ONE of the all-time greatest leading ladies of Indian cinema, Juhi Chawla can rightly be proud of the global impact she has made. But instead of dwelling on her past achievements, the actress divides her time between being a mother, her business ventures and starring in carefully selected films. Still strikingly attractive, she is also an accomplished singer and not surprisingly is busier than ever before.
Eastern Eye caught up with Juhi to talk about her amazing cinematic journey, favourite roles, women-orientated films, being a working mother, future hopes and more.
You have had a remarkable cinematic journey. Have you looked back at your amazing achievements?
Juhi: It has been due to destiny, good luck and blessings, which I am extremely grateful for. I mean as a child, I never even imagined being in the industry. But then life gave me these extraordinary chances and I am not sure what made me take them up, but I did. And now look where destiny has brought me. I remember my first film Sultanat did not click, but my second film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak was the one which nobody really knew about, but it caught the fancy of audiences and became the hit it did, and gave me my career. It really gave me a good anchor in the film industry.
That must have given you so much encouragement and hope?
Juhi: Yes. Throughout, my endeavour was just to do my best and be successful. The one nice thing was my healthy attitude towards work, which also gave me a long innings. So basically I just kept doing what I could by giving it my best, as I wanted my parents to be proud of my work as well as me. However, there were certain times in my career, which could have got me to stop working.
When was that?
Juhi: One was after my marriage, as Jay’s family are all industrialists so the older relatives did, at one point, ask me if I would be willing to give it up. At that point I did think that I would have to let go of this career. But then by a twist of fate, after marriage, I still got to continue. Then after my children came, I had to take a break, after which I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted or get work. But surprisingly when I came back, I was offered films that were different, charming and smaller ones like Jhankar Beats, Teen Deewarein and My Brother Nikhil. And at that time, advertising too had started taking off, so endorsements came up too. After all that, I also did some lovely regional as well as National Awardwinning films. Things kept moving, slower, but just kept moving. So yes, I have been really really fortunate, for which I am very grateful.
What do you think has been your best performance to date?
Juhi: I have many favourites. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak where I played this Rajasthani girl who spoke with a hum, which was quite a dignified way of speaking and that made the role very special. It was also of an innocent young girl, which was pretty close to my personality, so I could do it with more ease. I also really enjoyed Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. Again, that character was very me – a simple girl wanting to believe in the good things and happy with a simple life, which is very close to my real self. I really liked Aaina as well, where the simple girl gets the prince. Darr was like a challenge for me – I wanted to do my best because I had watched Yash Chopra films when I was growing up, but never imagined I would be in one.
Today, what does a film need to have for you to say yes?
Juhi: A film needs to have a good script and story for me to say yes to it. That is the most important aspect for me today.
What was the experience of doing your most recent release, Chalk n Duster?
Juhi: I played a teacher – Jyoti ma’am – in Chalk n Duster. What drew me to the film was the script, which was a very engaging and sweet story that will make you want to get up and just clap at the end. It is a heartwarming film which I truly enjoyed working on.
Do you think Indian cinema is writing stronger characters for women now?
Juhi: When we ask for films that are women oriented, I first ask, where is the audience? They don’t really come rushing in to watch a female oriented film. It’s usually the hero films that get a huge opening. When it is a story-based film about women, and even if the artists are wonderful, the film has to be outstanding for audiences to trickle into theatres. That is one thing that hasn’t changed in all the years I have been in the industry. So the question is, where are you when these films enter the theatres? Unless you are going to help that film be come a success, don’t expect things to just happen. But yes, there are a lot of films such as these. Shabanaji (Azmi) is Shabanaji because of some very strong roles she played. During my time, there was Mrityudand with Madhuri (Dixit). Tabu played strong female characters in films like Astitva and became known as a serious actress. Also, has there ever been any hit film in the history of cinema without a woman? In every film there is a hero, but to complete the story there has to be a woman, and without her it just doesn’t work. So whether or not the woman is taking the central role, she is extremely important and will always be so.
Do you have a dream role you haven’t played?
Juhi: With God’s grace, I have had opportunities to play a mix of many good characters and lovely roles in my career. But it’s not so much my own role that is exciting to me, but a great story and script. I really want to be a part of it and make the character shine, but the script has to be a good one. And that is where I am at in my career now, looking for interesting scripts.
Which director challenged you the most?
Juhi: Definitely Soumik, Sen who got me to play the negative role in Gulaab Gang. This film is one of my favourites too. The performances and my role in the film was something I immensely enjoyed.
What is the secret of a great performance?
Juhi: I believe that when you are singing a song and you are one with the song and nothing else, that’s the best performance. I actually wish that I can reach that point in regard with my acting or my singing, where it’s not about anybody or anything else, but I am just focused on what I am doing.
You have a great voice. Will you be doing any more singing?
Juhi: When I look back at my career I think, ‘did I make myself a movie star, or did God place me in the right place at the right time and gave me some amazing opportunities?’ Of course, there were ups and down, but it wasn’t me who made me. It was somebody guiding me and giving me the right things at the right moment. Of late I am again looking more spiritually at my life and saying, it’s not me who is going to make it happen. I love music, I love learning it and I have a nice voice and so I enjoy singing. My wish is to do something with it and be heard. But God will place the right opportunities in my path and I will take them and you will then get to know about it too. I will just leave it to him to show the way.
How do you balance being a mum with work?
Juhi: Well, sometimes it’s been a little overwhelming, but now I make sure to just take one thing at a time. I try not to overcrowd my schedule, so I pick and choose what I do. There have been times where I have been worried because I’ve had to suddenly go away for an outdoor shoot schedule, and who would be at home with the children. At such times, either my sister-in-law or my mother-in- law has turned up, so things just got managed. Eventually you feel that God is watching over you, and finds a way to make things happen. So when I start to get too worried, I just remind myself that everything will definitely work out, so not to worry.
What advice would you give a working mother?
Juhi: I once read something very interesting, and the essence of it was that the strength of a woman lies not in what a man can do but doing what he can’t. A man cannot do the things a woman can – he can’t have a baby, he can’t bring love and warmth to a home the way a woman does. And somewhere we have lost sight of that. We think it’s not good enough and we have to start proving ourselves by doing what he does. I don’t know when we will finally realise that women don’t have to prove their strength, as strength is God-given to women. So for women who want to run their home and make a career, while you are doing that, I really hope you are enjoying what you are doing as it definitely isn’t easy. It could take a toll on your health and energy, so do what you enjoy, and since you are handling so much, don’t be too hard on yourself. You may not be perfect at everything, but give it your best and just leave the rest. You look as fabulous as ever.
What do you think is the secret to beauty?
Juhi: Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder – what you see outside is a reflection of who you are, which is true beauty, according to me.
What do you think of the new generation of actors in Indian cinema?
Juhi: Deepika (Padukone) is very talented and Ranbir Kapoor is also fantastic. I really like him as an actor for the various roles he plays. Ranveer Singh is an actor to watch out for. Alia (Bhatt) is quite young but very talented. Varun (Dhawan) has progressed a lot and has great potential, and Shraddha (Kapoor), according to me, is the new superstar. Of late, I have been wondering where Imran Khan has disappeared to.
Finally, what are your biggest passions away from work today?
Juhi: My kids, my family, music, yoga, radiation awareness. I am also beginning to do organic farming because I eventually want a yoga farm stay of my own, where you have yoga and organic farming on one property. I now will also start looking into my family-run educational institution in Gujarat, which has about 1,000 girl students. All of these things take up more time than I can manage in a day.