Rachana Dubey (BOMBAY TIMES; May 16, 2017)

She has a no-nonsense aura that can be intimidating, but her candour is equally disarming. At heart, Hema Malini is like any other woman who juggles her home and a demanding career. In an exclusive chat with BT, the 65-year-old politician-danseuse-actress talks about cinema, her marriage of 37 years and how women have to fight to find their space in everything they do. Excerpts...

After Ahana, your eldest daughter Esha is gearing up to embrace motherhood. You are going to be a grandmother once again...
I am really excited. It's a feeling that can't be expressed in words. Becoming a grandmother is an extension of a woman's personality. It doesn't matter how many times you become one, the excitement is the same. I am just waiting for the D-Day to hold the baby and say, 'Hey! Come on. Look at the world around you'.

How are you readying Esha for the big day? You must have shared your experiences with her...
Ahana suffered from morning sickness during her pregnancy, but Esha is more like me. She eats well and doesn't feel nauseous. I was very active during both my pregnancies. I continued shooting while I was carrying Esha - I gave dance performances and even rode horse for a film. Sometimes, films would take a year or more to get made. In the middle of that, when I conceived, I chose to have the baby. Abhi uska kya kar sakte hain?

Your career has always been more than just being an actress. Along with movies, you also pursued classical dance with the same passion. Coming from your generation, handling family and multiple careers must have been a bigger challenge...
Back then, girls didn't have too many opportunities. Most men wouldn't allow their wives to pursue dance even if they had the passion and talent for it. I was fortunate to have married Dharamji (Dharmendra). He is always there for me, but never interferes in anything that I do. In fact, he has catalyzed my growth. He is the best aspect of my life. He has been appreciative of everything I have done, at home and professionally. Without that kind of support, you cannot fly. If I'm forced to live in a space where I don't have the freedom of choice, I will have to let my passions go. Without family support, you can't get this far. When my children were young, I set my routine according to their needs. Now, they're grown up and happy in their own little worlds. So, I can concentrate more on my dance and my political and acting career.

Dharmendra and you recently celebrated 37 years of marriage. Even after so many years, Dharamji remains romantic and writes Urdu poetry for you...
Every marriage is different, but the most important factor in a strong relationship is the love and harmony between the couple. It's not easy to strike a balance. Irrespective of your partner's mistakes, love must hold you back in the relationship. Money and other tangibles will come and go, they shouldn't be the foundation of your marriage. Yes, he writes Urdu poetry and a lot of it is for me. I have told him so many times to publish his writings. Let's see when he does it.

Is there a possibility of Dharamji and you getting back together on screen?
Abhi kya dikhaenge. Abhi to photo hi dikhaenge, aur kya! I don't think that will happen.

While juggling family and politics (she is a Lok Sabha MP from Mathura), films have taken a backseat for you. Even the last film you acted in  (Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi) with Vinod Khanna sank without a trace. Has your interest in cinema dwindled?
You can't imagine the effort that went into making that film and it was released so unceremoniously. I've also worked on a film titled Shimla Mirchi, which has been in the cans for two years. The producer and the distributor are at loggerheads for some reason. I really hope it releases.

While the audience would still love to see you on screen, do you find it difficult to get roles that will justify your presence in the film?
Kya karein? Nowadays, no one wants to make a film with actresses my age. Trust me, we can still carry a film on our shoulders. Aaram se ho sakta hai. There are stories waiting to be told. Aaj hum hain, kal nahi honge. Baad mein bulaoge to kahaan se aayenge hum log.

True. In a broader perspective, whether it's films or politics, do you think it's tougher for women to find their feet on their own terms, regardless of their age?
When I hear about women being treated badly in their professional spaces, I feel bad. It's not fair. Thankfully, I have managed to do well in whichever field I have chosen. But I'm also very strict about what I do and how I do it. For instance, at one point, my constituency was crowded with power-hungry men who had no desire for responsibility. Kursi chahiye thi, bas. Initially, I didn't know how the system really runs, but you need a certain presence of mind to deal with such people. Today, people's attitudes have changed.

Are you happy with the work you are doing?
Yes, but I can do better. Women can do everything. Look at any woman. My choice of profession may be different from yours, but we're all women at the end of the day and we juggle work and personal responsibilities with absolute ease.

How do you keep your energies high and continue to look ageless?
I don't shy away from the fact that my wrinkles are visible. But I also know that if I have to dance for two hours at a stretch, I have to take care of myself. I work out and eat the right things at the right time. I don't party or drink and I sleep on time.