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Juhi Chawla On Sharmaji Namkeen & Playing The Social Beacon Of Change

Since winning the 1984 Miss India, Juhi Chawla starred in major Indian potboilers like Sultanat and Premaloka. But the ice broke with playing a star-crossed lover in Nasir Hussain’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. She subsequently took off in Bollywood and she became one of the leading actresses during the 90s. Some of her popular works are titles like Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Aaina and Yes Boss, to name a few.

Her chemistry with numerous actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan have always been celebrated. But one of the rare rapports she shared was with the late superstar, Rishi Kapoor. They first worked together in 1992 with Bol Radha Bol then in later movies like Luck By Chance. 

Kapoor’s ultimate film is Sharmaji Namkeen in which he plays a retired man who discovers his passion for cooking after joining a riotous women’s kitty circle. It is the first time two actors will be playing the same character as Paresh Rawal completes the role after Mr Kapoor’s demise. Rawal too has worked with Chawla in numerous titles, though not opposite each other.

“On the sets, when scenes were going on, Chintu Ji was effortless and sparkling. And I was standing in front of him and struggling with my takes. I knew what was happening inside me,” Juhi recounts. “I was like, ‘Chintu ji ke itne acche shots hai. Mere nahi aayenge toh not good. (He gave such good shots. If I would not match up, it won’t look nice).'”

“I would keep running to the monitor just to see ki maine take theek kiya ki nahi. So, Chintu Ji was like – ‘monitor is not meant for actors. Why are you behaving like an insecure actor? Hitesh Bhatia [director of the film], why are you allowing her to see the monitor.’ I would crack up, but still went and saw the monitor. I loved all that. Great fun.”

The beauty of Chawla’s craft as an actor is that she has never been confined to a specific genre. Though she is recognised for her smiling and buoyant demeanour, her work in cinema is more intense than it seems. She constantly uses her mainstream appeal and selects projects which are real in movies like My Brother Nikhil, I Am and Jhankaar Beats, to name a few.

In many of these titles, especially Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, she essays a positive character who encourages social acceptance. Her roles in commercial movies too explore rampant topics. For instance stalking in Darr, adultery in Salaam-E-Ishq and mental health in Saat Rang Ke Sapne. Chawla sheds light on her choices specifically when it comes to playing the ‘beacon of change’.

“When you go to watch the cinema, it’s not about going because a film deals with a particular subject. You go because it’s entertaining enough but yet gives a message. Koi paise de ke message ke liye nahin aata,” she exclusively tells Filme Shilmy. “I would say I do films where the whole script is working, beginning to end. The message within a story is a bonus. But first it has to work as a story. It was not by design. But some of these films came to me as well-written pieces on paper. There was no reason to say no. I am also a very normal person in the films so my reactions are the same. I was lucky to play these lovely parts.”

Watch our full interview with Juhi Chawla here:

Sharmaji Namkeen streams on 31st March on Amazon Prime Video. Excel Entertainment produces. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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