« Back to articlePrint this article

'Films offer you life lessons'

February 21, 2024 14:26 IST

'If someone were to ask you if you want to die tomorrow, no matter what problems you are grappling with, you would be hesitant, right?'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Rohini Hattangady/Instagram

Rohini Hattangady is a National Award winner, winner of two Filmfare Awards. She is the only Indian to have won a BAFTA (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) for her performance as Kasturba Gandhi in Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi.

Last year, the actress who has over 160 films to her credit and has done her share of TV, besides winning the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for her contributions to theatre, featured in the highest grossing female-centric Marathi film, Baipan Bhari Deva.

On February 23, she has another Marathi film coming up, Aata Vel Zaali (It's Time To Go), with Dilip Prabhavalkar, which revolves around a couple's plea for euthanasia so they can choose to die with dignity.

Speaking to Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, she says, "It's a difficult decision and requires total conviction. It's easier for those who have no children, family or any other ties... or for those who believe their worth in this world is over, that merely existing and not living is a waste of time, money and a burden on caregivers. But when there's a family involved, it's a dilemma. I believe as long as life has a purpose, you should go on."

In Richard Attenborough's centenary year, what do you remember of Gandhi in which you played Kasturba?

I was just 27 then.

Gandhi was my fourth release, after Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyin Hota Hai and Chakra.

The offer came out of the blue, on July 14, 1980.

Seven days later, I flew to London to audition for the role.

I was selected and we started shooting in 1980.

I had done my schooling in Marathi medium in my hometown, Pune.

In college, being a science student, I was happy if I scored 40-50 marks in English.

I could speak English, but my pronunciation was different.

Gandhi, being an Indo-British co-production, the first thing I had to do was correct my Ts and Ds, my Vs and Ws.

I also learnt the charkha along with Ben (Kingsley who played Gandhi) who had to spend hours in make-up and work on his posture.

(Laughs) While I was in my elocution classes, Ben would be doing yoga.


IMAGE: Ben Kingsley and Rohini Hattangady in Gandhi.

What was Richard Attenborough like as a director?

Well, he knew everything there was to know about Gandhiji, but at the same time, he was open to suggestions.

I remember there was this one scene in which Gandhiji is sitting on the jhoola (swing) having his meal while is listening to someone talk about Champaran.

Sir Richard wanted me in the frame too, but couldn't figure how I could overhear the conversation without listening at the door.

I suggested I could be rolling out chapatis in the kitchen since in India, we serve hot chapatis during a meal. This way, it would seem natural for me to listen in.

He liked the idea and executed it perfectly.

Gandhi won eight Oscars, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor. Why weren't you present at the ceremony?

The film got 11 nominations, but missed out on Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Since I wasn't nominated, they weren't going to pay my travel and hotel expenses, and I couldn't afford to fly out on my own to the US.

I did go to the UK when I was nominated for the BAFTAs and eventually won the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, along with Maureen Stapleton for Reds.

Before the ceremony, Sir Richard had asked me to prepare a speech, just in case I won.

(Smiles) I can't remember what I said, but I thanked him, Ben, the producer and said I'm proud of my country.

IMAGE: Deepa Parab, Sukanya Kulkarni Mone, Suchitra Bandekar, Vandana Gupte, Rohini Hattangady and Shilpa Navlkar in Baipan Bhari Deva.

More recently, you featured in the highest grossing Marathi film of 2023, Baipan Bhari Deva. What was the experience like shooting for this film?


All the actresses (Vandana Gupte, Sukanya Kulkarni, Shilpa Navalkar, Suchitra Bandekar and Deepa Parab) are friends from theatre.

We've seen each other's work, but had never worked together.

(Chuckles) The shoot was great fun, it was a task for the director (Kedar Shinde) to get us out of our vanity vans. But once we were on the set, filming progressed smoothly.

Kedar often left it to us to do the scenes our way, telling us that since we knew our characters, we should react accordingly, without thinking too much.

All the sisters are middle-aged, the youngest being around 40-45 years, and grappling with problems ranging from EMIs to menopause and philandering husbands.

I play Jaya, the eldest, and there's a history of resentment between Shashi and me, and things turn ugly over her daughter, Chinu.

It's a beautiful film which will appeal to women of all ages and can now be watched on OTT.

IMAGE: Rohini Hattangady and Dilip Prabhavalkar in Aata Vel Zaali.

There's another Marathi film releasing on February 23, Aata Vel Zaali, with Dilip Prabhavalkar, which touches on the subject of euthanasia in a revolutionary way.

Ananth (Ananth Narayan Mahadevan who has written, directed and co-produced the film) and I are both from theatre.

We have done a play together and since then, have wanted to work together.

When he came to me with this idea, I thought it was very interesting, having read of a Pune couple whose story was somewhat similar. I said yes immediately.

It revolves around an elderly couple who are in perfect health, but when they start to feel they are simply existing and not living, that their lives have become unproductive, they take it as a signal to make a dignified exit.

But according to the Supreme Court's March 2018 judgment, active euthanasia (injecting a person with a lethal dose of a drug) is illegal while passive euthanasia (withdrawal of food and treatment which helps a person to live) is permitted only under the supervision of the high court and with the consent of the patient who must be in a vegetative state through any living will.

It's complicated.

Euthanasia is a boon for those with a debilitating disability or whose body is starting to fail them, making them completely dependent on others.

But it can also be misused by others too.

It's easier for those who have no children, family or any other ties, or for those who believe their worth in this world is over and living is a waste of time, money and a burden on caregivers.

It's a difficult decision and requires conviction.

If someone were to ask you if you want to die tomorrow, no matter what problems you are grappling with, you would be hesitant, right?

When there's family involved, it's a dilemma.

IMAGE: Rohini during her wedding with Jaydev Hattangady, her mother-in-law standing behind them. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rohini Hattangady/Instagram

You lost your mother-in-law to cancer...

Yes, she lived with us and I would go for shoots peacefully knowing she was there to ensure my young son Aseem had his meals, went to school on time and even kept an eye on him even when he was playing.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, it came as a real shock to (husband) Jayadev and me.

We got her the best possible treatment, but she did not respond to chemotherapy, and succumbed to the disease within a year.

After her demise, life changed for both of us.

My son was just six at the time and we decided that at any given time, one of us would be home with him.

This meant a lot of adjustments.

Sometimes our dates didn't match and I had to let go off offers.

Ditto for him.

My mother-in-law passed away in 1988. Twenty years later, in 2008, Jayadev succumbed to cancer after fighting for a year.

How difficult was that period for you?

Very difficult. I wanted to quit and spend time with him, but we needed the money.

Aseem had just graduated from FTII and offered to stay home and look after his father.

For a year, he did not go for any auditions or accept any offers.

It was a brave decision for an actor who was just starting out, but it's thanks to my son that I could go out and work.

My producers were considerate and agreed to my coming a little late.

I could also leave early, so I could be home and have time to chat with Jayadev.

After his father passed away, Aseem started his career from scratch, with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's My Friend Pinto in 2011.

He's done well. He got rave reviews for his portrayal of Illyas Khan in the Web series The Trial, featuring Kajol.

There was a more subdued role in another Web series, Hansal Mehta's Scoop.

I also continued working.

Jayadev was our sounding board, suddenly, there was no one.

But one learns to adjust.

Life goes on.

IMAGE: Anupam Kher, Rohini Hattangady and Soni Razdan in Saraansh.

Like Kasturba, a role that is instantly associated with you even after 40 years, is that of Parvati in Mahesh Bhatt's Saraansh. It must have been a challenge playing another elderly woman when you were in your early 30s.

(Smiles) Having played an 80 year old in a play when in college and mother to Dharmendraji in commercial Hindi cinema, that was not the real challenge.

What intrigued me was the story of an elderly couple struggling to come to terms with the death of their only son in a mugging incident in the US.

Initially, it's her husband (B V Pradhan, played by Anupam Kher) who finds it hard to accept that Ajay is dead and Parvati tries to motivate him.

For him, life is suddenly futile and meaningless.

After a failed suicide attempt, he convinces Parvati that they should end their lives by consuming poison together.

But then a pregnant girl, Sujata, whose boyfriend is afraid to publicly acknowledge her, and whose politician father is determined to abort the baby, enters their home.

Pradhan finds purpose in life again, determined to keep Sujata and the baby safe despite the threats, while Parvati eagerly waits for the child, believing a reincarnated Ajay will return to them.

When her husband sends Sujata and her boyfriend away to another town where they can be happy and safe from his father, Parvati is devastated.

Now, life seems meaningless for her and she attempts suicide.

She is saved and now it is Pradhan who explains to her that life hasn't ended.

As long as they live, they have to carry on, give it some purpose.

Films like Saraansh and Aata Vel Zaali offer you life lessons too.