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April 12, 2000


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'I don't think one ever stops struggling'

Soni Razdan Soni Razdan is one actress who definitely does not believe in the 'one thing at a time' philosophy.

She's on television, on stage, in the movies... all at the same time. And if that's not enough, she's now also writing and directing a film, based on Manju Kapoor's Difficult Daughters.

That's Soni in flesh and blood for you -- talented, energetic and still thirsting for more.

Aparajita Saha met up with the actress at her residence in Bombay's Juhu and found out about her passions, projects, zest for good work and life with Mahesh Bhatt. We present excerpts from the interview.

Why did you choose Manju Kapoor's Difficult Daughters in particular?

There are a number of reasons for deciding to adapt Difficult Daughters into a movie. First of all, I think it's a book that will translate well into a movie. The other reason is that it struck a chord with me. I particularly identified with the central character who falls in love with a married man because when I met Mahesh, he was married. What I find most fascinating about the book is its exploration of love at many levels. It delves into love at the family level, at the man-woman level and also seeks to find out the role society plays in relationships. The social fabric in any setup is such that no relationship remains unaffected or uninfluenced by it. I want to uncover these very facets, so Difficult Daughters it is.

How far has the movie reached?

The first draft is ready, but it's too soon to talk about the casting. Right now, I'm on the lookout for producers.

Why don't we see more of you these days?

For starters, I dislike being everywhere all the time. I'm alsoextremely selective about the kind of roles I do. I consciously try to avoid acting all the time. This leaves me free to do other things in life and also to take up projects that I'm really passionate about. Had I blocked my entire time in acting and then if something like Difficult Daughters happened, I'd never have had the time to take it up. The industry is like a factory, always churning out products. I know I'm a part of it, but I don't want to be in the assembly line all the time!

What are the professional standards that you've set for yourself?

I think the standards I've set for myself are very high, which is why I'm rarely satisfied with my performances. But there are performances that I'm happy about. For instance, I like the characters I'm portraying in the movie Such A Long Journey, in the serial Aur Phir Ek Din and the play Games People Play. Ideally, I love doing roles that have a certain complexity and depth in them.

Every person has a period of struggle in life. What has yours been like?

Soni Razdan Years ago, as a 16-year-old, I went to England to study drama. I didn't take any money from my parents and I had to work really hard through my summer holidays to pay for my classes. When I returned from England, I had to struggle with learning Hindi. I come from a family where Hindi isn't the mother-tongue, so learning the language and the diction was a tremendous challenge.

Actually, I don't think one ever stops struggling. I've never had it easy. There have been fortunate coincidences and instances, but nothing has fallen into my lap. Whatever I've achieved has always been through sheer hard work.

You've been around for a while -- any lessons learnt, any truths unearthed?

You never really stop learning. You have to experiment and reinvent life to sustain your interest. This is one profession where you're constantly called to question yourself on your reactions and responses. Each character compels you to ask what you would do in similar circumstances and you won't always like your responses. There is always some part of your character that you identify with, no matter who you're portraying. This honesty can be overwhelming at times.

Acting, according to me, gets better with time and age. The more experiences you have in life, the more you have seen, the better equipped you are to deal with complexity and bring out the depth in characters. The milestone in my career came after Such A Long Journey. There are times when after something happens, you just can't go back to what you were previously doing. You have to move on and better yourself. I realised that with Such A Long Journey. That was when I decided to go into production and Vinta Nanda and I started Aur Phir Ek Din.

What else did Such A Long Journey do for you?

An international film works for you at various levels. On one level, it changed my aspirations and what I wanted to do. It also changed the way people viewed me as an actress. Such A Long Journey opened up various avenues for me and provided me with many more options.

The movie will be shown in America, Canada and London. It is due for release in India as well, but is currently held up with the Censor Board.

The Censor Board seems to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. Would you like to comment on this?

Soni Razdan in Games People Play This issue is something I'm quite passionate about. Sixteen cuts are being proposed for Such A Long Journey. Asha Parekh has gone on record saying that every second sentence in the movie contains an abusive term. In this country, one cannot afford to talk about shocking sensibilities. We see terrible things, hear horrific news and witness shocking incidents in our lives and are immune to them. We are a de-sensitised people who live a lie every day. We look away from things that shame us and make us uncomfortable.

How can we possibly get shocked from what we see on screen? I'm not saying censorship should be completely done away with. What should be done is classification of movies. Slot them into categories like U, U/A, A, PG, X, etc and strictly enforce that. But one body cannot decide what is fit or unfit for viewers on behalf of the whole nation. No one should have the right to cut scenes from movies.

I hate to say it, but the attitude is one of complete immaturity. It is tragic to see irresponsible people in positions that require responsibility. There is too much political intervention in the functioning of the board.

We have a relatively free press, why shouldn't movies enjoy the same degree of independence? The argument that more people watch movies and get influenced by them doesn't stand. People now have access to satellite television and there's no restriction there. The government should wake up to these home truths and move with the times. Government interference in this medium should be restricted as far as possible.

What do you think the fate of Such A Long Journey will be?

I am quite optimistic that things will work out. The film is going to be viewed by the tribunal after which I hope it will be released soon.

Even after so many years, you have maintained strong ties with theatre. What are the reasons for this love affair?

Theatre is the medium I started out with. It's my roots. I think anyone who has had a taste of theatre longs to go back to it. It's the most challenging medium and requires you to be physically as well as mentally fit. Performing for over two hours continuously is tremendous exertion and you're emoting with your body, voice, face... everything. It's an intense medium and you're creating an instant bond with the audience. This direct interaction can be most exhilarating and electrifying. Theatre truly tests and rewards you as an actor.

How would you describe your association with television?

Television is what keeps me going. It's how I earn my livelihood and what I live off. I associate it with practicality. The best way I can put it, is that it's the cake I eat off!

And what about your ties with cinema?

Soni Razdan If television is the cake, then cinema is the icing on the cake! Unfortunately, the kind of cinema I long to do is not made in this country. I'd love to do roles that require the calibre of actresses like Meryl Streep ad Susan Sarandon. This is one medium where I feel totally unexploited when it comes to what I have got to offer.

Life with Mahesh Bhatt can never be unexciting -- what effect does it have on you? What have you learnt from him, personally and professionally?

(Laughs) Life with Mahesh is entertaining, to say the least! Never a dull moment. There is so much I've learnt from him -- some lessons that are intangible and some tangible. After all these years, it's impossible to pinpoint what it is that I've learnt from him. But I do know that he's influenced me tremendously. It's a process of osmosis and absorption.

I think one thing he's really taught me is practicality and common sense. He always tells me not to put off till tomorrow what I can do today. Another thing I've learnt from him is to be careful about what I want. He says that we inevitably get what we hanker after, so one always has to be careful about what one wants because you will end up getting it. These are some of the philosophies of life that he's passed on to me.

Professionally, Mahesh's most significant contribution has been the way he has de-mystified filmmaking to me. There are filmmakers who take great pains to mystify their art and puzzle others with it. It's almost as if they are trying to say that just about anyone who wants to do it cannot. You need to belong to a special class of people to be a part of the profession.

But the fact is filmmaking is like any other job. You have to do good work to be successful. Mahesh made me realise this. It's through him that I saw the kind of games people play in the industry and how the world of films is a mixture of symbiotic and exploitative relationships.

Tell us about your future projects and plans.

I will be writing the screenplay of and directing Difficult Daughters. I may decide to co-produce it as well. This project is a definite priority in my life.

On the theatre front, there's a very interesting play, Three Tall Women by Edward Albee, in the offing. It won the Pulitzer Prize and is about three women in different stages of life. The play has Lilette Dubey, Anahita Oberoi and myself.

Aur Phir Ek Din continues on television. I'm also producing a woman-based TV programme. The details are still being worked out. I enjoy producing as it gives me the freedom to do the kind of work I love. I enjoy writing as well, so who knows? I just might decide to become a writer! Writing gives you enormous creative satisfaction. I know I'm not a born writer, but it's there. This is one medium I haven't explored in depth. I want to write about things close to my heart and what I feel strongly about.

Do you have any dreams that are yet to be realised?

Soni Razdan and Vinay Jain in Games People Play I want to do good work… work that I can look back upon with pride. I've reached that point in life where I want to do what satisfies me. I want to work for myself and I don't want to do work just because I have to. When you're young, you don't have too many choices when it comes to the kind of work you do or the people you are working with. But as you get older, you don't want to compromise. You want to be within your comfort zone. I'm not saying that I don't want to work hard. I've always been hardworking. That's what has got me here. But what I mean is that I want to work hard and do good work.

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