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August 10, 2000


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'It's embarrassing to talk about myself'

Mahima Chaudhury A star driving herself to the sets might be unheard of, but for Mahima Chaudhury, it's just another way of being in top gear!

Mahima the individual is intelligent and articulate. She likes reading Jhumpa Lahiri and J G Coetzee. She wins you over with her warmth and vivacity every time you meet her. But she'd rather jabber endlessly about her films, narrating story after interesting story, than talk about herself.

Mahima the actress works on her scenes over and over again, until her directors tell her it's perfect. Perhaps a little underrated, many of her critics and admirers believe she needs just one big hit to be there at the top.

Says Rauf Ahmed, editor, Zee Premier, 'Mahima has surprisingly matured as an actress. She now has the reputation of being a scene-stealer in her films. In Dil Kya Kare, she held her own against Kajol; she was good in Daag, The Fire and Pyar Koi Khel Nahin.

'Unfortunately, her films haven't done well. But I don't think she has anything to worry about. She's working on some good films like Dhadkan, Lajja and Kurukshetra. All she needs is a major hit to be up there.

'For all her intelligence, she lacks diplomacy. She was a little rough in handling the Subhash Ghai incident. She shouldn't have played it up to the press so much. It may have got her publicity but it also got her the reputation of being a troublemaker. And the film industry doesn't take easily to that. So she lost out on some good films in the initial stage of her career.'

Mahesh Manjrekar, Mahima's director in Kurukshetra says, 'I've seen all her films, and her sincerity comes through clearly. She's a professional and delivers the goods. She's done a good job in my film. I think she's quite underrated.'

Film-maker Govind Nihalani says, 'Mahima was surprisingly very good in Dil Kya Kare. She's a very talented actress. I'd like to work with her.'

Mahima, for her part, can't believe the accolades. Given a chance, she'd re-enact all her roles because she feels she could have done better.

In an exclusive interview, Mahima tells Runima Borah Tandon about her growth as an actress, her directors, her relationship with the media, her family and her love for driving. Excerpts:

Mediapersons often complain that it's next to impossible to get an interview with you. Don't you need the media to reach out to your fans?

Mahima Chaudhury It is very important. And I do it through television and the print media. But that's only when I have something to talk about. I don't like raking up old issues I've already talked about.

Whenever any of my films are due for release, I make time for the press and talk about them, even my personal life, interests, likes and dislikes. People want to know about my personal life - whether I go to the disco, cook at home - so I give it to them. But it's tiring to talk about myself twelve months a year. It's embarrassing. I'm more comfortable talking about my films.

It's just that I don't entertain the media on the sets. When people ask me for a quote when I'm working, I only lose concentration. I'm all for directors who say no guests and no mobile phones on the sets - I understand that sentiment totally.

How would you chart your growth as an actress from Pardes to your latest films, Dhadkan, Kurukshetra and Lajja?

When I see myself in Pardes, I want to switch off the video. Though at the time, I thought it was my best; I'd given it a 100 per cent. I kept working at my role, harder than Subhash Ghai wanted me to. When he'd invite me to a party, for instance, I'd refuse, staying back to work on my role.

He had even remarked that I was the first actress he'd met who coached herself. Usually, the director who spots you sends you to acting schools, gives you books, etc.

Actually, working with actors better than me inspires me to perform better. Dil Kya Kare, for example, had Ajay and Kajol. And it was a Prakash Jha film. That's why I took it up.

But I didn't want to be the drawback of the film! Which is why I tried to put in my best. Every time I completed a scene, I would go up to Prakashji and tell him 'I wish I had done it like this.' And he would say 'No, it's good.'

Even when I finished shooting for the film, I told my mom everyone is going to think I blew up the chance of a lifetime because I didn't give it my best shot. And not until more than half a dozen people complimented my work did I believe otherwise.

So you're a perfectionist by nature?

Sanjay Dutt and Mahima Chaudhury Yeah. I'm a Virgo. If I do something, I have to do it perfectly or not at all. If I'm arranging my cupboard, everything should be spick and span. Else I won't do it.

You are reputed to be a scene-stealer in your films. How do you rate your chances in Rajkumar Santoshi's multi-starrer against actresses like Madhuri Dixit, Rekha and Manisha Koirala?

First of all, I've never approached a film with the intention of being a scene-stealer. Being in the same film with people I admire tremendously is good enough.

Besides, they are professionals who know their job. They are veterans who have been around longer than I have. I'll just stick out like a sore thumb because I'm the biggest amateur in the unit! But I'm ready for it.

The good thing is I will learn something from the experience.

What is your role in Lajja? What made you go for it?

I like the fact that my character will inspire many people because we like people to have more courage than we do. The character I play in the film exacts her revenge very innocently. It's not that she plans it or is manipulative.

There are times when you wonder why you never stand up when people are mean to you. We don't really want to know about our shortcomings.

Also, in a film, the audience always expects your character to be extraordinary. That is what heroism is all about. If we can't do it in real life, we like to see it on film and get inspired.

Will you have any scope to emote in Kurukshetra?

Mahima Chaudhury and Ajay Devgan I play the wife of Sanjay Dutt, an ACP. Contrary to what you'd expect, it's not an all-out action film.

Policemen are always accused of not doing enough for the people. This film exposes the immense pressures they work under. It is the story of how, when someone does meet them head on, his entire family gets affected and what they go through.

It's not so much my role - an ACP's wife - that interests me. It's Mahesh Manjrekar's interpretation of my character that appealed to me. His approach is different from other directors. He has treated my role casually. That casual treatment makes the character very lifelike and natural.

What do you feel about being the surprise package in Dharmesh Darshan's Dhadkan?

It feels good to be a part of a film like that. Dharmesh is innovative, the kind who will help you a lot while enacting scenes. He'll do everything for you, from running around to get you a fan so you're comfortable to singing a song for you! That's what I like about him. He's so nice.

When I first met him, I thought he was very strict. I found it was just the opposite. He's so lovable.

You're quite a director's actress, aren't you?

Yeah, I always wait for my directors to tell me what to do. Until the shot is canned, I keep asking, "What else do you want, are you sure you wanted this?" I have to get a nod from them. I never do things my way.

But I guess everyone has his own style of working. With a director like Mahesh, it's like, "Do it the way you want, and I'll tell you if it's okay or not."

Mahima Chaudhury and Chandrachur Singh How do you usually relax?

By reading in-between my shots. I read anything from bestsellers to autobiographies. And I catch up on my sleep when I'm not shooting. I hate to be disturbed by phone calls - I love my sleep!

I'm not a party person, so you won't find me at parties or discos. I'd rather spend that time with my family.

Who are your friends in the industry?

I'm friendly with everyone, but Apurva (Agnihotri) is my only friend in the industry. Friends are those with whom you can share your feelings, whether they are good or bad. You can tell them your fears and depressions.

I acted with Apurva in my first film. We worked together for almost a year and forged a deep bond. We trust each other completely. I can pick up the phone and tell him, "You know, I feel very cheated about this job." Anyone else would misunderstand it.

If at all I reveal any secrets to anyone outside my big family, it's Apurva.

How much has your family contributed to your career?

Actually, they don't follow my every move. My brother wouldn't even know what I'm shooting with if you asked him right now. I'm pretty much a responsible person. And when I do something nice, they are quick to tell me.

Of late, though, I've been depending on them a lot. My brother handles all my accounts, insurance, tax returns, investments, car repairs, etc.

So they do contribute to my career, even though it's not too overt.

You seem to be the only star to drive herself to the sets…?

Sanjay Dutt and Mahima Chaudhury Yeah, I like driving. I have two cars - a Honda City and an Opel Astra. One is an automatic. If I have to drive into the city, I use it. But automatic cars are so boring. I'd much rather drive one with gears.

Of course, I could hire a driver, but I like doing things myself. You know, I used to admire Rajiv Gandhi a lot because he used to drive his own car to work, too.

Actually, if it weren't so hot, I'd love to go cycling. Now that would be exhilarating!

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