One-on-one with Juhi Chawla: When you are a celebrity, you can forget the life of a normal human being

Is Chalk n Duster genuinely one of those
films you did because you fell in love with the script or for some other

No I genuinely loved the script and I am being very
honest about it. Being a celebrity, a public figure, you don’t get to live the
life of a common man, a normal human being. But this character offered me a
chance to live that life. It’s a simple middle class woman who is a teacher;
she drives a scooter to work, lives in a one BHK apartment, who gets affected
with rising inflation, who knows ki
daal-chawal aur
petrol ka bhaav kya
and kitni baar badha hai. I
don’t do any of these things in real life. As an actor I wanted to get familiar
with that zone and wanted to play a normal character of a common person of our

As you said, you
are not used to living the life of a common middle-class person and don’t do most of
the things they do or don’t get affected by things they do, so how difficult
was it to play such a character?

It wasn’t that easy because if you have to get into a
territory you aren’t familiar with or haven’t been to for a long time then it
does get difficult. I asked to myself as to how would I play this role. For
example, when I did Gulaab Gang, I
was playing a character with negative shades and I had the opportunity to play
with it in more ways than one. But in CND,
to play a normal person and still be interesting was very difficult. The most
difficult thing for an actor is to be in the frame and do nothing and still be
lively and be a part of the scene. You don’t know what to do with your hands or
face or eyes because you aren’t supposed to do anything. As actors we are so
used to do something as soon as the camera rolls. But then I became like Aamir
Khan. I thought I would visit our writer’s house because his wife is a teacher
and I thought I will observe her and pick up some nuances of her. But I got to
do nothing of it.

This character reminds
us of the kinds of roles we got to see in Aziz Mirza’s films in late 80s and
early 90s. Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman
was one of them.  Do you miss such films
and such roles?

Well we have Raju Hirani making such movies which reminds
us of Aziz Mirza’s films. He makes us laugh and cry at the same time; the only
difference is that he makes such movies on a bigger scale with some beautiful
underlying messages. But today, the times have changed; earlier we would break
into a song and dance with 30 extra dancers in the background. But CND is definitely not one of those
films. We just have two songs in the whole film. I have always played a
glamorous heroine or an equivalent character.
But here my character is very real and very relatable by middle-class
common people. But it was extremely interesting because it taught me and made
me realize many things that we overlook in our real lives.

But did you look
up to any of your own teachers as reference point to sketch and design your
character and develop a body language?

No not really, but when I go to drop my kids at school, I
would observe many teachers; how they talk, walk, how they dress, whether they
wear jewellery or accessories, their mannerisms, body language, everything. So
that helped me to get the nuances of my character right. Also just because I am
playing a school teacher doesn’t mean I am always shown teaching in a
classroom. The story is the struggle and fight of two teachers after being
sacked unfairly. It’s their fight with the system and how they come back with

In almost three
decades of your acting career, who do you look up to as your teacher or Guru or
a mentor who you must have learnt a lot from?

Honestly speaking, I have learnt a lot from a lot of
people along the way as I did different kinds of movies and worked with
different directors and actors. When I came into the industry, I was totally
clueless. I always wanted to be like Mumtaz because I always found her very
cute. I even loved Padmini Kolhapure, especially in Prem Rog. I was blown away and taken aback by the scene where she
laughs for a few minutes and then immediately starts crying. The film was high
on drama and emotions and she did a brilliant job in it. So when I became an
actor I wanted to be that spontaneous like Padmini. I was also in complete awe
of Sridevi who was a huge star when I had just started off. I love her. No
matter whether she was dancing or singing or romancing or seducing, she looked
cute and gorgeous. She was brilliant in comedy and when she danced, you
couldn’t take your eyes off her. And I think I was only trying to copy her all
the time! I don’t think I reached anywhere close to her but she was my idol. I
learnt a lot of different and interesting things from Aziz Mirza ji, Mahesh Bhatt Sahab, Yash Chopra ji and
Nagesh Kukunoor.

You and Shabana
Azmi come from diametrically opposite schools of acting and cinema. Were you
initially apprehensive about whether you will be able to complement her well?

Not really but yes we come from different schools of
acting. Also she comes with a strong theatre background and has worked with
some great filmmakers. During our narration and our meetings with the
production and creative team, she suggested certain things which blew my mind.
It was amazing. She likes to know her space, so she asked the team how her
character’s house would look like and what kind of furniture and interiors are
they planning to have in the house because it was supposed to look like a
middle-class home. Also she plays a Maharastrian lady so she wanted her house
to look like a typical Maharashtrian house, very neat and clean, with
minimalistic furniture. When she enquired how the curtains would be in the house,
the production team said it would be normal upholstery and nothing expensive.
She asked them to use some of her old sarees and make curtains out of them.
Firstly, it would look very real to see curtains been made out of sarees
because that’s how middle-class women are used to make the best use of their
old sarees and secondly, it would allow good amount of light for the scene to
look good! It was a fantastic idea because she is shown living in a chawl with limited resources. I was
shocked to see her pay so much attention to the detailing. It was such a great
learning experience which I hadn’t had before ever in my career!

Are you enjoying
this phase of your career where there are lots of content-based and
character-driven films being made unlike the 90s where actors didn’t know what
they were doing?

Ha ha ha! Yes this is definitely the best time for Hindi
cinema. Interesting films are being made. Such enticing subjects and diverse
roles are being churned out every year. Even in case of Chalk N Duster, on the surface, there is a fantastic screenplay and
there is great depth to the story and characters. The dialogues are so real and
simply said, but very hard hitting. The film will make you think once you walk
out of the cinema halls.

In Nagesh Kukunoor’s Teen Deewarein, you worked out of your comfort zone and that
fetched you a lot of awards. You think the same thing would happen with Chalk N Duster too?

I don’t really know about awards and I don’t even want to
win one now. I just hope that maximum people come to watch our film because it’s
made with a lot of honesty and sincerity and it has its heart in the right
place. A teacher is happiest when he/she is able to make a child understand the
lesson properly; similarly I would love people to get the right message that
our film tries to convey to its audience. It would mean that the film has
struck the right chord with the audience.

Given a chalk and
duster, what would you like to erase and rewrite as far as your career is

Ha ha ha! Good one! I would love to rewrite all my
blockbuster and super hit movies, but I don’t wish to erase anything because
mistakes and failures taught me a lot; in fact, more than success did. If you
don’t see those lows, you don’t enjoy the highs. If there were only highs in
your life, it would be very boring. You make mistakes, you do wrong things, you
fall and then when you get up, it’s more gratifying and thrilling than ever

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