Priya Gupta (BOMBAY TIMES; February 13, 2014)
Juhi Chawla, in real life, is quite like we know her on screen — simple, emotional, sensitive and spontaneous. As she says, “I think more from my heart. My brains don’t work as much.” After losing her mother to an accident, her father to illness and not still having come to terms with her brother Bobby Chawla’s coma, she has become more quiet and thinks a little more. Ahead of her upcoming release, Gulaab Gang, which makes her both excited and anxious, she talks to Bombay Times about the super bright and simple Shah Rukh Khan, her emotional anchor and husband Jai Mehta and her past vulnerability versus Madhuri Dixit. Excerpts:
Tell us about your journey into films?
As we are sitting here, in this very Sun-n-Sand Hotel, I am reminded of the pool scene we shot in Darr. The yellow chiffon sari I wore, Yash Chopraji and Shah Rukh and me. How time flies. I still remember how I was so excited to work with Yashji and be his heroine. It was beyond my dreams that I could have one day become a Yash Chopra heroine. I had never thought so big and wondered if I could have lived up to his expectations. I was born in Ambala, after which we briefly lived in Delhi where my mum worked in the housekeeping department of Oberois. My dad worked for the Income Tax department and they decided to move to Mumbai when I was four as my mum had got a job with the Taj. My dad too took a transfer. My mom worked so that she could add to the family income. We had a comfortable life thanks to both of them putting their efforts but there was nothing like excess. Then I went to school and college here and then coincidentally slipped into films. Youth really has its flight, takes chances, doesn’t think too much and that is the beauty of it. Now when I look back, my friends were taking part in the Femina Miss India contest. And there were these forms going around in HR college. So I too decided to fill up a form. I had always been a studious and conscientious daughter, who wanted good grades for my parents. I knew I was good, but also knew that there were prettier girls in my class and that always kept me grounded. I still remember my dad’s reaction when I told him that I wanted him to sign my form. I didn’t know what I was wearing, a friend of mine did my make-up and I went for an interview to the Femina office at the Times of India building and the next thing I knew was that I had been shortlisted for the finals at the Shanmukhananda Hall. There were prettier girls than me, but I know I nailed it because of one smartass answer I gave. I got lucky and that is where my journey began in films. Just soon after winning Miss India, my first film literally walked to me.
Your favourite directors?
Yash Chopra, for his dream-like films and the way he presented his heroines. Only he would take care of what they are wearing and how they are looking. He was very sweet and there was always khanna peena with him. He would never shout, but knew how to get his work done. Working with him was a big experience in my life. Azizji (Aziz Mirza) for his warmth that shows even in his films. He is very well read and jovial. Be it his lyrics, his music, his sense of poetry or sense of humour, his warmth shows. And Mahesh Bhatt. Maheshji was one director I would just laugh listening to. He would not only tell you what you are supposed to do, but would also tell you what should be going on in your mind while shooting. A director normally tells his main characters about what to do, but he was one director who for instance in a police chowki scene would also tell the hawaldar standing behind what he must imagine in his head while the scene is being shot. For example he would tell him ‘imagine that you have fought with your wife and come.’ In his films, everyone was alive.
Your favourite actors?
Each actor has been a character. But the two obvious ones are Shah Rukh and Aamir. Aamir was the one who taught me my dialogues and acting in my screentest for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, post which I went to shoot South films. By the time I came back to shoot QSQT, I felt mujhko toh kaam aata hai. So he would fumble more than me in QSQT. But in reality we had both started together and there was no awe as we were both just as bad or good. He had assisted Nasir Hussain and knew the technical side. He would always think his scenes while I would be spontaneous. He was always intelligent and would get into details and would get into the length and breadth of every thing. We got on very well. Of course, he has become more serious now and is doing great work. He was not completely happy with all the films he was doing then. I, of course, was learning anything and everything from everyone and didn’t know he would become the phenomenon he is today or that Shah Rukh would have become what he is. Hum log ko toh koi credit hi nahi deta. They should be grateful to me as because of me they became huge stars Shah Rukh has always worked 20 hours a day. He told me once, ‘I have six tracks going on in my head and I can think clearly through each one of them.’ I was baffled then only as I felt yeh kaise ho sakta hai, mera toh ek bhi nahi chalta. He would help the director in writing and staging the scenes and would rehearse with you even 20 times. When he came to the set, I knew that the director would be at ease as he would make it all work. He would make us laugh and keep us entertained. That time, even though he was just three years into Bollywood, while a star’s water would usually be served in silver glasses, Shah Rukh in his initial years would have his tea from the same glass that the crew would have and have dal chawal with the unit. He was very simple. Now, things may have changed a little, but I think at heart he is still simple. He is very intelligent and he reads a lot. I wish though he could stop smoking and just care about his health and rest a little more.
Madhuri Dixit and you were always pitted against each other in your peak days. Did that bother you then?
Yes, at that time there was Madhuri and me, as we had come into the industry at the same time. Her Dil and my QSQT were released three months apart. There were comparisons. Now, I read in her interviews and realise that she was not even bothered and was actually just doing her own thing at that time. She was really mature. But I think I was not so wise so I would get affected as people would always keep telling me, ‘See what you are doing and see what Madhuri is doing.’ I was vulnerable. I had not come in knowing this is where I was going to go and was not sure of myself. I was living and learning and experiencing and getting scared of where I was myself. There were many times when I would feel, ‘Shit, what if I my next film bombed?’ I was insecure, inexperienced and young.
Who was your emotional anchor at that time?
My emotional anchor was my mom. But I lost her in a car accident a year after my marriage. A few years later, my dad became sick and I lost him too. My brother Bobby is eight years older than me. As kids, he and I would fight like cats and dogs. He would often push me and I would go flying and would hate him for it. He initially moved to Delhi to work, but then returned to Mumbai to build a career and we lost our mother. After losing her, my brother became my anchor and I thought he would be there with me through thick and thin, but he has been in coma for a few years now. My husband Jai is today my anchor in every way and I am most attached to my children, Jai and my in-laws. What Jai cannot solve for me, I leave it to time to sort itself. I was broken when I lost my mum and then again when my brother fell ill. I became spiritual. I questioned many things and am still questioning. Sometimes I feel scared that there is no one sitting up there. Of course, I also hold on more to my family and value them even more now.
How did you meet your husband?
We got married 15 years ago. I had known him vaguely when I was in college. Then I lost touch with him as I started working. Much later, I met him again in a restaurant when I had gone with my friends for dinner. We started keeping in touch. I was an actress by this time. He started wooing me for a year and then we got married.
What is he like?
He is very generous and for him friendships mean a lot. He is very large-hearted and he has a more forward looking vision than mine. At times I am not able to look at things and maybe, I am looking at the smaller picture, but he will help me stand above it and look beyond.
In Gulaab Gang, were you comfortable playing a villain given that you have always been loved for your innocent, sweet onscreen image?
First I was appalled and wondered why they wanted me to play a villain. But then I realised that I don’t have to become Prem Chopra or Gulshan Grover. I have to just be me with a little play with it and it will happen.