the image she's got?

"It was no conscious attempt to shock. And images don't really matter. What I did in Ram Gopal's films was very relevant in the context of the films, and the films demanded such exposure. It is not what one would dismiss as a publicity stunt. Please don't mistake it for a cheap gimmick," she says.

Click for bigger pic!
Urmila, of course, follows precedent in every way, even giving the standard excuse other starlets give for it.

"There is a big difference between the role I played in Judaai and the one I played in Mere Sapnon Ki Rani or, for that matter, in Daud and Aflatoon. The fact that I did a few sensuous scenes were exploited by many people, including the distributors of my old films." They ran re-runs of the old films with the Rangeela pics on their posters. "It was sad that many people came to the theatres looking for a sexy Urmi in the film." Must have been most frustrating for them.

"The media too has blown up the issue of me being a sex kitten. Moreover, many of these film magazines have portrayed me so." They did not give the true picture while thus typecasting her, she says.

She first drew some attention with her role in N Chandra's Narsimha. "People started referring to me as the Narsimha girl," she says, adding that she had some trouble then, during the climax of the film. "I had to act and dance in front of Sunny, Om Puri, Dimple Kapadia, and I was sooo scared. I never had any tension in my first innings (Masoom). But my second one caused me a lot of anxiety."

With Sanjay Dutt in Daud. Click for bigger pic!
She was still acting in Aa Gale Lag Ja when she got a role in Chanakyan with Kamal Hasan. "Kamal told the film-makers that he wanted someone who looked like me. They asked him why not Urmi herself?" Kamal Hasan could think of no suitable argument and there was Urmila, acting opposite him. She almost muffed it up, though.

"I went to meet the film-makers. One of them put out his hand to direct me to a chair. I mistook that for a hand shake and put my hand out too. By then, he'd taken back his hand. He put forth his hand again but then I'd already withdrawn my hand. The handshake never happened." The role did and it was a great one at that, she says.

"It was a great experience working with Kamal. He is very organised, and that was why I did a small role in Hindustani. Because it was a good experience."

A few more films followed in the south, including Drohi which was also remade into Hindi. The films by Ram Gopal Varma starring her and Nagarjuna swept the state awards in Andhra Pradesh. But in Bollywood, critics shook their wise heads, she didn't have an earthly.

In Ram Gopal Verma's Satya. Click for bigger pic!
"I was happy that the masses in the south had accepted me, but then I felt that the Hindi audiences also should." And then came Rangeela, also by Ram Gopal Verma.

"Rangeela was a very wonderful film, a great experience. The music by A R Rahman, the direction, coupled with the technical expertise of Ram Gopal Verma and the acting abilities of all the artists were all useful."

Urmila hugely enjoyed working with stars of the calibre of Aamir Khan and Jackie Shroff.

"Jackie is a very spontaneous actor, and a great person. Aamir is a calculated, intelligent and rehearsed actor... His dialogues are pre-planned and they come out only after a scheduled amount of rehearsals. Aamir is more calm and silent. Both had different kinds of roles and their personalities also differed."

Urmi is all praises for Ram Gopal Verma, who she has been very closely associated with. "He is technically excellent. People have written a lot about his technical excellence which is only seen to be believed." Her voice becomes a little strident in her excitement.

"Rangeela and Daud are both exciting films. The songs, the music, the dances, they all blend so well..." And the oft raised issue of exposure?

"It is just part of the whole show. Don't view the scenes individually and start judging them. Look at the film in totality," she says earnestly. "That will give you the right picture. Rangeela and Daud, in its entirety, do not show me exposing. I have shown my body as long as I have felt comfortable doing a particular scene."

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Mystifying, that explanation, but somehow still gives us the feeling of deja vu. Urmila continues: "I do not decide whether to expose 10 grams or twenty kilos. So, I cannot tell you what my limit will be or how much I shall feel comfortable. But yes, when I feel odd, I shall not do something. The exposure in Rangeela and Daud was only to add impact to the scenes; it was to help the films. But people who go to the theatre will judge the overall performance of the actress rather than in any particular scene. People who've seen the rushes have told me that it has not been vulgar at all. What more can I ask for?" What more can we ask?

After Rangeela came Shankar's bilingual Indian aka Hindustani starring Manisha Koirala, Kamal Hasan and herself. "It was a very costly film. Probably the costliest film down south, with its budget running to Rs 100 million." One song she did, along with 25 top models drawn from across India, itself cost Rs 9 million.

"Our Hindi film-makers have made eight versions of Rahman's original composition of that song," she grins. The film was a hit and Urmila profited.

Big banners matter to her less now. Or why would she opt out of Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai, a role Karisma Kapoor eventually took on? That, she says, "was due to a mutual understanding." Regrettable and, no doubt, regretted.

It is difficult to believe that this assured and already hardening woman was once a girl whom Shekhar Kapur couldn't pin down during the shoot of Masoom because she was running all over the place, playing games. She smiles, pleasant memories rekindled.

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"Masoom was like a picnic for all of us. We kids just wanted to have fun acting in the film. We never realised when the film was completed. When we did, we realised the party was over."

Earlier Urmila had done a small role in a Marathi film and, later, in a television serial called Titliyan.

"I was supposed to die in the second episode. But the makers liked the way I acted. My role was extended and went on and on. I never died in the serial finally." She bursts into laughter.

We turn to the future, to her role in Ram Gopal's next film, Satya. And you can hear the door of her shell shutting with an echoing clang.

"Satya's about the underworld. I don't want to talk much about the film because I do not know if my director wants me to talk about it," she says uncomfortably. A long silence follows. You hastily download your next question, about the other films she has on hand. And Urmila becomes animated again, discussing Raj Sippy's Kudrat with Akshaye Khanna that she's signed. on in the first flush of Rangeela's success. And then, of course, there is Sanjay Chhel's Khoobsoorat. "Chhel is a good writer. It is fun working in a film with him. I play a complex character," she says, not elaborating.

Besides, there is Chota Chetan, Mahesh Manjrekar's Vastav with Sanjay Dutt, Janam Samjha Karo with Salman Khan, London with Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol...

We came away from the interview feeling very good. Great woman, great attitude, and, boy, what a great body!

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