Kajol on working with Ajay Devgn after 10 years, in Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior — 'It felt like home'
Kajol discusses playing Tanhaji's wife Savitribai, how she prepped for her first historical, and revisiting her Maharashtrian roots for the character.
Kajol may have had an inconsistent career graph but the instinctive and spontaneous actor, who never played by the book, carved her own path, and yet emerged unscathed with her loyal fans asking for more.
Going by the projects she currently has, it looks like she wants to keep her creativity flowing in times of immense opportunities around, as she says, "I am being offered lot of films, I am talking to a lot of people, and I have also confirmed a few things. There is going to be a lot of work for me this year."
The new year for her begins with Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior opposite her actor-filmmaker husband Ajay Devgn. Directed by Om Raut, the film is set in the 17th century, and is based on the life of Tanaji Malusare, the military leader of the Maratha king Shivaji. Kajol plays Savitribai, Tanhaji’s wife. After that, she will make her digital debut with Tribhanga, a Netflix film about a dysfunctional family, directed by Renuka Shahane.
Excerpts from an interview below.
What attracted you to the historical? Because it is essentially Tanhaji’s story, and it is being said you have a fairly small part in the film?
I loved the character. Savitri is a very clean and strong character, and the family that supports the Maratha warrior also plays a significant part in the film. There is wonderful depth, and that is what drew me to Savitri. Then Ajay also persuaded me to be part of the film because he couldn’t see anyone else playing this character. He felt there was a certain honesty and strength that I could bring to Savitri’s character. Those were different times, and I hope I am half as strong as her and the things that she does effortlessly. Also, I was keen to play a total Maharashtrian character. I knew that it would be shot well, and my scenes would really look good.
How exciting was it to play Savitribai, and get into her look for the role?
It was amazing. Mickey Contractor did my makeup for the film. Every morning, it would take me about two-and-a-half hours to get dressed, and after getting dressed, when I would look into the mirror, I couldn’t recognise myself. I didn’t see myself. I could see only Savitri. It was an amazing experience to see that happen in front of you. It also has to do with how people look at you. When I am wearing salwar-kameez or T-shirt and jeans on set, it is different but when I am in that whole getup of sari, that padar on your head, the nath, and those bangles, that changes your personality. You start looking like that character, your body language, and your way of walking and talking changes. Weirdly enough, there is a certain grace about your body, which is really beautiful.
And it was lovely to wear a nauvari sari. A lot of people ask me if my mother helped me drape but no, my mother didn’t help me. We had to get a special person, a 75-year-old who knew how to drape nauvari. When I looked in the mirror for the first time after wearing the sari, it was an amazing feeling. I didn’t see Kajol. I saw Savitri looking back at me. Suddenly, I saw my great grandmother in the reflection because I have seen her and my grandmother in a nauvari. Suddenly, you feel so connected to all your ancestors.
You and Ajay are reuniting after 10 years. How different it was working with him now?
We have done many films together so it wasn’t something very different working with him now. But it was very comfortable and very convenient because we used to travel to work at the same time and go carpooling (laughs). It felt like home. He has grown and evolved a lot in his performance but that basic honesty is very much there. It’s also great to have him as your co-star because he keeps giving these useful tips. On one hand, the director is directing, and on the other, he directs to better the expression, better the shot or add or change something.
This is your first historical. How challenging it is to do a period film?
It is a different time period that we are showing so it gets difficult. We have to create everything, an entire time period, background, and not just a scene. So much detailing goes into it. Then the film is 3D, and we had to even work a lot on VFX to make it even more of an experience so that people feel that they are in that time with us.
What was the prep required for the film?
Most of the prep was done by the director (Om Raut) and we just worked on the script. But Om researched the film beautifully. I only had to turn up on the sets, and get ready for my part. Nachiket Barve did my clothes, and he had also done the research so well. Oddly enough, they didn’t have bright colours at that time so we have kept that tone throughout the film. We have tried to keep it as natural as possible.
You are not someone who spends a lot of time dressing up or doing makeup. You have often said you just take 15 minutes to get ready. So did the makeover test your patience?
(Laughs out loud) Yes, that’s true, I am a very impatient person so for me, sitting in one place for two-and-a-half hours was very long. It took a lot of patience but it was worth the effort because that character needed that kind of time and effort to be put into that.
You are known for your spontaneity but here, you must have had to do some preparation to play the part. Is that correct?
Yes, this performance is more studied. It is not so much of being spontaneous. And here, you can’t be spontaneous because it is not Savitri’s character. She is not this lively, vivacious, and lovely. She is more in control, and there is this beautiful strength in her silence. Her body language is very correct, controlled, and strict. She is a very different character from what I would normally play.
Playing historical characters comes with a certain responsibility for the actors. Would you agree?
The responsibility is first and foremost to myself that it works on screen. It was a little touch-and-go at first because the first day, I was not sure if I was doing the right thing, and I kept asking Ajay and Om that are you sure if I was doing it right. I really don’t have any judgement on this because it is so alien that even when I see on screen, it doesn’t feel completely correct to me. I don’t have a reference point for it. But both Ajay and Om kept reassuring me that I should not worry, and that it’s going perfect.
It may have not been as alien for Ajay since he has done a historical in the past.
Yes, for Ajay, it wasn’t something very different because he has done (The Legend of) Bhagat Singh, and also, he is a very sound person technically. He already has an idea in his head as to how it is going to look eventually. He was more prepared for it than I was.
What was your assessment about your previous film Helicopter Eela? It did not do well at the box office. Did you analyse what could have gone wrong?
We did work very hard to make the film. It is up to the public to accept or not. There is no formula till today that this will work for sure. We tried our best but unfortunately, we didn’t succeed. But I don’t feel bad for it because I feel I have put 300 percent effort, and I do that in every film of mine. That effort is not lacking on my part. If I am confident about something then there is no regret from my side.
Do you believe it is great time for actresses in Bollywood?
I think more than the actresses, the audience has evolved, and thank god for that. They are willing to see different kinds of cinema and films, and therefore, it has become economically feasible to make a film which is not on a regular romance, drama, comedy, and action line. You can make a film which is slightly off the regular track, and know for the fact that it will make money. We often ignore the business side of things to say that it doesn’t really matter, but it does matter. It matters how much the film is making, and how much the film is capable of making even on the table.
You will make your digital debut this year with Tribhanga. What do you feel about the advent of streaming content?
I really love the idea of the OTT platform. I love the fact that you have created a space where you can do a lot more. Creatively speaking, it is a great space for actors, writers, and directors because you suddenly have a medium where you can experiment. You have the freedom without worrying which audience you are catering to. There will be some part of it that will be your audience.
What are your thoughts when you look at the youngsters in the industry today? Do you feel you could have done something differently?
I feel the youngsters today work very hard, and all of them are well prepared for every aspect of being a star and actor. They are prepared when they go on set, or be it with the social media (laughs), then what kind of films they want to do or don’t want to do. But in our times, nobody those days cared that much. But I don’t want to change anything. I never think that I could have done this or that better. We had a blast, we had a great time working. I was 16 when I started working. We were all so young, and everybody was weird in their own way because there was no social media, there was less stress, and work was fun. Now, it is all about what you can click and post on Instagram instantly more than spending time with each other or even working with each other. Camaraderie between co-stars and colleagues were great those days, no two ways about it.
You seem to be paying a lot of attention to your appearance in the last few years. What is the thought behind that change?
Actually, I started working out at the time of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai but I got more serious about workouts after my daughter was born. Then I got myself a trainer, and started doing weights. Now, there is more emphasis on it. But yes, I have started dressing better. Camouflage is always the best defense (laughs).
Ajay says you talk a lot on sets. Is that true?
Why set? I talk everywhere. There is no demarcation line (laughs hysterically).
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