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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Kajol on Exploring, Educating & Empowering Through Cinema

Kajol seems to be on a roll this year. First Tanhaji emerged as a blockbuster, she wrapped up her Netflix Original Tribhanga and now, has made her short-film debut.

Niranjan Iyengar’s Devi might be brief, but the impact it has is beyond its length.

The movie morally shakes the viewer and is a visual representation of how stories of rape should not be reduced to a news segment, but a case to serve justice.

Certainly, with her choice of projects, it seems like the superstar diva has completely sped past her ‘Simran’ or ‘Anjali’ days… Creating a more confident and venturesome artiste.

Filme Shilmy exclusively caught up with Kajol to talk about her short-film Devi and the new changing-phase of her career.

You’re kick-starting the decade with content ranging from different mediums. What has prompted this interest in exploring new styles of cinema?

I think the interest was always there, but the opportunity (as far as scripts are concerned) they had to be likeable.

It’s not sufficient to just get a huge quantity of them and one has to like it. That’s the big part of doing content and working.

I don’t purposely time doing multiple projects at the start of every decade (laughs), it just happened that way, honestly.

Maybe the start of the decade is lucky for me.

Since you’re also the pillar of strength in your family, how close to home is your character Jyoti in Devi?

It’s not that familiar to me because Jyoti is the kind of character who absolutely doesn’t want to take decisions.

She runs away from it and wants to be the peacemaker at every point nor does she want confrontation… You need to literally point a gun at her head for her to confront an issue.

Jyoti won’t take that step forward – but that is nothing like me.

But I agree with you that she’s the kind of person who everybody turns to and is the person whom everyone kind of relies upon and respects.

Every one of them (the characters) do. She is the one keeping everything together.

That’s pretty much every woman in every family, not just me. In a family, the woman is the fabric who keeps everybody in their place.

Given that gender discrimination, abuse and violence is still rampant today, what impact do you think the movie will have on society?

I’m hoping that Devi starts the conversation. There’s a tired and resigned manner in addressing these topics.

Yes, it’s relevant to us and it does impact us to a certain extent, but I think somewhere along the lines, there’s exhaustion with it as well.

I am hoping with Devi we revive the wanting to make it a better aspect of it – in terms of the debate and conversation surrounding it.

Films cannot change society. We reflect it and maybe afford a different perspective, but society has to come about that change on its own.

Otherwise, the change won’t happen. We cannot give ourselves that much power and importance to say “we can change society”.

If we could do that, it would be a completely different world today.

Even though it’s a short film, how (if at all) does the length of a story impact you as an actor?

It’s more about what the story has to say rather than the length of the film.

I feel Devi says a lot about different topics. I love the fact that the movie is open to interpretation by all – men and women alike.

I’ve had people coming up to me saying that the film spoke to them in different ways and I like that.

In our last interview, you mentioned that you don’t wish to do ‘run-of-the-mill things’ and choose projects which will surprise the audience. How will you measure the ventures that come your way and ensure that?

I don’t think you can ensure anything. I don’t think anything is a sure-shot. But I think as far as you can take it, that’s where my ability lies at least… “How far can I take it?”

That’s where experience comes into account. An individual knows how they are like on-screen.

I’ve seen enough of myself to know what I am capable of on-screen and what I can make out of a character.

So yes. It has a lot to do with instinct and experience.

When you read a script, you should be able to know how to build that character or make that impactful enough and what you can do with it.

When you started your career, digital media was very minimal. How have you adapted to fit with the current trends?

I can’t think of it as a ‘trend’ anymore. It’s more of an act of life really. As you said, you have to really just adapt, that’s what I did when I took to Instagram 5-years-ago.

My daughter really brought that home to me because she was the one who insisted that I get onto it. I, on the other hand, was really sceptical and clueless.

Whilst social media feels like a duty on some days but 75%-80% of the time it is thoroughly enjoyable.

I enjoy my sense of humour thoroughly… I am the one laughing at my own jokes (laughs).

How does it feel to be foraying on to the digital cinema at this stage of your career?

The web is like any other platform for that matter. Shooting for it is not any different from shooting for another feature film actually.

The only difference, however, is that you get to use bad language more than otherwise, right? (laughs)

Having said that though, the good part is that all of the content available is of a very good value.

Fortunately for us, currently, there is not that much of censorship in comparison to the normal big-screen cinema.

Its great one can say what is required without having to worry too much about the political ramifications of it.

DDLJ is considered to be an iconic film in Hindi cinema and it catapulted you to super-stardom. Had this movie not happened, what or where do you feel your life would’ve been?

I think it would’ve been pretty much the same. If I hadn’t got DDLJ, I probably would’ve got some other film.

But yes, the movie is a phenomenon and I totally agree with that. I also think it’s something that cannot be credited to us anymore.

We made this film and released it, but after that, it went ahead and built a life of its own. It built an identity of its own that we as people of the industry own anymore.

Sure we can say that we are grateful to be a part of it but cannot claim ownership of it.

As your roles carry a legendary status, was there ever a fear of being typecast or restricted to those characters only?

You know, I think ‘typecast’ is a form of your mind. It’s something in your own head… If you feel that in your own mind, then it will happen due to your fear.

For me, I’ve never believed in the fear of “I will be typecast” which is why I am agreeable to doing anything.

I want to do something that interesting for me… Nothing to do with what I’ve done before or what I am (or not) capable of doing.

Capability, I feel, comes later. It’s more about what interests you and what you believe you can give your fullest to.

Growing up in an illustrious filmy family, was there ever pressure on you to live up to the glory achieved by your elders?

No, I have to say that my family was fabulous that way. The only thing they held me up to live up to was of being a strong independent woman. 

I think they were very clear on me living life in a very strong manner and you have to live up to it.

The rest of it, they said, that my career will happen simultaneously… But they made it clear on what they expected of me – ethically. 

That was always emphasised. My mother brought me up very bravely.

It takes a lot of bravery to allow your kids to experience their own journey and give them that independence.

I’m actually trying that with my children, attempting it. I don’t succeed every day but I am trying and I have to give myself that much credit at least.

Listen to our full podcast with Kajol right here:

Generally speaking, you’re in a good space – professionally and personally. How content are you with life?

I’m at peace, there’s nothing that I’m striving towards and wasn’t a very ambitious person, to begin with, so I honestly don’t have the answer to the statement of being ‘content’.

I always knew where I was and satisfied with who I am and where I was. I’ve never been discontent or particularly ambitious… Be it a workout or a particular bank balance.

It never worried me to that extent that I felt ‘actively’ to work towards.

Devi revolves around a group of women from different walks of life seemingly living together in a small room.

They are all busy with their own errands until a mute girl (Yashaswini Dayama) turns on the news channel.

Breaking news of a horrific case which has “shaken up the conscience of the country” is getting broadcast but before the details of the case are revealed, the TV loses signal.

A few moments later, the doorbell rings which leads to arguments among the women about the room being too small to take any more people.

However, Jyoti (Kajol) manages to convince them to adjust and make room for the person outside.

Jyoti goes to open the door and the identity of the person outside leaves them all shocked and teary-eyed.

Kajol is set to only get better with every project she chooses to explore. Truly a game-changer.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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