Wednesday was her birthday and on Friday she makes her comeback to the big screen after a three-year hiatus. The ever-smiling Rani Mukerji spoke to Prothom Alo on a bright spring afternoon in a makeup room of the Yash Raj Studio.
PA: This will be your first birthday without your father. What was the best birthday gift you got from your father?
RM: (With tears) He was my biggest gift from God. I was very attached to my father. He was my softest spot. I feel so numb without him.
PA: Sorry for starting on a sad note. Your birthday comes two days before the movie is released. Was it planned?
RM: I am fine. I cannot control myself when I talk about my father. The movie release date was not planned, but it is the first time a movie is being released so close to my birthday. I usually stay abroad during my birthday. But this year I will be here for the movie’s promos. But it will be my first birthday without father. For the first time, the day will begin without his blessings (tears appear again).
PA: Pregnancy hasn’t changed your body much. What's the secret?
RM: It was very challenging. I had to curb my appetite. I won't say that one should not eat, but one has to eat healthily. We have to eat to live. But when you can stay slim despite eating - that's the real magic.
PA: 'Hichki' is your comeback movie. How do you feel about this?
RM: Of course it's my comeback movie. I was on maternity leave but now I am back after three years.
PA: How difficult was it to return to work?
RM: Adira was a premature baby, so I had to always remain careful. After she was born I probably became a little lazy. It probably happens with new moms. I was always concerned about her and I spent the whole day with my daughter. I almost forgot that I had a career. Adi forced me back to work. He always said - Don't you forget that you are an actress. Your fans are waiting for you. You have some responsibility as an actress as well.
PA: How much motherhood has changed Rani?
RM: Every woman changes when she becomes a mother. I think a woman finds her true self when she becomes a mother. That's why it is important to be a mother. It is a surreal feeling. I have been a mother in a number of films. But being a mother for real beats everything.
PA: Mother, wife, actress -- how do you manage to play all three roles?
RM: Every girl has to strike this balance. But at this moment I have to give Adira more time. She now controls my life. I started shooting for 'Hichki' when Adira was 14 months' old. I always tried to finish my work and return home by noon. I went to the shooting at 6 in the morning, worked for 6 hours and then returned home at noon.
PA: You are Naina Mathur in the film 'Hichki'. How did you prepare for the role?
RM: 'Hichki' is a remake of the film Front of the Class, which is based on the life of Brad Cohen who suffered from Tourette syndrome. I spoke a lot to Brad, who is from Georgia, USA, on Skype for long hours to prepare myself for the role. I saw a lot of videos on Tourette syndrome on YouTube as well.
PA: Tell us about the 'Hichki' of your life.
RM: Heavens! My life was full of them. I used to stammer in my childhood. My mother and brother used to stammer. I would mimic them for fun and started stammering as well. Slowly I got over the problem. It is a big challenge for an actress. My voice was a big issue.
I had to listen to many remarks about this. Many thought my voice was not ideal for a heroine. In my first Hindi movie 'Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat' I did the dubbing, but in 'Ghulam' directed by Vikram Bhatt my voice was not used. Aamir Khan and Vikram said my voice was not as sweet enough as a heroine. I was doing 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' at the same time. Director Karan Johar first used my voice and I am very grateful to him for this. He said that an actor's voice is her unique feature.
When 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' was released, Aamir called me up and said sorry. He later regretted that my voice was not used in 'Ghulam'.
My height was another factor. But I am lucky that I could work with Shahrukh, Salman and Aamir. I easily fitted in with them.
PA: Do you have the characteristics of a teacher in you?
RM: Yes a lot. Whenever I get a chance, I teach people (bursts into laughter).
PA: And how are you as a student?
RM: I was always very obedient to my teachers. I always wanted to be in their good books.
PA: You are not on social media in this digital age. Any special reason?
RM: I am not a big fan of social media. I do not know the person on the other side of the computer. I am doing fine in this industry without social media.
PA: After 'Mardaani' you are now working in a different type of film. Do you think much about the screenplay now?
RM: At this age, you have to be cautious about the screenplay. I have learnt this from my father. He made me realise that the screenplay is the backbone of a film. If the screenplay is weak, the movie will be drag on. But a strong screenplay holds the movie up.
PA: 'Mardaani' and now 'Hichki' - both are symbols of women power. Who is the source of Rani's power?
RM: My mother. Mentally Bangalee women are very very strong. They have this unassailable power to fight against the odds.
PA: You have been to Bangladesh. What would entice you to go there again?
RM: Hilsa and sarees, I want to go for them (she bursts into laughter). I loved having the fish hilsa during my time there and I bought many sarees.
This interview text, originally published in Prothom Alo supplement Ananda, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hasan.