Why did you leave Bollywood?
That was a personal choice. I played Nandini, a grey character in ‘Khoon Bhari Maang’ (‘KBM’), which was my first release back in 1988; people still know me for that film. They liked the film and also me in it. Nandini did a few bad things against her will, but she was not a bad person. I did 35 films after that but didn’t get anything challenging like that. I did TV thereafter. I then felt that I needed some personal time, so I got married and settled down in the US.
How did you play Nandini so effectively? People said that you danced better than Rekha in it…
That was very kind of them. I guess seeing a fresh face match up to Rekhaji, who was a seasoned performer, made them say such things. I recall fashion designers Abu Jani-Sandip Khosla on the sets telling me that Rekha was doing better than the steps that were being given to her. I told them that with friends like you, I perhaps don’t need enemies (laughs).
Did you have reservations about wearing a swimsuit in the song ‘Main Teri Hoon Hun Janam’ in ‘KBM’?
On a serious note, I was petrified of wearing that swimsuit. What helped me was that Kabir Bedi was wearing swimming trunks. Otherwise, the hero in those days used to be in a ganji and shorts in swimming scenes.
I had tried to wriggle out by telling Rakesh Roshanji that I didn’t know swimming. Yet he convinced me. But do you know what happened?
Rakesh Roshan cut out one stanza from the song considering that I didn’t know swimming. I told him the truth only after the song was wrapped up (laughs). In fact, for a shot, I had dived into the pool very smoothly but Gudduji (as Rakesh Rosahan is fondly called) didn’t catch on.
Are you in touch with Rakesh Roshan?
Not very often. Also, let me tell you that he was very apprehensive about casting a new girl, especially because of that dance competition song with Rekhaji. It was only after I showed him reels of dancing I had, that he let me sign the film. It took him as long as a month to come back asking for those reels. But hats off to him for that stupendous film and how he released it within seven months from the first day of the shoot. In those days, filmmakers took two years to complete a project. I remember one film of mine ‘Kaali Shankar’ took 10 years to be completed, and I was paid the dues only after Pahlaj Nihalani took over; God bless him.
But I still can’t understand why you didn’t bag a big film after ‘KBM’?
Let me explain. It was felt in the industry that Nandini was a totally negative character. I must have said ‘no’ to 50 films after ‘KBM’ because all those 50 had completely negative roles for me. Today, thankfully, the scenario has changed.
Are you meeting casting directors and filmmakers for a comeback?
Yes, and I have received offers. But I am waiting for that role that will make me feel charged and challenged.
Did your height go against you?
Yes, I am 5′ 8″. I think I was the tallest heroine back then.
Okay, I get your reason for saying ‘no’ to 50 films. But shouldn’t you have ridden on that and made it your strength? Many big heroes and heroines have done repetitive roles before becoming famous…
I lacked a support system.
Do you mean there was nobody around who gave you correct advice?
Yes, my dad was from the army and my mom was a housewife; they had no clue about the industry. Here, you need somebody who can guide you and tell you the truth. Do you know that I had this hang-up that I belong to art cinema. But people told me, ‘No, you are better off in a commercial set up’. So, what was the truth? All the same, I am very grateful to everyone who gave me work and helped me become what I am today. And, now, I am going to promote new talent.
You have turned producer…
What is your first film all about?
It’s called ‘Jogiya Rocks’. Rohit Bakshi, Kirti Kulhari, and Susan Mukherji have done a splendid job. The movie is about a guy from a small town. His father has expectations that he will follow in his footsteps and become a banker, but his journey turns out to be different when more people come into his life.
Did you find anything missing in the industry during your heydays… something that you wanted to change? Or have you been trying to say that people in the industry didn’t rally around you?
That’s a tricky one. But by correct advice, I only meant how admirably Rikkuji (Rakesh Nath) handled Madhuri Dixit’s work. You always need someone who is very savvy and from the industry, who knows what it takes, who knows how it works. You feel comfortable working with actors you’ve already worked with in previous films. So when you write a new story or come up with a new project, those people are who you think about working with first. That happens, that is very prevalent. Working with people you are comfortable with is not wrong at all.
You haven’t answered the first part of my question. Did you miss something or wanted to change something in the industry back then?
I wish I could have changed the attitude prevalent in those days: yeh heroine hai, aur yeh vamp hai (this one is a heroine, while this one is a vamp). People had fixed ideas. I am glad to see the progress that cinema is making today. It was not possible in those days. And yes, I loved it when Shah Rukh Khan established himself despite his anti-hero image in his first couple of films. I also loved how Aamir Khan did a lot of films initially but later settled down and said that he would do only two films a year. Credit to these two Khans for that.