Subhash K Jha

Mumbai:

Starting her career in a low-budget movie, Rani Mukherjee has climbed the ladder of success with patience and perseverance and with the recent blockbuster ‘Black’, she has quietly sneaked into a new bright world leaving her contemporaries behind.

Seven years ago Rani started her career with Salim Aftab’s ‘Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat’. The small film became a big success in the smaller centres. Everyone said: “Ah, Kajol’s cousin is here. Let’s give her a second look.” Today after ‘Black’, Rani has left the amazing Kajol behind.

For a long time, I thought Rani Mukherjee was a fluke success. She was here, there and everywhere... always at the right place at the right time. So when ‘Saathiya’ happened to her career I didn’t recognise it for what it was: a new beginning for a very confident and focused actress. When ‘Saathiya’ came in December 2002, Rani had no assignments on hand. She had decided she’d let this film speak for her. Looking back, I can’t but wonder how Rani could’ve been so recklessly confident. If ‘Saathiya’ hadn’t worked she’d have been finished.

“I know,” she laughed throatily when I pointed this out to her recently. “But you see, at that point of time nothing that was coming my way excited me. I’d have rather not done any work than done work that didn’t excite me. I knew ‘Saathiya’ was a special film. I felt it while making it...” This in spite of the fact that there was friction between Rani and Vivek Oberoi during the closing schedules of ‘Saathiya’. It’s very rare for Rani not to get along with her cast and crew. Without going into details about what went wrong between them, I’d like to say Vivek must be the only co-star in the world Rani wouldn’t want to work with again.

Today Rani is in the new projects of every filmmaker who matters, from Shaad Ali to Karan Johar... they all love her. Says her ‘Black’ director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, “Look at her track record. In two years she has gone way beyond all competition... ‘Hum Tum’, ‘Veer-Zaara’ and now ‘Black’, three hits in a row! Which of her colleagues has that advantage?” Rani laughs pleasurably at the compliment. “Can you imagine what would have happened to my career if Yash (Chopra) uncle hadn’t come forward to offer me ‘Saathiya’? All that happened afterwards — ‘Chalte Chalte’, ‘Hum Tum’, ‘Yuva’, ‘Veer-Zaara’ and now ‘Black’ — was because of the faith Yash uncle had in me,” she says emotionally.

The film industry is divided into two sections. Those who’re working with Rani and those who want to. She’s currently hotter than any actress in India. But she isn’t in a mood to sign too many films. Right now, as I write, she’s shooting for Shah Rukh Khan’s new production, ‘Paheli’, which Amol Palekar directs.

One of the many pleasures of doing ‘Paheli’ is that Rani gets to work with her ‘Black’ co-star Amitabh Bachchan all over again. “Yes, in my next release too, that’s Shaad Ali’s ‘Bunty Aur Babli’, Amit uncle and I come together again.”

I find Rani post-’Black’ to be more relaxed than ever before. On the night after the premiere of ‘Black’ at Bhansali’s place, she wasn’t walking — she was waltzing on air. Rani danced around the room, showed off her newly slimmed figure, rattled off some heart-warming compliments for ‘Black’, and heartily dug into the biryani that Bhansali’s mom had prepared. Success made Rani glow like never before.

Rani is quite amazed at the turn of events. “Working with Sanjay Bhansali was truly a big leap for me as an artiste and a human being. I’ve learnt so much! And yet there’s a need within me to learn so much more. There’re lots more for me to do.” And marriage? “Only if I want to have babies!”