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Kajol
A WALK IN THE CLOUDS,
FLYING HIGH WITH KAJOL.

"See, see my thumb," Kajol screws her face into an injured expression. The thumb is gashed deep."There was this cockroach in dad’s loo yesterday. And I was so sc..ared that without thinking I smashed my fist into the glass on the tiny window," she shudders. "I wanted to jump straight out before that crawly thing got me."

Gasp! Suddenly remembering that there was something like a door to the loo, she prised the latch open and sprinted straight into the husky arms of her equally mortified dad Shomu Mukherjee. Both quivered as if they had been attacked by a critter from Mars. "What happened, what happened?" dad quaked. "Are you okay? I’ll do anything, anything."

As it happened, the cockroach crept away before it could be swatted. But it left Kajol wondering why she couldn’t handle the thingy when she can handle the tougher pests of show business.

"Maybe I just get hyper," Kads grins that luminous grin. "Maybe I’m just clumsy. I was shooting in Scotland last month and I kept falling off a bridge, when I wasn’t slipping over stones and stuff in the meadows. Ouch."

As she anoints herself as a li’l Calamity Jane, mum Tanuja shakes her head with consternation. And then Tanuja goes right ahead and trips over herself, almost knocking down a glass-top table. Before the glass shatters to shards, fortuitously she regains her balance.

Mum and beti are in a fit of guffaws now. "See, stumbling over objects runs in the family," Kajol laughs, measuring her steps as she sits mum and herself down on the leather sofa of Air-India’s club class lounge, an hour before jetting off for a world concert tour, her very first.

Before leaving, she has wrapped up the dubbing for Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. "Yeah, I finished the last line of dialogue yesterday," Kads exults, "and I don’t know what happened to me, but I was crying uncontrollably. Even some of the guys at the recording studio were in tears."

Emotions were bound to be at a crescendo. Because here’s a project that Kajol has been immersedin since it’s inception stage, even suggesting scenes and details of characterisation to long-time buddy, Karan Johar, who makes his debut as writer-director with KKHH.

This is the third film in which Kajol pairs up with her Baazigar and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge hero, Shah Rukh Khan.

"Expectations will be pretty high," the actress notes. "But all of us have given the project our best shot. When I saw Shah Rukh’s scenes during the dubbing, I was amazed. I yelled at him, ‘Hey, how can you do this to me?’ He’s really cool. Karan knew exactly what he wanted from us. Every little moment had been etched and finalized before it was shot. We had a blast making it...now that it’s over, it’s like coming out of one great big picnic."

It’s been quite an upbeat year for Kajol. 1998 saw her in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, Dushman and Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha. In the pipeline are KKHH (scheduled for a Divali release) and Dil Hai Hindustani, remake of the Telugu hit, Prem Bandhanam, co-starring Anil Kapoor.

To count her blessings, Kajol visited the Sai Baba shrine in Shirdi. And there was the Satyanarayan pooja at home on her birthday on August 5. She wears an Om ring and evidently, believes in a higher force governing the ebb and flow of her life.

The clock ticks on in the club class lounge. Shah Rukh, Juhi Chawla and the Moranis enter. The gang will be together for a month, zipping through 18 shows in the U.K. and then the U.S.

"Eeeee, I don’t know how Shah Rukh talked me into doing the tour," Kads whoops, even as the night inches towards early morning, the sky turning a pale shade of blue. "All I know is that the rehearsals have already made me lose some weight. It’s strenuous but fun."

Her buddy and make-up maestro, Mickey Contractor, asks for coffee and smiles, "Baby, you’re doing fine. Just be yourself."

I nod in agreement. Neither Mickey nor I have to tell Kads to be herself actually. Be it hanging loose in jeans and keds for the movie camera or speaking her mind forthrightly to all and sundry, Kajol’s USP is that she doesn’t pretend to be what she isn’t.

Okay, she may get weary of the armadas of autograph-hunters and photo-clickers at times, but at this very moment she imprints her signature onto paper napkins proffered by an NRI family which has been gaping saucer-eyed at her in the lounge.

Perhaps Kajol is mesmerising because she doesn’t seem to care if anyone’s watching. Confronted with an actress, with as true an aim, I try not to drive myself nuts imagining the uses to which the directors of the 70s may have put Kads. Surely Manmohan Desai could have made her his Amar Akbar Antonia, Hrishikesh Mukherjee could have made her his Anandi and Gulzar his Meri Apni.

Oof, what’s the point of conjecturing though? Especially in the face of the rumours that Kads is due to traipse towards marriage with Ajay Devgan and presumably, premature retirement. A sharp pang hits me whenever I think of the quitting factor.

I don’t quiz her about this because I know the question will bug her. Instead, I whisper to Tanuja, words to the effect that it’ll be a pity if Kads packs her bags.

"There’s no reason why she can’t continue to act," mum tells me spontaneously. "She can still do aworthwhile film or two a year if she wants to." Saying that she clams up, evidently because career decisions will be entirely Kajol’s. And no one else’s.

The flight to London has been delayed. Kads attempts to grab 40 winks, curling up on mum’s lap. No point. She rouses herself with a caffeine cup. And flips through a paperback about a princess and a winged dragon. Fantasy fiction is her fix.

"Now, don’t look at me like that," she reprimands me. "You should read one of them instead of those heavy-duty books. Like science fiction, fantasy fiction has its own life, logic and allure. Wanna try this book?"

I wish I could. But like those NRIs, I’d rather gape at this acting wonder. A word about her cognac eyes. Movie angels tend to let their eyes anchor their beauty. Curiously, Kajol’s eyes are free agents. They tell everything. They withhold brilliantly, they behold brilliantly. Her gaze speaks directly to the camera and therefore to all of us in the audience.

At this very moment, the eyes need rest. But hello, there on the plush Air-India wall, a cockroach creeps again. Could it have followed Kajol there? Mercifully, she doesn’t notice it. Otherwise there could be hell.

The air-flight is announced. Kajol notices that the seats allotted are called K and J. "Hey, that’s nice. K could me and J....."

She stops. Perhaps because she doesn’t want to spell out J into Ajay.

The girl’s in love. Truly, madly, deeply. She’s also affirmed her credentials time and again as the prime actress of her generation.

The flight takes off and there she is, her eyes lingering on a stretching blue sky without any clouds.

-Film Fare.


Destination Kajol