Photographs: Gettyimages/Kristian Dowling Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai
Life is pretty hectic for Bollywood's original dreamgirl. Looking pretty in a golden sari, Hema Malini is juggling between attending guests and giving interviews for her upcoming film Tell Me O Kkhuda at her Mumbai residence.
When my turn comes, she asks me, "Do you think the promotions are enough?" I nod, but add, "Not as much as Ra.One." She smiles in agreement.
In this interview, the actress talks about getting back to direction after two decades, why she is not satisfied with her daughter Esha Deol's career and why she still calls Dharmendra the He-Man of Bollywood.
Why has there been a delay in releasing your film Tell Me O Kkhuda (TMOK)?
I was planning to release the film on September 30, but there were many films that released on that day. We have all put in a lot of effort in the film and I thought it was only fair to get a good result for the film.
'Tell Me O Khuda is a family film'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
But aren't you convinced about your film?
(Thinks) Yes, but you also require adequate number of cinema halls. It is necessary to get an adequate number of prints so that maximum people can watch the film.
The film is coming out at the same time as India's biggest film Ra.One. Are you nervous?
No, I am not. I don't expect to compete with Ra.One as it is a very big film, but that doesn't mean my film is small. TMOK is a family film and everyone would like to watch the film. I'll be very happy even if I get 50 to 65 per cent of the box-office opening that Ra.One gets.
Why did it take you 20 years to direct your second film?
After Dil Aashna Hai I became busy as my daughters Esha and Ahana were growing up and I had to look after them. I always wanted to make a film but I never thought I would direct a film. A lot of people suggested that I make a film with Esha, so I did.
'Esha shouldn't have done films like Shaadi No 1 and Darling'
TMOK looks very similar to Dil Aashna Hai...
A lot of people say it is similar, but it is completely different. People must watch the film before making comparisons. The script is very fresh and I can tell you that that is the film's strength. TMOK is about the very interesting journey of a girl in a different situation and different stories blend into one film.
The film has a lot of emotional depth and I am sure people will like it.
It is said that you are doing this film to salvage Esha's career.
I have always thought that Esha is a very fine actor but was not getting the right scripts. As you rightly said, her last commercial success was six years ago, but somewhere she did not select the right films. I don't think she should have done films like Shaadi No 1 and Darling and others that she did.
Also the issue was that nothing substantial was made or offered to Esha. I also believe that it is not in the hands of an actor to make a film work. Filmmaking is a gamble. I don't know if my film is going to be a big hit or it won't work. Everyone hopes for the best.
'Comparing Esha to me is not fair at all'
Was the film then made keeping Esha in mind?
Yes, this film is made keeping Esha in mind. I realised that I wanted to make a film with her and I started looking for a script. I had found a couple of scripts before I finalised TMOK.
Esha told me not to make a film as she thought filmmaking is very troublesome and needs a lot of time and effort. But I was adamant as I had the experience.
Are you happy with her career? Don't you think somewhere she has lost out to her contemporaries?
She has not got her due. She is a very fine actress and is very beautiful. She has got a lot of other talents that I cannot see in anyone else, not even in me. She could have gone further ahead than she has today. She should have been more professional in her approach to films.
People also compare her with me, which is not right. Just because her parents are so successful that doesn't give anyone the right to compare her with me. It is not fair at all.
'Mayur is a good director but he made a lot of changes in the script'
The film was earlier being directed by Mayur Puri. Why did you decide to direct it yourself eventually?
Mayur Puri has done a good job and he is a good director, but the issue was that he was not going with the script and tried to make a lot of changes to it.
There were a lot of creative differences and that's when I decided to step in as director. I had to look at a lot of different aspects of the film which also caused a little delay in the making of the film.
Will he be credited in the film?
No, he will not be credited for it. I had a terrible time once I decided to let him go. He had already shot some portion of the film so I had to keep something from it, reshoot certain scenes and mix both of them. I had to bring the script back on track and it has been a tiresome journey.
'Dharmendra was brought in when Amitabh refused to do the film'
Why did you first approach Amitabh Bachchan for a role in the film rather than Dharmendra?
Our previous director wanted to re-create the magic of Amar Akbar Anthony in TMOK. Since Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor were already a part of the film, he wanted Amitabh Bachchan on board, but Amitabh refused to do the film as he thought it would not do justice to a blockbuster film and was not comfortable doing it. We then decided to go with Dharmendra.
Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor have been your co-stars. How was the experience of directing them?
They have been my co-stars before and it is so wonderful to direct them. Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor and Farooq Shaikh have all been very co-operative and have played their parts very well. They have their individual stories and no one is competing against the other.
Since we know each other for so many years it was very comfortable for all of us and I can proudly say that it's been a great team effort to put this film together.
'Dharmendra wrote his own dialogues in the film'
Apart from acting in it, how has Dharmendra contributed to this film?
He was involved in the film right from the start. He kept a check on the progress of the film, listened to the script, and suggested necessary changes. When Amitabh refused to act in the film, I decided to cast him for one of the characters. On the sets too we were like a family.
Dharamji wrote his own dialogues and would be very particular about lights and Esha's looks. He is a living legend and it is always a pleasure to direct a person who has been directed by some of the finest directors in the industry.
He is a very emotional actor and is very obedient on the sets. He became so involved in his character that he would show a lot of sympathy which came out so naturally from him. He was very careful during the shooting and even while dubbing the scenes. He would ask so many questions before the shoot.
'Salman is a sweetheart'
You roped in Salman Khan for an item song in the film...
I have worked with him in Baghbaan and Babul and Esha has also done a film (No Entry) with him. He told me if you require any help from me do let me know.
In today's times I don't think anyone would offer such a kind gesture. I had completed the shooting of the film but my crew told me about this promotional song and I decided to take him in it. He is a very good friend of Esha's and immediately agreed to do it. He is a very fine actor and it was a very nice experience to work with him. He is a sweetheart.
What kind of relationship do you share with your daughters? Are you a strict mother or lenient?
I have always been strict with my daughters but since they have grown up, I have become a lot friendlier. We share a common passion of dancing and all three of us tour a lot with our dancing. I specialise in Bharatnatyam and Esha and Ahana perform Odissi. We also teach each other a lot of things and we share a lot with each other.
'Ahana is a fashion designer and is also writing some scripts'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
You have been in the industry for more than four decades. What kind of changes do you see?
The industry has changed a lot. A lot of new technology has made the job easier for directors but at the same time it has also added a lot of problems.
It is easy to correct a lot of things during post-production; earlier, we had no option but to do everything completely correctly. There are so many young and talented people who are ready to explore and make different kinds of films.
Your younger daughter Ahana is interested in direction, what is she learning from you?
Ahana does lots of things -- that's the problem with her! She is a fashion designer and is also writing some scripts. She doesn't want to do the regular commercial films.
So she has decided that only if she really likes something, then she will take it up.
'Dharamji is a very tough and handsome man'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
Which are your favourite Dharmendra films?
Dharamji is a very tough and handsome man. He is still the He-man of Bollywood and that's why I like him in Satyakam because his character was completely different than what he generally portrays on screen.
He was wearing a dhoti and kurta and was a very simple person. There is a black and white film, Baharein Phir Bhi Ayengi, made in 1966. That was the first Dharmendra film that I saw and I found him so handsome and very gentle (Smiles).
I loved the song Aapki Nighaon Ne. I like him in Chupke Chupke. I always watch it when it comes on television. He has a great sense of humour and great comic timing. But I like him more in serious roles. I like Sholay, I don't think I need to say that. Pratigya is one of his best films.
Recently I liked him in Apne. I just loved his performance and I am very proud of him.
I want to continue to make more films. I want to make a film or a show about classical dancing. Right now I am busy with the release of TMOK. I just hope that the maximum number of people watch the film and love it too.
There is talk that you plan to remake Razia Sultan.
No, nothing as of now. But if I plan to make a historic film, I would surely make Razia Sultan and would cast Esha in it(Smiles).