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June 4, 1997


"I don't suck up to people"

In the recent past, there was little of Raveena Tandon to be seen. Her contemporaries, the Urmilas, the Manishas, the Karishmas all were in the news; she wasn't. But then grit always tells. And with Ziddi, her latest film with Sunny Deol, running to packed houses, she's made her point. Again.

Everyone is raving about Tandon's new look. She also has films like Dus, Mutafa, Aunty and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan lined up, opposite heavy-weights like Nana Patekar, Sunjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar and Govinda. Raveena promises to give the competition a run for its money. Here we have Asad Ahmed in conversation with the star.

Did she really plan this ravishing new Raveena persona?

Yeah, everybody has been complimenting me on my new look. But it hasn't been a conscious effort. I'm still the same. I guess everyone thinks that this is such a major change because I haven't had a release for two years. So people are noticing the difference.

Any particular reason for the break?

No, it was quite unplanned. I was doing 4-5 shifts everyday and getting nowhere. I was fed up of the usual song-n-dance routine. I wanted to do something substantial, something which gave me more scope to prove my talent as an actress. I had signed a lot of films, but I gave them up and also decided not to sign any new films.

Then unfortunately my marriage rumours with Akshay erupted and threw everything out of gear. Suddenly my life was not in my control. Producers thought I was getting married and they panicked. They were scared to sign me. I had to fight all that, give major denials. Today producers have realised that I'm committed to my work and I've taken off again. I have some very good films on hand and I'm hoping for better ones to come along.

You blame your present predicament on the marriage rumours. But you yourself added fuel to the fire by signing films only with boyfriend Akshay Kumar. In fact, producers became wary because of this...

That's not true. We'd signed all those films much before we started going around. After the success of Mohra, people started casting us together. We started seeing each other after a year of Mohra's release. In fact, since we've started going out we haven't signed a single film together. Barood gets over now and after this Akshay and I have no films together. Keemat, Daava, Barood, all are over, and we just have one more film together -- Vidroh . That too we'd signed much before we started seeing each other. I can't be blamed if people come to their own conclusions.

It's not going to be easy to make up for the lost time and catch up with the Manishas and Karishmas.

There's nothing to catch up. I've been lucky that for two years I haven't a release and these girls have had 20 between them, and I'm yet counted in this lot. God has been good to me.

And why should I compare myself to anyone else? Everyone is good in their own way. Each one has a different identity. See I'm not pushy. I don't suck up to people for professional gain. Also I don't believe in the numbers game. The position changes Friday to Friday. Earlier a Sridevi or a Madhuri could hold on to the coveted position, it's not so now. I've been around for five years and I've had a steady growth. Heroines may have reached No 1 and gone to No 10 but my graph has been steadily on the rise.

Two years! Tell me which other heroine, who hasn't had a release, would be still remembered by the public? I'm lucky that even the media has stood by me, y'know, in the sense that I've never faded out. I don't want to reach the top in a flash and then slide down. I'd rather climb slowly and steadily.

Unlike other heroines you seem quite content with what you have. You lack the drive, the burning desire to be the best.

One feels that because I don't tom-tom about myself or my work. I let my work speak for me. If there wasn't a burning ambition in me I would have vanished from the scene a long time ago. I don't believe in bragging and then falling on my face. Today Karisma, Manisha, Kajol and Tabu are seeing a good time.

When I had Dilwale, Mohra, Laadla, Andaz Apna Apna, which other heroine was as successful, tell me? I was the only successful heroine around. When I started off, I joined this line as a hobby. That changed a long time ago. Today I'm careful about how I look, select my roles with care... Yes I don't have the killer instinct to get to the top by hook or by crook. I can't be manipulative or harm somebody else for personal gain.

Is that the only way to reach the top?

Yeah, I have seen actors manipulate and reach where they are today. I won't name the heroine, but because she was insecure she had me removed from four films. As a matter of fact, I was to do one of the films with her. She was closer to the producer and the hero apparently. So these things do happen, but I'm not into playing these sort of games.

If the producer was friendly to her, he should have signed her in the first place.

No, no, they signed her also. There were two of us in the film. Arre kissika koi boyfriend hua, and he puts down the condition that if you work with so and so, you never speak to me again... Never see me again...

Why didn't you speak out and expose the heroine?

Because I'm not made that way. If someone is brash and impulsive, and so desperate, what can one do? I believe in nature's justice. What comes around goes around. I'm also here, she's also here, time will tell as to who did what and who did not. I know good always wins, life has shown me that. You do lose faith when you're down and out but then reality strikes and you see what's happening to the other person... Ultimately, the mask does fall, and the person gets exposed.

You might not want to name her, but everyone knows that the heroine in question is Karishma Kapoor. It's no secret that there's no love lost between you two. Recently at Shah Rukh Khan's Holi bash when photographers asked you and Urmila to pose with Karishma, you'd agreed heartily but when they asked her she flatly refused.

It doesn't make me a superstar if I pose with a Karishma Kapoor today. She doesn't feature in my life in any which way. I'm a professional, I don't care. I would pose with a broomstick if need be. I'm only bothered with my work. What happens personally doesn't and shouldn't affect a professional relationship.

Life is too short to have these petty squabbles. I don't want to waste my time thinking about such things. Everybody has hassles but one should try and resolve them. If things can be resolved without any tension life would be so much more easier. Why have problems, why?

Karishma and I are not the best of friends. Ditto with Ajay. We've patched up and we're not at war. Till date I haven't abused them. Because their lives don't affect me in the least. Professionally I'm ready to work with Ajay or Karishma. Where work is concerned I don't bother about these stupid ego problems.

If that is so, you shouldn't have a problem working with Rekha too. But you were quite cheesed off when she stole the show from right under your nose in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi. In fact rumours of Rekha and Akshay's alleged affair also soured things.

I don't want to say too much on the subject. I don't think Akshay ever had anything to do with Rekha. As a matter of fact, he would run away from her. Akshay tolerated Rekha because of the film. At one point she wanted to get lunch dabbas for him from home. That's when I put my foot down. I felt it was taking things a bit too far. She's a wonderful person, but she should learn where to draw the line.

Your long-standing enmity with Ajay Devgun doesn't look like getting resolved. Both of you take potshots at each other at every given opportunity. Even though you are willing, Ajay still maintains that he doesn't want to work with you.

I don't have a problem with Ajay because he is not so important in my life. I don't even think about it. I'm too content with my life. Probably he is unhappy to yet talk about me this way. I'm significant in his life somewhere that he yet holds a grudge. It doesn't make any difference to me. I can work with anybody. I'm not insecure, I have confidence in myself.

Have you always been like this?

No, no, till my first year of college I was a very complex, insecure person. I was fat and ugly. In school I was disgustingly obese. I used to be the butt of ridicule and that made me withdraw into a shell. It made me miserable, unsure of myself. I was far from confident.

How did it change?

Well, I had this major crush on a guy in college. He was one of my brother's friends. One day he walked into the house, pulled my pigtails and said motti. My world came crashing down. I swore to myself that come what may, I'd have that man at my feet. And that was the day I started losing weight.

Throughout school I've faced ridicule and been complexed about my appearance. I almost turned into a nervous wreck. Peer pressure is bad. Children can be really cruel. Specially if you're not like everyone else.

I still remember the way children used to tease me. Fat people are really lonely people. In school girls would be my friends but guys would generally keep away. A lot of insecurity stems from there. But if you have a strong base nothing can shake you.

When I came into the industry, I was still very complexed. I was very broad shouldered, I remember, and not open to jokes. Because I was so conscious of myself. In fact, sometimes when Salman would joke with me, I would misunderstand him. So initially I started withdrawing into a shell. This was misunderstood and everyone thought I was too arrogant. It wasn't so, I was just insecure about myself. I wanted to scream, 'I'm not like that.'

I'm a friendly person but I'm conscious if people may fun of me. Then I went through this phase of this one particular heroine making fun of me. Then being dropped out of movies and my war with a certain co-star. I was majorly misunderstood. I went into a deeper shell. However I handled it. I surfaced. I'm a survivor.

No doubt, she is. However somewhere along the way Tandon lost her way. Her efforts to explain away her professional predicament on manipulative women and rumours of marriage may not hold water, especially since it was those very rumours that kept her in the news when her films didn't.

Tandon hates to predict her own professional future not because she "hates to brag", but because she might "fall flat on her face." Not virtue but insecurity. The fat, complexed girl still roams within that head. And once Tandon destroys that internal child she may start believing in herself. And, maybe, bring the world, like that cruel early object of admiration, down to its feet.