She may be one of the most successful leading ladies in the history of Indian cinema, but that hasn’t stopped Kajol from being very picky about which films she chooses to star in.
The award-winning actress regularly takes long breaks between projects and has turned down more high-profile films than any other modern-day star.
She is also one half of arguably the most popular onscreen couple of all time, having delivered a string of blockbusters opposite Shah Rukh Khan.
These factors have combined to make the soon-to-be-released Dilwale one of the most anticipated films of the year.
Due in cinemas globally on December 18, the Rohit Shetty-directed action romance has been shot at scenic locations around the world and features a colourful cast.
When Eastern Eye caught up with Kajol to talk about Dilwale and more, she was in good spirits and peppered most of her answers with infectious laughter.
You are the most popular actress but also the pickiest. How did they persuade you to say yes to Dilwale?
(Laughs) Well, they tried very hard, let me put it that way. But the ultimate deciding factor really was my daughter because she didn’t like I was just doing these films where everybody keeps crying all the time. She said: ‘I want to watch you in a movie where I don’t have to cry and you don’t have to cry for a change’. So I thought: ‘Okay that makes sense’. She said: ‘I really want you to do this film, I think it will be good’. I was like: ‘Okay fine, yes. I will do the film’.
So the secret is the producers need to approach your daughter and not you?
(Laughs) They approach my daughter for every film, trust me. If they were solely my choices, they would not be picky at all, they would be random and scattered.
When you have a break from cinema, do you find it easy or hard to pick up where you left off?
No, it’s pretty easy. I am used to it as I have been working since I was 16 years old. So honestly, this is a way of life that you kind of go into and out of, and I am good with both ways.
Does the fact that audiences get most excited about seeing you onscreen because of the long gaps put any pressure on you?
I know it should but it doesn’t. I am happy where I am. Yes, there is a pressure to choose a good film. Even if I want to do a film, I make sure I have something fantastic to do in it. That is a pressure more than anything else. I need to do something that is worth all the time I take away from my family. Otherwise it is not worth it.
You’ve done a great job keeping the plot of Dilwale a secret. What can you tell us about the story and your character?
You need to see the trailer to see my character in the film. There is not much I can tell you now because as you said, we have kept it very, very secret. We are keeping it all hush hush. We will be talking about it soon, but not right now.
You and Shah Rukh Khan are seen by most as the greatest onscreen couple in the history of Bollywood. What has kept the chemistry between you both so strong?
Honestly, we don’t think about it that much. (Laughs) Maybe that is where chemistry comes from, because we don’t take ourselves as seriously as the rest of the world seems to. I think that’s it. Also, for him and me to agree to do a film since our viewpoints are quite diverse, I think in itself means the script, director or something must be outstanding.
How much does it help that you have such a strong friendship with Shah Rukh Khan away from work?
It helps a lot, there’s so much of a comfort factor. There’s so much of a predictable and unpredictable feel to it. It’s like a very comfortable rhythm that has kind of evolved over the years with the amount of films we have done together and sheer time we have spent doing nothing. Just waiting behind the camera for the shot to be hit. I think that is where true camaraderie actually begins.
You shot Dilwale at some incredible locations, but where was your favourite?
I loved Reykjavik, I loved Iceland. I thought it was one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to. I didn’t even know places like that existed in this world. It just looks otherworldly. It’s one of those places that is going to remain with me for the rest of my life. I am lucky to be in a profession that has taken me to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
You can’t talk about what happens onscreen, but can you share any behind-the-scenes stories?
Behind-the-scenes? You know I hate anecdotes, I just can’t give them. (Laughs) I really can’t give them and find them the most boring to tell, but yes, we had a great time doing the film. We had a blast. The whole unit had a good time. We had Johnny Lever on the film, Boman Irani, Sanjay Mishra, Varun Dhawan, Kriti (Sanon). Everybody bonded. We had fun and made fun of each other, which I am sure you will see in the making of Dilwale.
Director Rohit Shetty is known to play practical jokes, did that happen?
We have played quite a few practical jokes on a few people in the duration of the film, yes. But I think more than anything else, it is just a question of getting along, and I think we have. There haven’t been any great enmities fortunately. No drama to report, Asjad.
Which is your favourite song in Dilwale?
I would think it is a song that has been shot in Reykjavík called Gerua, which has just been released. You must have a listen, it’s one of the most melodious songs that I’ve heard recently. It’s one of the best songs in the film. It is pictured stunningly. Your jaw drops open with every shot that is there in front of you. It is really beautiful.
As someone who has strived for substantial characters, you must be happy with the great roles that leading ladies are now getting in Indian cinema?
Yes, I am. But I think it’s a great time for all actors because the audience has changed finally and it’s become more economically feasible to make films that are not run-of-the-mill and don’t have a targeted storyline, you know. Films that are a little more random and a little more experimental, that are a little more out there. That’s why I think every kind of actor today is doing well because of TV, because of film, because of the audience. So I think it’s a fantastic time to be in this industry. I feel very lucky.
Does this mean you will now do more films?
(Laughs) Oh no, no, no, nothing like that. I am still going to take long gaps. At least now I have a much bigger variety to choose from, let me put it that way.
You have a great body of work, but do you have any unfulfilled acting ambitions?
No, I never look at it from that point of view. I am always happy with whatever I have got. I always think that this is going to be the best I have ever done and then it’s always on to the next film. I hope that will be better than the ones I have done so far again.
You are doing amazing philanthropic work. What can you tell us about your charity?
Yes, I have a charity called Help A Child Reach 5, which I am very active with. It is about change and basically teaching people the importance of hygiene, how important it is to wash your hands and how it can prevent hundreds of diseases. How it can reduce child mortality throughout the world really. I am very efficiently and passionately involved in it.
You have been a trailblazer throughout your career and still are. What keeps the passion so strong?
I think it is the fact that I don’t do so much work that keeps me passionately alive. I think it’s the fact that I have a life apart from my work. I am passionately involved in my life as well. Therefore I am passionately involved in the work that I do as well. It is a vice-versa thing.
Would you like to give a message to your UK fans?
Please go and watch Dilwale, which will be released on December 18. What more can I say? I think that you should be as good as you can and forgive yourself for the rest.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
I love cinema because it plays with my imagination and let’s me play with a lot of other people’s imaginations as well.
Dilwale is in cinemas on December 18