For the longest time, I’ve been avoiding writing on Rani Mukerji as there was a time when I used to interact with her often; she never failed to answer a text message.
Once, during an interview, just before her birthday, I cut her midway saying that I had grown tired of asking her the same question. I told her that I can well imagine her position. I was not willing to take the interview ahead.
“You know the answer. You don’t need to ask me that question again,” she smiled, offering me a piece of frosted chocolate cake while lounging on her spacious balcony that overlooks the garage at Krishna Cottage (her bungalow) in Juhu.
The conversations (read interviews) with her were getting really boring. If we spoke about stuff I really wanted to talk to her about — like the phobia among top Bollywood filmmakers when it came to investing in women-centric film scripts — then my interview would’ve been anything, but front page material of an entertainment supplement.
Rani just smiled and asked me to go ahead with my questions anyway.
Rani Mukherjee cuts a cake to celebrate her birthday at her residence in Mumbai on March 1,2011. Photo by STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)
I don’t know exactly why we connected — it could have been that I met her first through Deboshree Roy (National Award winning Bengali actress and her aunt); it could have been the language as we spoke Bengali or the fact that we belonged to the same age-group. Rani would not be her usual guarded self before me.
There were occasions when she had spoken about interesting things but I could never push those interviews as the top entertainment story of the day as it lacked ‘masala’.
But the interview before her birthday was quite a harrowing one for me. I was told that the only question on everyone’s lips was: ‘When is she tying the knot with Aditya Chopra?’
So, I had a specific task — to get the answer.
Whether she denies the marriage or acknowledges it, I knew that any utterance would make headlines.
‘When are you getting married?’ was a routine question I kept asking her for five years. I changed jobs, but that question remained constant.
A job hazard, one day it put me off completely. It depressed me. And I stopped asking her the question.
After a point, I stopped meeting her for interviews.
A Durga Puja I won’t forget
Rani Mukherjee poses at the North Bombay Sarbojanin Durga Puja Charitable Trust in Mumbai on October 12, 2013. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images)
The incident happened three years back when I was at Rani Mukerji’s Durga Puja. The company I was working at, used to be the media partner of the Puja. But that was not the sole reason for me to be there.
Durga Puja is a time when I am usually found hogging shamelessly on the terribly unhealthy, anything-is-Bengali-if-it-is-deep-fried food. Rani’s puja has always been a favourite hangout for that kind of stuff.
Another reason for frequenting the Puja was that a good friend never fails to put up a food stall there. This ensures that all our common friends converge there at different times of the day.
The media and actors also congregate there. Some reporters come to catch a possible ‘headline’, like say, Rani and Kajol ignoring each other, or, Kajol arriving with her kids. Or an imaginary situation where Aditya Chopra makes a sudden, dramatic entry at the venue to make an announcement about his marriage with Rani.
The last situation has never occurred but the filmi press still hopes that it will happen one day. During Durga puja that year, there was a nasty surprise waiting for me. Here’s how the events unfolded.
Rani’s father, Ram Mukherjee, made an unexpected appearance at the Durga Puja pandal that year. He had just recovered from an illness of the heart and was looking frail and weak.
He took his seat on one corner and was looking intently at the stage where the purohit was conducting the puja. Rani’s family members rallied around him.
Rani Mukerji with her parents during Durga Puja celebrations in Mumbai. (Photo by Milind Shelte/India Today Group/Getty Images)
An hour later, a television reporter went up to him and politely requested if he can speak to the media.
Durga Puja is a time when every Bengali is in his elements, and the old man was no different. He immediately got up.
There was a lot of noise inside (of drums and bells), so he agreed to walk out of the pandal to face the cameras. It must’ve taken him a lot effort to walk the length and join the journalists waiting outside to interview him. I too followed him and stood behind him as he spoke to the press.
The question-answer session began with one of them asking “Aapko kaisa mehsoos ho raha hai?” — a typical ice-breaker for TV reporters in India.
As Rani’s dad started speaking about Durga Puja and how great he was feeling, came the inevitable question: “When is your daughter getting married?”
There was silence for five seconds and Rani’s father just kept staring at the camera, unsure of how to answer the question.
The reporter posed the question matter-of-factly and I watched in horror how his face sunk. He was not smiling anymore. The question had surely touched a raw nerve.
But Ram Mukherjee was on camera. So there was no way he could get away without answering the question. With great difficulty he started speaking again…
“Rani has promised me that she will get married next year. As a father I want to see my daughter married. What else does a father want but to see his daughter settle down?” he asked with all honesty, looking at the journalist who threw the question at him.
The journalist’s face lit up. That was headline material, Man!
After saying a few more words, the old man trudged back towards his seat inside the pandal. He was not smiling anymore.
The journalists were too busy to even notice what Ram Mukherjee was doing. They didn’t have the time. Nobody was eager to figure out how badly they had hurt him.
For the next half an hour, he was staring blankly at the Durga idol as the journalists kept checking their video footage. Soon, camera-men from other channels, who had missed the ‘moment’, arrived at the scene to get a ‘transfer’ of the ‘explosive’ footage.
In an hour, some channels were screaming with a headline — “Rani’s father confirms that she is getting married to Aditya Chopra next year.”
Since I was there and had overheard the conversation, I also had to report about the incident in the next day’s paper.
A few days later, I heard that Rani’s father had fallen sick again and that Rani was cancelling shoots and events left, right and centre to be with her father.
I was angry. Very angry.
Somewhere down the line, we hurt the old man.
Had it been my father there, I would have perhaps broken a few cameras.
But I still wonder if that incident broke Rani’s heart.