'I am far better at cooking than I was at acting.'
"I've cut out all negativity from my life," Rati Agnihotri tells Subhash K Jha.
"I only hang around with the people I am comfortable with. I have always had a select few friends. My best friend Shaila has been with me for decades. She lives in Chennai and we often chill out at her place. I was never a party-going type, not that I am uncomfortable with crowds."
"Ask me to entertain 3,000 people from a stage, and I'll do it happily. Ask me to stand in a circle with six people with a glass in my hand, and I'd rather be home with my dog," says the actress, who has given many hits, right from her debut film, K Balachander's Ek Duuje Ke Liye.
"Actually, I did one Tamil film before Ek Duuje Ke Liye," Rati corrects me.
"It was directed by the great Bharathi Raja. I didn't know the Tamil language. I didn't know anything about acting. There were no actors in my family before me. I was only 15 when I signed Ek Duuje Ke Liye. Before that, I was modelling from the age of five."
"Just how the offer to do Ek Duuje Ke Liye came to me remains a mystery. All I know is that the great producer-film-maker L V Prasad saw me and offered the film to me. From then on, it was a whirlwind for the next 10 years. I did films with the biggest of directors and biggest of heroes."
Rati feels today's generation of actors has it much tougher.
"Stardom was offered to me on a platter. My son Tanuj, who is my best friend after my father, had to go through a longish period of rejection. Now I'm happy to see him doing so well in his career."
Rati recently returned to India; she was in Poland for 19 months.
"I was stuck there because of COVID. At first, I couldn't travel because my dog was not allowed. Then all the borders were sealed. I normally travel back from Poland to India from Berlin which I couldn't do. I returned just a few weeks ago, in time for my son's birthday. He's here with me for my 60th birthday."
"I was in Poland with my sister Anita. We co-own a chain of restaurants there. She looks after the accounts, I take care of the recipes. If I may say so myself, I'm a very good cook. In fact, I am far better at cooking than I was at acting. All the recipes in our restaurants are mine, and the chefs are not allowed to deviate from my recipes by even a fraction."
Why did Rati give it all up so soon?
"It wasn't soon at all. You see, I started working at 15. I got married at 23. We Agnihotris are very conservative in certain things, like marriage. My father Roop Agnihotri, though liberal enough to allow me to work, wanted me to get married when I was 23. As far as I was concerned, it was the right age."
"While my career lasted, I worked with all the heroes spanning generations. From Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) in Coolie to Sanjay Dutt in Johnny I Love You, I worked with them all."
"I did two films with Shashi Kapoor as well as with his nephew Rishi Kapoor. For six years, I was in and out of studios, never late for any shooting. That was because my father managed my film career so well."
Any favourite films from her repertoire?
"I loved them all. If I got to do an author-backed role in B R Chopra's Tawaif, I also enjoyed the singing and dancing in Johnny I Love You and John Jani Janardhan. I loved the Bengali brigade -- Basu Chatterjee gave me such lovely roles in Shubh Kamna and Shaukeen -- and I loved the Punjabi brigade: the Chopras, who cast me in my big hits."
Her father was the pivot of Rati's life.
"He was not just my father but also my best friend. My mother and I were totally dependent on him. When he died suddenly at a young age, we were bereft. I was shattered. I knew nothing about the world outside the one my father had built for me."
"My wedding was three weeks away when my father left us. We thought of cancelling it, but my bua, who is like a mother figure to the entire Agnihotri family, commanded us to go ahead. We had a very small ceremony and a modest reception for my husband Anil's friends."
After her marriage, Rati never looked back, until her second innings.
"I did work again from 2001, and I enjoyed that phase as well. Now, I am done with acting. I spend time with my son, my dog, with my sister Anita in Poland. It's yoga in the morning. I have put on weight after menopause but not because I don't look after myself. It's a hormonal issue. I am happy with my extra weight. There's more of me to love."
Does Rati miss the limelight?
"Not at all. When I was working, I never bothered with my image. There was no social media. Journalists would come on the sets, have lunch with us, interact directly and report that I was Ms Professional or whatever. Back then, stars were projected as more human in the media. Today, it's all about the image. That isn't real, and so not good."
"No, I don't miss the limelight. I am a very switch-on-switch-off person. When I was acting, I gave all of myself. Now when I don't act, I don't think about it."
It's time to finally clear the air that plagued Rati Agnihotri's career. Is it true that Kamal Haasan and she were not on talking terms during the making of Ek Duuje Ke Liye?
Rati takes a deep breath and answers: "I know this rumour has remained alive all these years. I don't know what Kamal has to say about it, but I am clarifying that there was no problem between us."
"Maybe I was seen to be aloof and haughty because I stuck very close to my producer L V Prasadji. He was an institution -- though at that time I didn't know anybody in the film industry to know his worth -- and I'd do exactly what he said."
"I was petrified of the Ek Duuje Ke Liye director K Balachander maybe because of his big eyes. When I look back now, I realise how blessed I was to have worked with such stalwarts in my first Hindi film."