'Acting is like rolling a dice, you never know when you'll win'
Kajol on why Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge will always be close to her heart, and what sets Aditya Chopra apart from the rest
As many as 25 years have elapsed since Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan spun their magic with Aditya Chopra's debut film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). Yet, its appeal cuts across generations today. As Simran and Raj, the twosome defined the meaning of overcoming family obstacles and reaching that all's-well-that-ends-well ending. Mercifully, DDLJ, as it's commonly known, wasn't ever followed up by a sequel.
Indeed, Aditya Chopra was so overwhelmed by the worldwide response that it took him five years to helm his next work Mohabbatein. Kajol and Shah Rukh went on to co-star in several movies, but it's DDLJ that has achieved a cult status, their characters connecting intensely right to this day with the millennials.
Kajol, who was 20 years old while shooting for DDLJ, has reduced her workload drastically since her marriage to Ajay Devgn in 1999 (recently, she was seen in Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior and the short film Devi). This week's column goes back to the sprightly actress' response to her incarnation of Simran, a London-based girl who falls in love with Raj, in the course of a vacation on a train through Europe, but must wait till her tradition-bound father assents to their marriage.
For her nuanced portrayal of Simran, she won the Best Actress Filmfare trophy. Here then are excerpts from my taped conversation with Kajol on what the role meant for her, and perhaps always will.
How close did you feel to the characterisation of Simran as written in the script by Aditya Chopra?
I didn't feel close to Simran at all. Whatever I did stemmed from my imagination and from what I know about some of my friends who are like her. My acting was a pre-thought-out reaction. I must have met 120 girls like Simran who have fallen in love like her, but they couldn't reach a happy ending.
Perhaps DDLJ also made thousands of parents think about what happens to their children when they force them into a marriage with someone they don't know, let alone love.
Do you think that your role in the film's second-half could have been more strongly etched out?
No, I believe the film was completely correct and balanced. Simran had to go with the flow of the story; it was right and it worked. And how!
Still, there could have been more dramatic scenes for you.
But it wasn't a hyper-dramatic film. There wasn't any typical villain on the scene, there were none of those sob-sob sorrowful songs. The film was about normal young people and their parents; it showed that there are valid reasons for what motivates all of us. There was no right or wrong, there was only that ebb of circumstances.
Which was the most difficult shot for you as an actress?
The shot where I have to describe my dream guy with passages of poetry. I had to pick up a dupatta and say, "Saaya sa lehrata hai." It was supposed to look sensuous but the dupatta just wouldn't fall properly. I just couldn't get that movement right. Adi (Aditya Chopra) was so disgusted with me. Even now that shot lacks something.
Would you agree that Simran's conversations with her mother (Farida Jalal) and father (Amrish Puri) were the backbone of her characterisation?
Those scenes described what Simran actually is - her values and outlook towards life. Simran is a well-brought-up girl. She's not an extremist; she believes in Indian values. The point becomes even more important since she has been brought up abroad. Simran is more Indian than Indians themselves. Kids brought up in India don't actually sit down and reflect about what's in store for them. Quite often, they lose contact with their own country's traditions.
I will never forget that scene where I break down. I don't get hysterical or melodramatic. I just seem to give up, as if I don't care what happens to me any more. I just give up like many girls do in real life when they don't have an option. I also love that scene on the bridge where Shah Rukh Khan says, "I love you." That was so well done. I keep watching it again and again.
While DDLJ was being made, did you realise it was special?
I didn't think about that at all. I was far too busy having fun; it was like a great big party. a family picnic, really. Adi, Karan (Johar, assistant director, then), my mom and sister, all of us had a whale of a time. I didn't know if the film was working or not; I guess it was like I couldn't tell the wood from the trees. In fact, I wouldn't take any credit for my performance. Adi's one of the best, a director to the core. He goads an artiste into interpreting the scene.
What has your experience been with directors, generally speaking?
I've noticed that when most directors sign you up, they expect you to do a lot of things on your own. They take your ability for granted. At times, they want you to do their work. That may sound weird but it's true. That becomes obvious when you feel you can do much more, but the director says lazily, "No, that take was fine, it was okay."
How many takes do you usually need?
Ha! There's no such thing. At times, I can be good in the first take itself, and at times, in the third or fourth take. Acting is like rolling a dice, you never know when you'll win. There was a scene in DDLJ when Shah Rukh had to help me zip up my dress. Both of us cracked up; we just couldn't stop laughing. To get that shot okayed took countless takes.
Lastly, can you imagine anyone else in the roles of Simran and Raj?
No way, I can't. I'm extremely possessive about the film. It's mine, it's ours, I was so emotionally involved. At times, I wonder if I can ever better or equal this performance. It's a tough act to follow. Still, I have to find out whether this is the peak of my career. or whether there are many more miles to go ahead.