Rani Mukerji is an unconventional beauty who packs a punch with every performance that she delivers. This ‘comeback’ queen started as a girl next door, went onto become a highly desirable lady and then a string women who became an inspiration to many. Rani, who was last seen in ‘Mardaani’ is back with a bang in another Yash Raj Films’ production ‘Hichki’ where she plays a woman with Tourette syndrome who desires to be a teacher and from the trailer is seen to handle a class with a bunch of misfits. This unusual story has become the ‘talk of the town’ for its uniqueness and relevance.
Cinespeaks sat down with Rani Mukerji to discover more about the film and here’s what she had to say:
Q. Tell us something about the subject of ‘Hichki’ and the inspiration behind it.
Rani Mukerji: The subject deals with overcoming your weakness. In our personal lives as well we are all going through ups and downs. Some people may have a disability and some may just have a weakness, there is always a discrimination that you face from the world. If you tend to feel weaker then the world will see that and discriminate you further over it. The film teaches you how to overlook your weakness and convert it into your strength which will boost your self confidence. The strength that you get from this helps in achieving what you desire. In Naina’s case she has Tourette syndrome where she ticks and is a teacher with a speech defect that goes against the norms of that profession. But despite this, she wants to follow a dream of becoming a teacher, and becomes one and this determination is what makes the story even more special. The character is based on a real life teacher called Brad Cohen who has Tourette syndrome and was rejected by several institutes but today he’s not only a teacher but also the principle of a school. His journey is of being determined about the dream of becoming a teacher, then being a great teacher and progressing to be appointed as a principle. He overcame all odds, he fought the discriminations to become a teacher, so Naina’s character has been inspired from Brad Cohen and the spirit that she has, had to be told. We Indians are unaware of Tourette syndrome, 1 in a gathering of 10 may have a hint to what it is. In a way it will also educate people around us of this rare disorder. In life we have to look beyond our weaknesses to turn them into strengths. It’s an inspiring and challenging role to play. It also talks about the education system in India. How the kids from different socio-economic backgrounds are treated. All of these form the film ‘Hichki’. This is why I chose to do the film.
Q. Is age a determinant in choosing the kind of roles that you do?
Rani Mukerji: What determines you is if you are suitable to play a character and how you justify the character. How convincing you look. When Amitabh Bachchan played the role of an 8 year old (for ‘Paa’) you can’t question it, when you see an Aamir Khan playing a 40 year old, you don’t question it. I don’t think it’s about an actor’s real age. It’s about you convincing them of being that part. That is what has to matter.
Q. Your comeback film ‘Mardaani’ and now ‘Hichki’ have been message oriented. Is this a conscious decision?
Rani Mukerji: I look at these films as a talking point about a social cause. In my career of 22 years, I’ve done diverse roles and films. I’ve started at the age of 16-17 in the industry. You organically grow with age and wisdom, with every changing time in my career, I’ve gotten attracted to certain scripts which at every point of time made a difference to my life. Probably the kind of films I choose today are those which I want people to notice. It also depends at what stage I am in personally. I will not forget that I am a popular actor, this is something that’ll stay with me forever. I try to pass a social message to the audiences through an entertaining medium. That is a great balance. When Raju (Rajukumar) Hirani does a film we know it’ll be of that kind, similarly, Hichki has a message which the audiences will take back.
Q. During your childhood, did you ever want to be a teacher?
Rani Mukerji: When I was in school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Nothing was decided. There used to be discussions of me becoming a teacher, so this role has somewhere fulfilled that speculation.
Q. You’ve recently been quoted saying you’d dedicate this film to your teachers. What do you have to say about that?
Rani Mukerji: This film is a tribute to all the teachers who exist in the world, including mine ofcourse. It is such a noble profession. You’re imparting knowledge to young minds who will become the future. To have love for teaching is a special quality, not many people have it. It requires patience to teach a bunch of children. This is one of the first films (in Bollywood) that has given a true tribute to the teaching profession in a huge way. That’s something that’s going to be synonymous with this film.
Q. How did you prepare for this character?
Rani Mukerji: My preparation was little different this time. In India, parents whose children have tourettes are still not very comfortable letting their children come out in the open because they’re protective about them. So I didn’t have anyone to speak to for finding out the little details about the character. This film will help those children come out and talk about their issues openly. I did Skype calls with Brad, out of no choice. I interacted with him to understand what his mental state was like. I wanted to know about everything, what was his childhood like, how was it when his parents found out about it, what did he go through and all the important things to understand and create Naina Mathur. I couldn’t play a character who was just emotional, she also had to have a mind of her own. What the character feels intellectually and emotionally, so Brad helped me a lot. I understood everything about Brad, his childhood, emotions when he was being rejected, when he became a teacher, when he fell in love, got married and had children. So I interacted with him on all these stages of his life. I got a lot of knowledge about the syndrome and about those who have it. I noticed his mannerisms, observed his ticks and got to learn a lot.
Q. With the kind of films women are getting to do today, do you think cinema has changed since you made your debut?
Rani Mukerji: Actresses have taken the front row since 1950s. When you see films that actresses like Nutan and Meena Kumari did, they were single handedly running the show. Dharmendra made his debut at that time with these actresses, even Amitabh Bachchan made his debut with Jaya Bhaduri who was a star at that time. I don’t understand how we think it’s today that the actresses have taken the realm, it has been happening since the beginning. It’s just that in the 80s the films became action oriented and that’s the reason why the people born in that period think that’s how a movie is made. But actually even if you see the history of Indian cinema, there’s a Devika Rani and other actresses who were in the front line.
Q. Dancing has been an important part of your films. But with the recent films we’ve missed you taking the stage for a dance number. What’s the reason behind that?
Rani Mukerji: I don’t choose a film on the basis of its genre or commercial value. I connect more with the story. Be it Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or No One Killed Jessica or Mardaani or Dil Bole Hadippa, somewhere I want to get connected with the story and if that story demands dancing, I would love to do it. But if a story doesn’t demand it, you can pull it in any story because you want to do a certain thing.
Q. With an array of new actresses and the competition around, is it challenging to be an actor was of today?
Rani Mukerji: I feel like it’s the easiest time for being an actor. The actors are pampered so much today. There are 10 people in their team and we didn’t have this when we were at peak. I get uncomfortable sometimes with the entourage so much that I sometimes tell them I don’t require them because I’m not used to that. Today there is so much help that the actresses get from make up artists, hair dressers, physical trainers, security, media people and who not. The manager and the whole gamut of people educating you on what you have to say at a particular event, how you need to conduct yourself.
Q. Do you feel pressurized about maintaining yourself in a certain way for events?
Rani Mukerji: Earlier we would just go to an event, do our work and come back. How can wearing good clothes be pressuring. I don’t get pressurized by this. If one can’t handle it, they needn’t do it. Why should an actor worry about a troll who is meaningless to their life. What clothes does this fashion critic wear while reviewing someone else’s look? Best films are coming out, best talent is working and you’re getting for free from designers, that’s not pressuring at all.
Q. When you look back at your journey in Bollywood today, how do you feel cinema has progressed and how do you find yourself placed in it?
Rani Mukerji: To determine my journey in Bollywood, I’ll definitely have to do more films and maybe 20 years later I’ll have an answer. Currently I’m happy with my recent work. It depends on us to make good films and make good stories. I’m sincere to the film that I’m a part of. A good film will be accepted by the audiences. The biggest example of that is Dangal where Aamir Khan doesn’t look like Aamir Khan, he’s playing character. The film became such a huge hit because people connected with the story. It’s nothing about female or male oriented film. The story is all that matters. The power lies in the script. Cherry on top is when you have a big star for that story.
Q. How responsible do you feel as an actor to your audiences?
Rani Mukerji: My profession is my responsibility. I’m known as an actress and it is my duty to justify my characters that look real. I have my own set of preparations for every role. Some roles are easy to do and some are difficult. It’s different for different characters. My scripts have to make sense and be powerful.
Q. How was your equation with Sridevi?
Rani Mukerji: I was very close to Sridevi. It’s very tragic personally.
Q. You’ve had a celebrated friendship with a competitor of that time Preity Zinta. How would you deceive your equation with her?
Rani Mukerji: Preity considers me her lucky charm. She wanted me to be in the mandap of her wedding too. We’ve worked on many films together, it was stronger because we were building our careers together. Preity is very open minded and we did a lot of films with Salman (Khan) who is of the same nature. We’ve had wonderful times together.