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Cover Story
July 16, 2005

Mum’s The Word

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Dabboo Ratnani. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani. Make-up and hair by Mickey Contractor. All outfits by Manish Malhotra

On her self-imposed sabbatical from celluloid, she continues to revel in her real life role of mother to moppet, Nysa. But, you can’t keep a good actress away from the greasepaint. New mommy, Kajol, readies herself for a ‘comeback’, even as her 1995-runaway romance, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, is all set to become the longest running Indian film. Verve has a freewheeling chat with an actress always worth watching.

Public interest in her activities have not diminished, not one whit at all. Whether she’s dashing off to Goa with her actor-spouse, Ajay Devgan and their toddler, Nysa, making a brief appearance on the small screen for best friend, Karan Johar, or turning brand ambassador for a refrigerator, Kajol hasn’t lost her innate ability to make heads swivel. And circa 2005 is the time to raise a toast as the Kajol-Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) – the mother of all contemporary romances – gets set to complete a decade of continuous running in theatres, this October.

For Kajol aficionados, who’ve appreciated her bravura – sometimes syrupy, sometimes over the top, sometimes contained… always from the heart – performances in flick after flick, the celebration mode sparked off end 2004 when the actress announced her ‘return’ to the world of Technicolor in the as yet untitled film under the Yash Chopra banner, co-starring Aamir Khan – her first appearance opposite this Khan.

On a sultry morning, a mere ten minutes after the appointed time, a Mercedes slides to a smooth halt at the designated venue; her non-stop chatter assails my ears as she strolls into the cool confines of the room, mobile glued to her ear. Despatching her driver back home to fetch her baby and asking for a cup of hot coffee, all in one breath, Kajol settles down…jabbering awhile with old friend and make-up magician, Mickey Contractor and sorting through the designer clothes that our stylist has rustled up for her. Swiftly slipping into her professional avatar, Kajol serenades the camera and answers questions in a roller-coaster chatathon that spans a few hours.Congratulations are in order as our talk takes off from the remarkable box office performance of Aditya Chopra’s directorial effort, DDLJ – the longest running Indian film.Though diehard fans have watched the runaway romance time and again, its leading lady has, by her own admission, seen the complete film only twice. “DDLJ did well because it emphasised the importance of values. It showed that if love was important, so were our parents…. That is why it was a popular family film,” explains the 30-something Kajol. “But, I am my strongest critic and pick out a 100 flaws in each of my performances. That is why I do not like to see any of my films more often than necessary.”

Quiz her on Simran, her screen alter ego in DDLJ and Kajol, who made the character come alive so vibrantly, confesses, in between sips of coffee, “I can identify with her only because I know many girls who are like Simran but I am made of a different metal. I would never think like her nor do half the things she did. My parents gave me the choice and the freedom to do what I wanted to without labouring under the pressure of living up to their expectations. Now, I adopt the same tactics with Nysa….”

A mention of the moppet and there is a soft knock at the door announcing Kajol Jr’s arrival. The spitting image of her dad, (no pictures please, insists the protective mum) Nysa, whose name means the goddess of purity in Greek, steals the limelight momentarily from her proud mother. Plonking Nysa on her lap, Tanuja’s girl, now grown up, admits to seeing her own mum in a new light. “I can now understand whyMom brought me up the way she did. My mother has always been a very cool person. She drew the lines from a young age but she trusted my judgement. So, though Nysa is still small, I let her learn from her mistakes. I tell her once, twice…at the most, thrice and then let her do her own thing,” says Kajol, remembering how the little girl wanted to walk on the road outside their home without any chappals on. Not heeding her mother’s warnings, she did so…and promptly ran back in to cover her feet.Believe it or not, the unconventional Kajol is the disciplinarian in the family. “Ajay is like butter in her hands,” she says. “Nysa has a T-shirt that proclaims, ‘My finger is small but I can wrap my father around it.’ So, I have to be firm…I do not let her get away with a lot of things.”

Reverting to her decision to take a brief break, Kajol says she has always been the kind of person who, by her own admission, has “taken time off to do the things I wanted – like reading, travelling, meeting up with people, concentrating on stuff apart from work.” Reading, in fact, has been a major passion with her…even though she has never really been an avid fan of classics. “I grew up on a diet of Mills and Boon…I have read best-sellers and complete junk. Classics have bored me. I am not a serious reader, but I have a vivid imagination. If not an actress, I would have started a bookstore or a library…and sat there with my kids. Ajay would be my highest paying customer,” she grins.

Her closeness with Ajay warmly extends to her parents-in-laws, Bina and Veeru Devgan, as well. The Devgans live together in suburban Juhu and Kajol luxuriates in the support she gets from her parents-in-law. As she admits, “I am married into a family which is different from the one I grew up in. Here, women are more typically uni-dimensional, like in most homes. My mother-in-law, Ma, is simple and straightforward…. Glorious though the last two years have been, I would not have survived them without her. I sometimes feel I am married to Ma…Ajay is out most of the time.”

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