A gender bender

A gender bender

Feisty and fastidious, Rani Mukerji has played her roles on her terms, and with elan, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

A full 23 years after her debut in Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, Rani Mukerji remains the only heroine from the 1990s to still command box-office clout on her own steam. In the last 10 years, none of her contemporaries have come anywhere near her tally of two hits, one post-marriage (to Aditya Chopra), and one post-pregnancy, Mardaani and Hichki.

What’s more, neither has had any hero, and though they have both been produced by her husband’s Yash Raj Films, they have been totally varied roles — of a determined female cop out to crush crime and a teacher afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome who has the one-point agenda of making her students shine. The former has now become a franchise.
On the eve of the release of Mardaani 2, Rani is in an elated mood, though
personally under stress as mother Krishna is undergoing medical treatment. This is her first sequel, and she says, “the word Mardaani denotes a woman’s spirit of daredevilry, whose epitome SP Shivani Shivaji Roy is. This is not a regular franchise, but is about women empowerment, and I feel empowered enacting this role. The uniform brings in restraints but also responsibilities. During the making of both these films, I met so many female officers, and now I am very glad I am putting out their bravery and courage on mainstream cinema.”

Breaking stereotypes

The idea, she concludes succinctly, is that the audience, when they think of a cop, “must think of a female cop, unlike the way we automatically think of a policeman, or pilot, or doctor as a man even now. These professions are not gender-centric, right?”

At every stage, says Rani, her choice of roles has been dictated by her headspace. “That decides the way I react to characters, and how I have been attracted to those kind of zones. Mardaani happened a short while after the Nirbhaya case, where the entire nation was shocked by the gory details and angrily wondered how someone can do something so inhuman.”

She continues, “As an actor, I chose to channelise my anger through the
film, which was created by the same sentiment that was felt by writer Gopi Puthran and my director Pradeep Sarkar, besides Adi. Child trafficking is a huge problem, and we may think it happens only across borders but it is happening right under our nose even in cities.”


Mardaani 2 happened only because we felt like tackling similar issues in society. “We did not want to do a film just to make a sequel,” says Rani. “Today, crimes against children have increased. Very often, trusted people commit the crime, so who does a child trust? How does she or he protect themselves? I think it is fundamentally how you bring up a daughter, and even more importantly, a son, that influences their behaviour later.”

Showcasing a problem is fine, but when will films start showing possible solutions to tackle or prevent them? “You are absolutely right. We must try and guide women. I firmly believe that Goddess Durga resides in every woman. She must channelise that inner power. She must also be prepared and aware at all times. Learning self-defence must be made mandatory in schools. She also needs to keep a pepper spray handy. She needs to know that such attacks on her can come as much from people she knows and trusts, as from strangers.” Adds the actress, “I have seen many women try and shut off any news report on television or go away from the room or read something else in a newspaper when such things are being reported. This is because it disturbs them. But now is the time to understand and accept such things,” she points out. 

On a lighter note, she declares that the biggest challenge she faced during the making of Mardaani 2 was conquering her aquaphobia, a childhood fear of water. “Have you ever seen me come out of a swimming pool in any film?” she asks. “Have I ever worn a bikini? I have never even been on a cruise. That is because I have had this fear of water, which has been passed on to me by my mother.” Because of that, Rani was a shade perturbed when the writer of the series, who turns director with Mardaani 2, told her that there would be an underwater action sequence. “I had loved the script and its message, so I told Gopi. ‘There’s a major glitch. What made you think of this sequence?’ And he said, ‘I want it. Why?’ I told him my problem, and after his surprised reaction, he suggested that I learn swimming. I told him we should complete the rest of the film first, thinking that on the way I would convince him to change this sequence for something else.”

The film was completed in June, and as monsoons had begun in Mumbai, Rani was thrilled that a further four months were there to postpone swimming lessons. “Then this year, the rains went on till October and I was even more thrilled, but my director never changed his view. I must say that the swimming coach he assigned, Anees, was very good. He first put me in a baby pool and gradually eased me in. I finally shot the scene 20 feet underwater outside Mumbai, and at night. Now, my daughter Adira, who knows swimming, is happy that her mother can join her. We can have normal family vacations now, as Adi too knows swimming, and had always told me that we should never pass on our phobias to our children.”

Rumours galore

Three films in a row centring on children and minus a hero — when will Rani do a regular film with a proper hero?

“You give me a script, yaar,” she smiles. “I would love to do a film like that.” She laughs when we mention that the media has reported her coming back with Saif Ali Khan for a sequel to Bunty Aur Babli. “See, you guys know more about what we are doing,” she says. “Saif and me? Wow! Now, that is some bhavishyavani (prediction).”

Almost like a disclaimer, she adds, “I think some people are all the time
keeping an eye and ear open on what’s happening inside Yash Raj Films.”

As a series, Mardaani is very close to her heart and Rani hopes that the film will run into many sequels, even a Mardaani 5.

“We can deal with many issues in society. But I would like to do happy films, too. My daughter obviously cannot watch me in any of my three recent films. She will be upset as she enjoys my singing and dancing on screen.”

She explains, “One example is of Black. I was so deep into it that when Bunty Aur Babli was offered to me, I grabbed it only because I could unwind, let myself loose and have fun. I have always endeavoured not to repeat myself, and that could be one reason why people still want to watch me even after 23 years.”

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