Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; July 2, 2017)

She was a megastar, she still is. An actress for whom the biggest filmmakers mounted lavish projects, in an era that was massively male-dominated. Such was the magic of this matinee queen. While she sensuously swayed in her classic chiffons, million of hearts went aflutter. Sridevi could slip into being Chandni or Charlie Chaplin with as much flair and brilliance. Or break barriers, linguistic ones too, and make a stellar comeback with a film (English Vinglish) after 15 years. Tell her all this flatteringly, and she looks back at you casually and says, “I am very simple, all these praises scare me. I feel like a newcomer.“

Comfortably settled on her couch for a long chat, sans make-up, her large eyes beam through her thick-rimmed glasses, as she talks about her upcoming film, Mom. And of course, she tells stories about how she raised her daughters as a superstar mom. Read on...

Mom is your 300th film, and you also complete fifty years as an actress. Is there anything about your career you would do differently, if you had a chance?
Not at all! I wouldn't want to change anything about my career. I hadn't planned any of this; it fell into my lap and I am grateful to God for it. I just want it to remain like this. My mom and I never thought that I would make my way into Bollywood. I was happy doing films down South. When my first Hindi film Solva Sawan (the 1979 remake of a Tamil film) was being made, I thought... 'Yeh picture toh South main hit ho gaya, so they are making it in a different language'. That's all. Then, I came to know that the film didn't do well and I went back to doing other Southern language films. It was as simple as that. Before Himmatwala (1983) happened, the producers had taken my dates for another Telugu film, and all of a sudden, they said that they weren't doing that movie anymore, instead, they were doing a Hindi film with Jeetendra. My first reaction was that if my Hindi debut was a flop, then why do they want me to do another film? They didn't bother to hear me out and went ahead with it. I kept thinking that these people are mad to be doing this (laughs!). I am glad that I did Himmatwala because after that, one film led to the other. Talking about Mom, the moment I heard it, I was drawn to the subject. It touched my heart. I had a good feeling about it and I always go by my instinct.

Your co-actors say that working with you is an opportunity of a lifetime. You were even called the first female superstar and I am sure many such titles rest on your mantle, and yet, you insist that you are a newcomer...
All these labels and praises scare me. I am very simple and I feel like a newcomer because I never stopped learning. I feel there is so much more to learn about the craft, in fact, this is just the beginning. Times have changed. In the earlier days, sometimes when we were on the set, we would ask the director, 'Sir, dialogues de do'. Meanwhile, the writer is sitting somewhere on the set and penning the dialogues. The team would tell us, 'Garam garam aa raha hai scene', but now, we can't function like that. The bound script is already with you, and you are well aware of the mood of the scene, your look, the clothes and everything else. But I guess, that was the style back then; people still did a great job and it worked in that era. Today, films are made differently and there are so many heroine-oriented movies. Filmmakers are willing to take chances, and explore these subjects. It is the best time to be in the industry and there is so much more I want to learn as an actress. I never went through a phase in my career when I said, 'This is enough; I don't want to do this anymore'. Acting has always been my passion.

You come from an era when stars were super exclusive. Nowadays, they interact directly with the fans, they chat with their fan clubs, et al. How have you coped with this huge change?
It is an amazing change and it is for the better, as fans can communicate with their favourite actors and share their views; we can also know their reactions directly. Earlier, we did maximum two-three interviews and left the rest to the fate of the film. Now, the promotions have become so aggressive, but we have to change with the times. I always say this dialogue (borrowed from Dabangg), 'Shooting se darr nahin lagta hai, promotion se lagta hai'. I had to cope with it, I had no choice. I joined social media during English Vinglish (2012) because I was coming back on screen after 15 years and the team thought that I should be a more happening mom. Yes, earlier, there was a certain beauty in the exclusivity and privacy we had, but now, we are clicked everywhere and anywhere - at airports, restaurants, salons, gyms - and we always have to be on our toes and see who is around us. Today, even if we want to keep our life private, I don't think that it is possible.

Actors who have worked with you say that you take 'being private' to a different level. Are you really so reserved, or do you fiercely guard your private life?
Some people think that I am very arrogant, but I am genuinely a very private and shy person. I open up to people who are close to me, and with them, I am a different person. So, I think that at times, my shyness has been perceived by some people as arrogance.

Boney Kapoor is producing a film with you after long. We heard that your daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi, were also very involved. There must be a lot of excitement at home about Mom...
Boneyji is very excited. Yes, he is doing a film with me after 20 years, the last one was Judaai. He's on top of the world seeing the reactions Mom's trailer has garnered. It was like a home production, where all of us were involved. We were looking for some one fresh and good-looking to play my husband and Jhanvi showed us Adnan Siddiqui's (Pakistani actor) picture. We all liked him right away and reached out to him. The director of the film, Ravi Udyawar, is new and I am often asked why I am working with new directors. I say, 'Why not?' I am lucky that I got a chance to work with Gauri Shinde (English Vinglish) and now, Ravi. He had a great vision for Mom and he was so passionate about it that I couldn't imagine any one else doing justice to the film.

We also heard that Boney and you would barely interact while shooting for the film on outdoor locations. Now, that's a different level of professionalism...
Really? I don't think that it is a big deal. When I am shooting, I don't want to see my husband around or even remember that he is my husband; I just want to focus on my work. Yes, it's true that I barely conversed with him while shooting; we were staying on different floors and just wished each other good morning and good night.

When you are doing an intense role like the one in Mom, or maybe one of your older films like Sadma (1983) - do you feel emotionally sapped? How much of the character and the emotion do you carry back home with you after the shoot is over?
Actually, Sadma wasn't an emotionally draining film for me; it must have been for the audience. I was playing a woman who was like a child; it was Kamal Haasan's character that was intense and very emotional towards the end. Jhanvi saw the movie when she was around six years old and she didn't talk to me for three days. She told me, 'You are a bad mamma. You were so mean to him'. I think Mom was an intense film for me. One of my friends who met me during the shoot and afterwards told me that I was a different person while shooting for the film. She said, 'Even the way you were walking and talking had changed. Now you are back to what you really are'. Interestingly, I didn't even realise that. It is a very emotional character, so I guess somewhere, it must have consumed a lot of my emotional energy. For me, all this lingers while the film is going on. After that, I switch back to normal, or else my children will throw me out (laughs!).

As a superstar mom, did you find yourself struggling to give your daughters a normal upbringing?
I brought up my kids the way my mom raised me. She gave me a normal upbringing, and when I had children, I did just that. When I am on the set, I am an actress, but at home, I am like any other mom. Of course, I tried to guard them as much as I could, but they were clicked everywhere we went and we couldn't help that.

There is so much talk about Jhanvi's launch and she has a huge role model at home to look up to...
I know that there is a lot of curiosity about her launch, but I want to say that it will be very unfair to compare Jhanvi with me. I began as a child artiste, I had done 60-70 films and I knew a lot about shooting, camera and filmmaking by the time I was her age.When Jhanvi does her first film, people should judge her as an individual, instead of comparing her with me. My journey has been long. So, it will be unfair to compare a girl who is just starting out her career with someone who has done 300 films.

The thought that she will be in the same space that you have been in for so many decades... does that make you nervous?
I guess it is a different feeling though it has not started yet. I never thought that she will go through this. I thought that she will study, do something else and then get married. And I will be free (laughs!). Today, children have their own mind and I have seen how my mom supported me, so I will support her in whatever she is willing to do.

Sometime around 2012, you had said that Jhanvi will not be an actress. How did that change?
At that time, she was younger and I thought that I could mould her and tell her what I wanted her to do (smiles!). Then, the shock dropped on me like a bomb. I thought that there is no running away from this and I have to face it. When she told me that she wanted to be an actress, I told her that there will be many problems and it won't be an easy ride. It is a very tough world out there and being an actress comes with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. As a mother, I obviously thought, 'Why should my child go through this? I have worked so hard for so many years... ab sab settle ho gaya. Let them have a peaceful life'. Having said that, I believe that whatever I am today, I owe it to this industry. I have so much respect for it. Stardom has never been easy and even going ahead, it won't be. If Jhanvi has made this choice, I have to be there for her. I will take it up positively and give it my 100% as a mom. My close friends tell me that I have to be strong about it and take care of myself. Well, it looks like I have to prepare myself more than her. With Jhanvi doing films, it feels like I am starting all over again.