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Kajol - Natural Born Killer

There are people who depend on beauty. But Kajol knows she's not one of them. She doesn't care if her look is unperfected. Not that she makes an effort to be unglamourous but she just- doesn't consider a perfect hair-do and the oh-so-sophisticated attire to be beautiful. Swathed in simple, young clothes, bereft of any obvious make-up, she's so totally unconventional. This being central to her identity, it's no surprise that she defines herself in her own terms and becomes something that's never been seen before. There's never any danger that Kajol would be a carbon copy of anybody.

With her, we can never talk about a one-dimensional surface. There's something or the other constantly unfolding. Maybe because she's a paradox, she has this versatility which allows her to play a variety of roles. And a lot of non-bimbo roles, you see. She's smart but she's able to play characters who don't essentially have to be smart. She may not be a classic beauty, but is definitely sexy. She looks appealing playing a dauntless girl and also wins you over with her little girl's vulnerability.

As a little girl with resolute convictions, Kajol began pursuing her acting career quite earnestly. When she got her creative outlet, she cleverly avoided following the trajectory of other young performers who, after rising early, crash and burn. She wanted to be an artiste and not just a piece of decoration. She wanted fame but she never wanted anyone to put her up on a pedestal. Not shallow and yet transparent. With her emotions Iying so close to the surface that we find her so real on screen. No wonder, film makers like Yash Chopra can sense that she's like a piece of fine glass that can come out sheer, more transparent and with a keener edge if handled rightly. If Yeh Dillagi caused tremors of the unusual kind, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was a truly earth-shaking event.

For today's interview, Kajol has arranged to meet us at Filmistan Studios where she's shooting till late in the evening. In a casual salwar- kameez ensemble, with her hair pulled back in a pony-tail, Kajol is her usual self. Cool and carefree, mirthful and joyous, she lightens up the atmosphere. Waving out amiably, she signals that she'd soon join us for a chat. Her mobile phone has her 'engaged'. And as we watch her profile from the sidelines, the thought that flits across our mind's eye is that how, within no time, this bubbly, vivacious young thing has matured into such a fine actress who's facing a 'killer future' in tinsel town. Her popularity has grown by leaps and bounds. These days she makes news without even trying. As Kajol settles down for the talkathon, we make a mention of a recent survey in a newspaper which placed her in the top three percentile of the most desirable women in the country. Her face lights up but she wishes to play it down. She counters, "Me and one of the most desirable women? I wasn't aware of this.' Then she bites her lip and her voice turns conspiratorial, "But it does make me feel good to be wanted and to be liked by so many people." You can detect a certain vulnerability co-existing with her nonchalance.

But need she be so low profile wanting to shake off the trappings of fame and avoid shenanigans of being a star? She waits to let the enormity of this sink in and replies, "I don't like this celebrity stuff at all. I treat acting purely as a profession. To me, work is worship. But once the camera stops rolling the work stops. Then I like to chuck it all behind and be my own person. No frills for me, please! And some amount of publicity is okay. But I don't have a yen to generate undue publicity and be featured on magazine covers."

Does her lackadaisical attitude extend beyond this? Does she nurture and nourish her career the way she ought to? Does she go campaigning for roles or coolly keeps waiting for offers to roll in by themselves? "You get films on the merit of your performance. So you don't have to go asking for roles. And even those offers which come your way, needn't be lapped up mindlessly.'
Is that why there is no significant film except Ajay Devgan's home production, Pyar To Hona Hi Tha, in the wake of Dilwale Dulhaniya....? She looks us straight in the eye and says, "I haven't signed any other film except for this, for the simple reason that I was not offered something that excited me". She pauses and adds, "What I mean to say is that I would only find a role exciting if it's different than what I've essayed before. It's no use getting stuck in an image. By no means do I expect that roles be specially written for me nor am I waiting to do something extraordinary or expecting an unusual, woman-oriented part. But I definitely feel motivated when I'm given to do something challenging. A character diametrically different than what I am. In Pyar To Hona Hi Tha, I play a clumsy girl who constantly lands herself in embarassing situations. In Ishq, it's so unlike me. The challenge here is to move out of your persona and act like someone else."

But won't her limited choice of roles affect the growth of her career? As it is, there have been no immediate releases after Dilwale Dulhaniya... "Hey! If I don't have a release for one year, it doesn't mean that my career has nosedived. Sometimes you sign so many films together that all of them are slated for release simultaneously. And sometimes you have a select few films and they are spaced out in such a manner that there's bound to be a time-gap. Anyway, few of my films were delayed owing to different reasons and now you're going to be inundated with my releases this year. I would say that more than an actor, it's the filmmaker who should be concerned about the releases. If I'm busy working the year round, I have nothing to worry about for I have ample work on hand."

After the success of Dilwale Dulhaniya.... and having been adjudged the Best Actress of the year, how did she feel being considered everyone's numero uno? Does it not mean more pressure owing to the audience expectations? Kajol shakes her head vigorously and says, "I was never here to get caught up in the numbers game. Fame is so fickle and success is so ephemeral that you can hardly hope to stay at one place even if you go by the number game. Your ratings depend on the success or failure of your last film. You can strive to do good work, alright, but you can never be assured of a steady rate of success. So whither goes numero uno? "And she goes on to add, "like I said earlier, to me work is worship. So I only do my job keeping that in mind. Earning awards or rewards is not my aim."

Do we say that she's a natural born actress owing to her genes? Or did she take a lot of time mastering the art of acting? "I would attribute it to a bit of both - genetic influences as well as my personal effort. To be candid, acting comes naturally to me, in the sense, that I grasp the intricacies of any role very fast. So you could credit it to my lineage. But I guess that influence ends there: As an actress, I'd rather create an identity of my own than bank heavily on family influences. Apart from the physical resemblance and the similarities in mannerisms, you'd perhaps not notice any further similitude. And the rest, of course, I owe it to my hard work. You can't get ahead in any profession if you don't put your heart and soul in it, isn't it?" says she flashing a radiant smile.

But despite having proved her mettle as an actress, she ironically abhors the idea of seeing herself on screen. Says she, "When I sit down to evaluate my performances, I'm over-critical of myself. So if I were to watch a film of mine, you would never find me relaxed. Because I feel I need to improve upon everything that I've done. Frankly, if one has an open mind, there is such a lot to learn." We dare quiz her on the enhancement of her personality vis-a-vis make-up, hair, dress sense, et al. "Naughty, naughty!" she giggles. "Well, looking good is part of this profession. So if one is found wanting in that department due to any reason, one might as well pay attention to it." But she would like to restrict the dolling- up bit to her on screen personanly, as she says, "I'm not a make-up person, not the type who would go to a hairdresser to do my hair for hours before attending a function. I'd rather do my own hair and sport a no make-up look."

That's Kajol for you. No airs, no celebrity hang-ups, no pretentiousness. But then how has she earned the label of being brash and arrogant? Without a moment's hesitation, she replies, "Avoiding the pratfalls of fame is not easy. I know that my life is open to scrutiny because I'm in the public eye. But one has to draw a line somewhere. I guess I have a right to privacy. So if I find anyone intruding upon it, I hit the ceiling. If this could be termed rudeness or arrogance, I couldn't care less. I'd rather have people watch me on screen than know me in person. But those who know me can vouch for it that I'm extremely courteous and amiable. I'm not oblivious of basic etiquettes." She pauses and goes on to elaborate, "Another reason why I'm considered brash is because I'm not a hypocrite. I don't mince words when I feel the need to say something. I have the habit of calling a spade, a spade whether someone likes it or not. Try however much, I can't succeed at being diplomatic. Frankly, speaking your mind saves you a lot of trouble."

But there is one trait in her that she would consciously like to keep a check on. Anger! How she yearns to get hold of this negative emotion. "I have this nasty habit of blowing my top without seeing reason sometimes. And those who bear the brunt of it are none other than the near and dear ones. Perhaps I take advantage of the fact that they love me enough to forgive me my misdemeanour. But that's not done. I realise that and am consciously trying to control my temper."

When the rumour mills churn out baseless stories and gossip mongers have a field day spreading canards at her expense, does she not get worked up then? "Ha! These faceless, nameless people don't affect me. Gossip mongers can say whatever they like behind your back. They don't have the guts to say anything in front of you. So is it any point getting worked up over these trivialities? It's better to ignore it all."

But what happens when the grapevine is abuzz with the news of something so personal as her marriage plans without confirming the news . "You've said it without 'confirming the news'.lf the news is confirmed, it will definitely be supported by my statement. If it is not, it's meaningless."

Worrying about 'not being cool' is obviously not her priority. It's clearly her work that takes precedence over everything today. She's looking forward to the release of Rajiv Rai's Gupt, Indra Kumar's Ishq and Ajay Devgan's Pyar To Hona Hi Tha.

Ask Kajol what lies ahead after all that, and she will once more slip into space. "I like working when I'm working, but I could live without it. Work is one thing and then there's the other thing real life. That's the thing I'm working hardest at right now." And she shares one last philosophic tidbit, "I think it's more honest to think that you don't know what lies ahead. I am happy, that's enough right now," she says offering a handshake and unloosing a Venusian smile.

Destination Kajol