Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai
Choreographer-turned-director Farah Khan has made a lot of stars dance to her tune in the last two decades. But this time, it's her turn as she makes her acting debut in Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi.
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali's sister Bela Seghal, who makes her debut here, Khan romances Boman Irani in a rather unusual story about a 40-year-old couple.
Khan says her brother Sajid Khan and her mother thought she was joking when she told them she was going to act in a movie and only husband Shirish Kunder stood by her.
In this interview with Sonil Dedhia, Khan talks about the challenges of facing the camera for the first time, working under a debutant director, and how the mother of three juggles her busy life.
A choreographer, a director, and now an actor, what do you have to say about your journey in the film industry?
Isn't it amazing that a 47-year-old mother of three is making a debut as an actor, that too as a lead?
If you get a chance to do something in life, you should do it and not bother that people will make fun of you.
One should try new things in life. If somebody is making a movie where the hero or heroine is 40-plus and it's a romantic comedy and people actually want to go see the film, there's nothing better than that.
'I still haven't signed any contract for the film'
What was your first reaction when Bela Sehgal approached you?
At first, I thought both Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) and Bela were pulling my leg, and the moment I said yes, they would come out with their joke.
I thought they had approached me to choreograph a song. I never thought in my weirdest dreams that they would offer me a role.
I said I would think about it. I consulted my husband Shirish (Kunder), who very sweetly told me that the role was first offered to Adnan Sami and since he has lost weight, they have now come to you! (laughs).
Jokes apart, he encouraged me that if it's a good role and you should do it. He also believed that it will be an added feather in my cap.
When I read the script, I called Sanjay and said 'you really need a good actress for this script'. What you see in the promo is comedy but in the film there are lots of emotions and a lot of crying scenes. I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it.
I think they tried hard to convince me because I was coming for free (laughs).
Later I met Boman Irani and we did a few readings. You won't believe it, but I still haven't signed any contract. Sanjay and I haven't signed any legal contract.
What was that thing that prompted you to take up this film?
When I read the script, I found it very sweet though I didn't think I would be able to do the acting.
Some scenes were very much like me, a little feisty and all, but some others were so not me.
Secondly, my husband really encouraged me. One of the reasons was also Boman Irani as we share a great comfort level.
The film was produced by Sanjay so I was sure that it would be aesthetically done instead of being a tacky, cheap film. It also happens to be Bela's passion project.
So I thought let's give it a shot, who gets a chance such as this otherwise? It's still surreal for me.
'I was at my fattest during the shooting of the film'
What were the challenges that you came across?
There were a lot of challenges. To look like Shirin was completely out of my comfort zone. I was at my fattest during the shooting of the film and nobody asked me to lose weight. When I started shooting for the film, I was 82 kilos. I didn't think it was important for the film for me to look glamorous. The character was a little roly-poly.
I had to wear Parsi clothes and to completely not do what I do usually, like talk in a Bombaiya language. And it's very tiring to get made up every day, do your hair, wear heels, costume, wear fake nails etc. They used to stick fake nails with Fevicol and while trying to remove them my skin would peel off (laughs).
Though I am half Parsi, I don't know how to speak the language and didn't want to make it a caricature. Moreover, I really didn't want to "act"; I wanted it to be as natural as possible.
You think the movie was written for you?
Sanjay knows my back-story because we have been friends for 20 years now. So a lot of my personal incidents like stories of me with my grandmother are also in the film.
They did say it was written for me. But there are a lot of things that are not me at all.
'A lot of people want to get attention but they don't get it'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
You seem to have made up with Sanjay Leela Bhansali after your public fight?
We are all in the film line and since the media is so intrusive, everything you say can get misquoted. Anything you do becomes big. At times, we too end up thinking it's big.
Everybody goes through fights. But if you realise what went wrong and have the love and affection and you come back, then there's nothing bigger than that.
I don't understand why do people criticise the coming back together. Just recently, Shirish had tweeted something randomly and people wrote against it saying he said something wrong about my film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. How can he do that?
Then they said Shirish didn't come for the music launch of my film. Boman's wife also didn't come.
Shah Rukh Khan and you are in the limelight a lot.
I want to take that positively. A lot of people want to get attention but they don't get it. And we are getting too much attention for the smallest of things. So it's fine.
Didn't you feel awkward being directed by someone else?
Yes, the first two days I did feel why are things the way they are. But then I realised that if I was a director and if an actor went on thinking this, I would get very annoyed.
I also realised that Bela is a first time director. I have already made three films. I always gave her respect, and I would always ask her what I should do.
All my assistants came to choreograph my song but not once did I meddle.
'Sajid made Boman and me the butt of all his jokes'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
You mentioned that your mother wasn't encouraging.
Not at all.
Nor was your brother Sajid Khan?
Sajid had not only given me a long lecture against it, but he also made Boman and me the butt of all his jokes.
We were shooting for his film Housefull 2 when the announcement of Shirin Farhad... was made. He used to make us stand there and laugh it off in front of everybody.
He would say it's crossover cinema. You will watch the film in one theatre and cross over to the other to watch some other film.
Did you worry that people would make fun of you?
Yes, that was the first thought that crossed my mind. But if I want to do something different, which isn't in my comfort zone, everyone will laugh at me.
And I have a range of people -- Karan Johar, Sajid, my mother, Sajid Nadiadwala -- and let me tell you, they must have all laughed too.
Very few people who complimented me. Simi Garewal called me and praised me saying that I will sweep the debut award next year.
Has the perception changed?
Yes, after the promo released, everybody has been calling me. Karan said, "Meri heroine ka debut award jaane wala hai."
Sajid also said the promo is very good. I asked him whether he saw it and he sheepishly said no.
'My son would get a bit psyched watching me wear skirts and dance'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
What has been the reaction of your kids?
My kids are too small to react. But my son would get a bit psyched watching me wear skirts and dance. He wanted his same old shabby looking mother. The girls were very excited.
Shirish encouraged me a lot. But I don't know whether he is ready to see the movie because he isn't one of those husbands who will enjoy watching his wife hold someone else's hand. I am not going to push him for it.
There are rumours that you wanted to delete the kissing scene in the film.
It was in the script. But the day I went on board, I said this has to get off the script. I cannot do kissing scenes on screen. I didn't want to have arguments on the sets later on. So they removed it.
But as a director, how do you handle the reservations of your actresses then?
If you aren't comfortable with something, you should say it at the start. If it's really important for my movie, I will look for another actress. But if it isn't, then I will remove it. I think it's better to be open at the start than have negative energy on the sets.
How do you manage work and personal life?
After this interview, I am going to go home and take them to a birthday party. This is my time management.
The thing is, I spend most of the time with kids, almost 65-70 per cent of my time is spent with the kids. The rest of the time I will either direct a movie or choreograph a song.
But when I was acting, I didn't do anything. So I do only one thing at a time because I give a lot of time to my kids.
'We might not get permission to show Joker to Sunita Williams'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
There is a lot of curiosity around your husband's film Joker.
We are doing very out-of-the-box promotions. It's a very different kind of movie and we didn't want to follow the regular procedure of promotions.
Sadly, both movies are coming out within one week of each other. Maybe August is a lucky month.
There are rumours that you are trying to show Joker to astronaut Sunita Williams. Is that true?
Yes, we are trying to but I don't think we are going to get permission. There is a lot of red tape involved in that. UTV has been trying to get this through because the film is about UFOs and aliens etc. They want to beam it up in space but you've got to take permission one year in advance, so the process is still on.
Are you signing Parineeti or Sonakshi for Happy New Year?
I meet Sonakshi regularly. She is beautiful and a lovely girl but we haven't yet taken a call.
Shah Rukh Khan has just come back from London. So we really need to sit and figure out who is right for that role.