'I broke down on the sets'
Kiron Kher recounts the Devdas experience.
Her last outing on the big screen won her a National Award for (Bengali director) Rituparno Ghosh's Bariwali.
But for Kiron Kher, Devdas is special for many reasons. To begin with, son Sikander is assisting on the sets. The other, Devdas has brought her accolades from critics world over.
Moving back into the filmy sphere with Mahesh Manjrekar's Ehsaas last year, Kher is waiting for more to come her way in commercial cinema.
A tete a tete with the actress:
What made you sign Devdas? Tell us about your role.
I met Sanjay at the Berlin Festival where both Devdas and Bariwali were screened. We have also met at parties and had the usual polite conversations. I have always wanted to work with him since I watched Khamoshi (starring Manisha Koirala, Salman Khan, Nana Patekar, Seema Biswas) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (starring Salman Khan, Ajay Devgan, Aishwarya Rai).
When Sanjay met me for Devdas, he offered me both the roles --- Sumitra (Paro's mother) and Kaushalya (Devdas's mother). But he mentioned he preferred me playing Sumitra. What made me keen on working with him was the bound script that he gave me and the unusual characterisation of Sumitra. Mothers in Bollywood are very stereotype. This one was a very definite character, never seen on the big screen before.
Sumitra, the character I play, is a nautanki girl married to a zamindar. She is still young at heart, full of life and jabbers nineteen to a dozen. She is very happy with her life and is emotionally satisfied with the love and affection from her daughter.
She knows of the love between Devdas and Paro and encourages it. But she is also very naοve, almost at points appearing foolish... till she gets publicly humiliated. The good-hearted person in her changes when she is scorned by Devdas' family and she becomes vengeful and almost cold towards the end.
I am present mainly in the first half. But I am happy because in a commercial film, the characters, besides the stars, do not get much emotional space to act. I have a role that I hope will leave an impact on the audience even though it does not extend towards the second half.
Bariwali was in Bengali, while Devdas is set up in a Bengali household. Did that similarity in the backdrop help?
Of course. Having learnt the language, inserting a certain mannerism to the character of Sumitra was easier. I would rattle off sentences in Bengali, use colloquial terms even while addressing people. For instance, Zamindar was pronounced as Zomindar and Devdas was addressed as Deb. These were mannerisms that helped in enhancing the character that Sanjay and I worked on.
What is working with Sanjay Bhansali like?
Most special directors have a certain clarity of vision and thought. For Bariwali, Rituparno Ghosh smoothened out scenes and made filming completely natural. Likewise, Sanjay, despite being in a commercial setup, is completely obsessed with his film. He cannot think beyond it. I am obsessive about my work too and with Devdas, I feel that the way it has been filmed exceeds my expectations.
Sanjay is like a man with a knife if he is not happy with what you have done. But when he is really thrilled, he is effusive with compliments! Take the confrontation scene. He was so thrilled with a shot that I gave, that he yelled 'brilliant' from behind the camera and even kissed me on the cheek!
Which is your favourite scene in the film?
What I have seen of the film so far, looks great. I have a song and dance in the film and I had to work at not making it look perfect. Sumitra dances at a public gathering, thinking naively that Devdas' family has accepted the love of Paro and Devdas and will allow them to marry, after a gap of forty years! Her emotion is overflowing and I have to convey that via my dance rather than have it completely perfect. Onscreen, when mothers dance, they usually only do a little thing, a little movement which is so motherly. My dance had to fit with my character of being easily excitable, and even runs out of breath while dancing.
But the dance was shot immediately after the confrontation scene (it appears in the reverse order in the film) and that had already taken its toll on me. Besides, there were no rehearsals for the song because Saroj Khan (choreographer) was very busy. So there we were with 500 extras on the sets and in costume and makeup --- only to find that Sanjay would be unhappy with a dance movement and it had to be redone!
It reached a stage where after the first day, I could not move, could not climb the steps of my van. I am not used to the commercial dancing in films, as the steps and movements are different, lip sync has to be coordinated... and then the beats!
Everything was on a short leash while filming this song: time, emotions and tempers! I even broke down on the sets. After having rehearsed just a single line of the song to be shot, Sanjay changed his mind and decided to shoot the entire paragraph by itself. I was petrified. As it is, there were no
rehearsals and I started crying. I wondered if I would be able to do the dance in my heavy costume.
But Sanjay always manages to get his way around us. He knows that though I make a big noise, I will, eventually, do it his way.
What has Devdas extracted out of you in terms of performance?
It gave me a lot of scope to perform --- from a flamboyant, young and larger-than-life character to a woman who loves her daughter so much that she will do anything for her to feeling small when she is publicly humiliated and then pleading with Devdas's family and finally moving to an angry, cold and vengeful person.
There are a lot of shades in this character and I had a great time playing them. Especially because, like in theatre, when a character is loud and flamboyant, one has to be careful not to over do it, or it comes across as loud and irritating. I walked that fine line and Sanjay was very helpful.
What was interacting with Shah Rukh and Aishwarya like? Do you think they fit the bill?
Casting is a director's vision and his prerogative. I cannot comment on that. Besides, I did not have many scenes with Shah Rukh. Just two shots.
My scenes were mostly with Aishwarya and Smita Jaykar. Aishwarya is gorgeous. Though one did read in the papers about the emotional pressures that she was going through (her turbulent relationship with boyfriend Salman Khan), on the sets, she was a thorough professional. She worked without letting those pressures bog her down, untiringly throughout the film.
What was the atmosphere on the sets like?
There were days when the shooting would be called off because there was no money to pay the workers or when the accident happened. I remember Sikander calling me up at four in the morning in Goa (where I was shooting for Ehsaas) because he was at the police station and needed help. The assistant directors had been caught by the police for the accident, for no fault of theirs.
I must admit that Sanjay remained completely focused at work and held the fort, while everything seemed to go wrong around him.
Have you seen your husband Anupam Kher's directorial debut Om Jai Jagdish?
I have only seen the first half and an unedited version at that. But what I have seen, it appears very fresh with real characters. As actors, we can shrug off and talk about a day's work and then shut it off.
But as a director, you live with it and you do not want any distractions around you. Anupam and I have been living, breathing and sleeping Om Jai Jagdish for the last one and a half years.
ALSO READ: The Devdas Special