Raveena Tandon: I am happy in my own skin

The actor talks on women who want to break through, on masks, and on roles for women, then and now.

By Kaveree Bamzai

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Published: Thu 16 Dec 2021, 10:34 AM

“All these girls dancing on screens are actresses waiting to be tapped,” said the late Kalpana Lajmi in an interview in 2000 when speaking of Raveena Tandon approaching her to work in 'Daman', a movie where she played a battered woman with a teenage daughter at the height of her stardom.
 No longer a 'Chitrahaar' girl.

The actor, once known as the 'Chitrahaar' girl for her song-and-dance routines, which are iconicised even today — from 'tu cheez badi hai mast mast' to 'tip tip barsa pani', both from 'Mohra' (1994), — is now being celebrated for smart acting choices. 
At 47, she is in the middle of a career resurgence with a powerful role as station house officer (SHO) Kasturi Dogra of Sironha, a fictional small town in Himachal Pradesh, in Netflix's tense murder mystery series 'Aranyak'.

For Tandon, it's like being back in the1990s, working almost non-stop, though she is quick to point out that she takes her time off too, whether it is for a two-month trip to the United States of America (USA) to check out colleges for her daughter or a slightly longer break for a family holiday.

But if today's heroines have the power to choose from an array of films, commercial and more artistic, some of the credit has to go to women like her who battered down doors that wouldn't open and took leaps of faith where there were no safety nets. There were simply not enough good roles written for women.

A pioneer

Yet, professionally and personally, Tandon has been a pioneer, and in a male dominated industry hasn’t got enough attention.

A National Award win for Best Actress for 'Daman' in 2001 was a welcome recognition but it was not without controversy, with the actress being accused of campaigning for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to achieve it. Adopting two daughters when she was single was seen as something eccentric. And her ability to treat everyone equally was seen as "fake".
“In the 1990s I was panned for this. Why does she talk to everyone? Why is she being so sweet to people? And even then, in my interviews I used to tell people, time will tell everything. All the masks will fall,” she says, with a laugh, because they have fallen.

'Aranyak' — a career resurgence

In 'Aranyak', her mouth set in a permanent scowl, she looks on as a new boss comes to replace her.
She's off on a year's leave to sort things out at home — a daughter taking her Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance examinations, a husband who seems to have fallen out of love with her, a son who needs her attention, and a father-in-law, a former policeman, who wants to avenge a 19-year-old humiliation at the hands of a leopard-man, supposed to be the force behind a series of killings of young women in Sironha.
Dogra is the kind of person who will hit first and talk later, she says. “There had to be a comparison between the city slicker cop who replaces her (played by Parambrata Chatterjee) who is sophisticated and does things with gloves and goes by the rule book, and the absolute brash and impulsive pahadan that Kasturi is,” she adds.

Kasturi Dogra strikes a chord

Tandon loved the part and says she identified with most bits of it, including the ability to mess up in the kitchen. Kasturi is flawed, she tries to do her best, to multitask, but she can’t. She’s bumbling through life. “There are so many Kasturis out there who are not able to break through,’’ she says.
"I’d meet so many paramilitary officers and police women, with their lipstick, their bindis, their wedding 'jhumkas' and their gold 'kada' and their ''sindoor'. I met a young cop, and she told me about how she had just got married and there was a lot of pressure from the in laws to start a family, and she was wondering out aloud about how she would manage,” she adds.
They want to achieve and they want to be good wives, good daughters-in-law and good mothers, and it tears them apart.

In that way, she notes, she is most unlike Dogra.
She was raised equally by her parents — her father Ravi Tandon was a well-known film director — and was treated with immense respect by her in-laws as well.

Not a typical star daughter

Tandon was never a typical star daughter and was interning with ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar when she got film offers. She began with a bang with Salman Khan in 'Patthar ke Phool' in 1991, and though she's had her share of flops, she was never far from film magazine covers because of her often-tumultuous personal life. Marriage to film distributor Anil Thadani in 2004 was followed by two children (adding to the two daughters she had adopted earlier) and her career took a bit of a backseat.

But like many women her age, she is enjoying a resurgence, with roles written specifically for her, whether it is the forthcoming Kannada sequel 'KGF2', or 'One Friday Night', a film she has just wrapped up.

Rohan Sippy, the creator of 'Aranyak', says it is unfathomable that it's been 30 years since he first met her on the sets of their film 'Patthar ke Phool' (it was produced by his grandfather GP Sippy). "While her looks defy time, she’s used all of it to get better and better at her craft, a great blend of an instinctive actor who is actually so well studied too," Sippy says.

Tandon keeps it simple. The truer and more honest human being you are, the better an actor you will be, she says. “Whatever you are comes on your face. I’m happy in my own skin. People who love me do so for who I am and people who can’t stand me, it’s fine. I also believe, if you don’t have any enemies, it means you have no character,” she adds.

It’s not something anyone is likely to say about Tandon, then or now.

(The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of 'The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India')

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