Bollywood royalty Rani Mukerji was in the English capital last month to attend a charity dinner held by the British Asian Trust.
The event was also attended by The Prince Of Wales, who is the charity’s president, and The Duchess Of Cornwall along with Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi; music and television producer, Simon Cowell and X-Factor Judge, Louis Walsh among many others.
This year’s event was in support of The British Asian Trust’s work in empowering disadvantaged people in South Asia to transform their lives. This year’s event also marked the launch of a new anti-trafficking fund for India to build on work which the British Asian Trust has already been doing to support vulnerable girls affected by violence and abuse.
Rani Mukerji also addressed the guests at the event and spoke about child trafficking, something the Mardaani actress feels strongly about.
Our Bollywood correspondent Sunny Malik caught up with Rani where she spoke about the event, her last film Mardaani and much more…
You come to London pretty often. What do you love about the UK, besides the fact that you have a huge fan base here?
I can’t put it in words as I can only feel this. As actors, we put a lot of effort into our work when we are performing for a film. Our main agenda is to make our fans happy. The fact that I have a fan base so far away from India is a nice feeling. It’s nice to know that NRI’s or people who watch Indian films in the UK like my work. It reassures me that whatever I am doing is right. It gives me the feeling that since they are liking my work, I can do better and achieve more.
You attended the British Asian Trust charity dinner in London as the guest of honour recently. How important was it for you to be here?
I think it is very important to be speaking at a platform or at an event, where people come together for a cause. The theme was anti-trafficking. My recent film Mardaani brought this issue, child trafficking, into the limelight and it became a national topic in India. That speaks a lot for a film. Usually, films with a social cause do not perform well at the box office. Mardaani managed to make noise among the audiences, the critics and did well at the box office. That goes to show how important the film was for India. It created awareness about a subject in India. I think, many people are still ignorant about it. They do not believe that this can happen to their own children. Every eight minutes, a girl disappears in India. There a millions of girls who are trafficked and sold daily. In India people reacted positively to the film. Parents started enrolling their children into Karate classes to empower them and for them to defend themselves. When I was invited to talk at the platform for the British Asian Trust, I felt it was important to make noise about this issue. It was my absolute honour to share the stage with Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi. He has been supporting this case for about forty-five years. To have someone like him with me on stage to talk about these important issues meant a great deal to me. Mardaani also resonated with people overseas and hence, I was invited to London.
Mardaani recently premiered in Poland. Did you ever imagine that a film like Mardaani will receive such international appreciation?
Honestly, I didn’t. But somewhere in my heart, while I was completing the film, I knew that the cause that we are showing in the film is a global problem. There are thousands of Eastern European girls trafficked into the United Kingdom. Every country in the world is suffering from the issue of child trafficking. I never imagined that my film will release in Poland. That came to me as a pleasant surprise. Usually, it’s the big films that are made with a hundred crore budget that get a wide international release. It was also good to see that the 75 percent of the audience that attended the premiere in Warsaw were Polish. That includes fans, press, local actors and producers and normal audiences. It was a huge honour for me to represent my entire team there who had worked on the film and also those who worked on the research for Mardaani. When we were researching for the film, people were extremely happy that we are making a film on this issue. We weren’t glamorising it. We were simply showing the truth. We didn’t over-exaggerate or melodramatise the issue.
Don’t you think that dubbing Hindi movies for an international audience is the next step forward?
I think it would be great. The Polish audience saw the film with Polish subtitles. They related with the film and were emoting with the characters in the movie. I feel that somewhere there is hope. I am sure that films with an international appeal that tackle social problems or have human stories, will then have a wider audience. Today people around the world are quite accepting to see movies from India. It could be the next way forward. That decision, however, is with the distribution and production team. They will consider whether it will add value to their project.
You once said you only do a film if the script excites you. Do other factors not matter to you?
What really matters to me first is the script and what my character has to do in accordance with the script. These two things are of utmost importance. It is also important to know whom the film is being produced by. India probably makes the highest number of films in a year worldwide. We have so many different languages and we produce around nine hundred films a year. It is important to know who the producer is in a country where films are being made so rampantly. That is because you can be part of a great film but it may not get a good release and not reach the audiences correctly. Hence, it is important along with the script and subject, to choose the right production house which can take the film to places. Many films stay in the cans and never see a release. These two things are very important when I sign a film.
Award shows recently celebrated what we call “women-centric movies”. Do you feel audiences in India are now more accepting of females playing the central character in movies?
You know, I am very surprised when almost everyone talks like that. We are an industry where we had Nutan act in films like Sujata, Bandini and we had Nargis in films like Mother India. I don’t see it as a great shift that people are suddenly accepting these kind of films. We had heroines in the sixties who worked in projects where they were the main lead. Those films were blockbuster. People are now suddenly warming up to the fact that there are movies with woman protagonists that are doing well. I think it has always been happening. It’s just that every particular decade we have a trend of audiences getting attracted to a kind of cinema. It started with Mr. Bachchan in the seventies where the angry young man role became popular. In the eighties, we had masala movies doing well. In the nineties we had the NRI movies that became a trend. In the 2000s, we had indie kind of films doing well like Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai, which probably would not have been known as popular cinema ever before. These kind of films started doing well. That is only because India as country, has a vast population and the youth is changing every year. With the exposure of foreign films that youngsters can watch online and with Hollywood movies that they can watch in India now, they are yearning for similar movies from Indian film-makers. I think, whenever there is good content, the film will be successful regardless of who the protagonist is.
Are you happy with the way your career has shaped up so far?
I have so many actors who inspire me. I take complete inspiration from someone like Meryl Streep. The kind of films that she is even churning out today, is inspiring. For an actor like me, there are still many interesting projects and films. Not only from India, as I would be more than glad to be a part of films from abroad. I would not dare to say that I am very happy and satisfied the way my career has shaped. There is a long way to go
A version of this article appeared in Asian Sunday Newspaper 1st March 2015.