Spotlight: Rani Mukerji

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“According to me acting should be done from the heart. You have to feel every given emotion and perform with ease and sincerity.” -Rani Mukerji

Rani Mukerji, one of Bollywood’s finest artists, has won the praise of critics and the love of fans all over the world for her sincere portrayal of her roles. She has played opposite some of the industry’s greatest male actors and has given some truly amazing performances. Rani gives her all in her roles and is accomplished in comedy as well as drama. She has received numerous awards for her incredible acting and is also regarded by many as the best actress in Bollywood! With the release of Laaga Chunari Mein Daag this Friday, we thought we would shine our spotlight on this beautiful and accomplished actress.

Rani hails from a ‘filmi’ family. Her father was a director and helped establish the Filmalya studios, her mother was a playback singer, her brother is a producer/director, and perhaps you may have heard of her cousin… Kajol? Despite her filmi background, Rani once said, “I never thought I had any talent to be in films so it never occurred to me that I could be an actor.”

Her path to stardom began at the age of 14 with a cameo in one of her father’s films, Biyar Phool (1992). Four years later, she truly embarked on her journey to being the star she is now. Her first starring role was in Raja ki Aayegi Baraat in 1996. The film did not do well at the box office but Rani’s performance was praised and she even won a Screen Weekly award for Best Fresh Talent. She was truly bitten by the acting bug at this point, and decided that from then on she was going to put her heart and soul into all her roles.

Even though her debut film did not do well her acting talent certainly shined through, and 2 years later she was signed to star opposite Aamir Khan in the crime drama, Ghulam. This film managed to do well at the box office and she was on her way up the ladder of success.

Her next film, the super hit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, firmly established her as a star in the making and her role earned her critical acclaim and audience appreciation as well as Best Supporting Actress at the Filmfare awards. One interesting thing to note is that Rani’s voice was dubbed for that film. She said, “When Karan wanted my voice to be dubbed for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, I really thought that it [my voice] was bad and very husky and rough, but slowly I worked to improve my diction, and am now quite comfortable with it.” Her voice is now one of her trademarks, recognizable as soon as the first words are uttered even if only in a voice over.

Rani has been in over 30 films during her illustrious career and it would take pages to look back at each of her roles (besides, my editor would kill me) so here are a few highlights:

Hey Ram! (2000) – Rani was ecstatic at the chance to work with director Kamal Hassan, whose level of excellence if widely recognized in the industry. She said, “Kamal Hassan re-invented the actress in me after the ‘Hey Ram’ experience.” Though not a commercial success, the film was India’s official entry to the Academy Awards that year.

Mujhse Dosti Karoge in 2002 starred Rani opposite the hunky Hrithik Roshan. Sadly, the film was not a success in India, but it did do well in other markets especially in England. Taran Adarsh said in his review, “MUJHSE DOSTI KAROGE clearly belongs to Rani Mukherji, [sic] who has the meatiest role comparatively. The actress is superb in a role that fits her like a glove.” This is the film that made me a huge Rani fan, and is also one of my favorite movies.

After a string of flops, the film that revitalized Ranis’ career was Saathiya (2002). Rani once said in an interview, “Yash Chopra and Aditya signed me for Saathiya at a time when my career wasn’t getting anywhere. If they hadn’t come forward I’d not have moved forward. It’s entirely up to the directors to bring out your abilities…” Starring opposite Rani was the great young actor Vivek Oberoi and the film went on to be a critical and commercial success. It was one of the highestgrossing films of the year and Rani was nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress Award and won the Filmfare Critics’ Award for her portrayal as Dr. Suhani Sharma.

Chalte Chalte(2003)- This film co-starring Shah Rukh Khan and directed by Aziz Mizra, was a hit at the box-office. Rani commented on the film, “”Mikanos was heavenly, so picture perfect! Aziz Uncle is the kindest director possible. And working with Shah Rukh was fabulous. He was like a teacher. Spurring me on, scolding me… he was fantastic, despite being in so much pain.”(Shah Rukh was recovering from spinal surgery.) For her role, Rani was nominated for several Best Actress Awards including Filmfare, ZeeCine, ScreenWeekly and the prestigious IIFA. Critic Taran Adarsh noted, “Rani Mukherji proved her mettle as an actress of caliber in Saathiya and in Chalte Chalte, she takes a step forward. She slips into the character with amazing ease, proving that she’s a reservoir of talent. Looks-wise too, Rani has never looked as gorgeous as in this flick.” The film was screened at the Casablanca International Film Festival and Rani says of that experience: “Fifty thousand people on the beach watching Chalte Chalte with me, then asking me questions about the songs and dances, the idiom and language of expression was incredible. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my experience in Casablanca.”

Yuva (2004)- A Mani Ratnam-directed drama in which she plays wife to Abhishek Bachchan’s crime boss character. Critics gave the film two thumbs down but gave Rani’s performance two thumbs up. One critic said, “The role demanded an actress of substance and Rani more than lives up to the expectations.” The film went on to be a hit with audiences and won several Filmfare awards including one for Rani as Best Supporting Actress.

Veer-Zaara(2004) – A Yash Chopra epic starring Rani, Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta. The film was a blockbuster hit and the highest grossing film of 2004. Though the film’s story was not centered around her character per se, she made her presence known and was wonderful in her portrayal of Shah Rukh Khan’s lawyer. Critic Taran Adarsh said, “Rani Mukerji is a scene-stealer. The actress takes giant strides with this role, relying completely on her expressions to do her job.” Rani was nominated for Filmfare’s Best Supporting Actress Award, and she won the IIFA award for the same role.

Black (2005)- A tour de force performance in which she got so deep into her character of a deaf and blind woman that you could barely recognize the gorgeous star of so many movies. Her first reaction was to say no to the role because she felt she did not have enough knowledge to portray such a multi-layered and difficult character. But Sanjay Leela Bhansali had complete faith in her, and so she began her preparation. She studied at the Helen Keller Institute in Mumbai for many months to get completely comfortable with sign language. About this masterpiece of a film Rani said, “When I heard the script I was bowled over by the layers in it. Black is a kind of film that comes once in a lifetime.” Adding, “A lot of films are well made. But Black teaches us a very important lesson of life. I think we artistes tend to take faculties like hearing and seeing for granted. But what about someone who doesn’t have these basic functions?”

Rani was amazing as Michelle and all lauded her performance. One critic said, “There’s no denying that Rani delivers her best performance to date. With no dialogues in her lap, the actress conveys through expressions solely and what a terrific impact she makes. Here’s a performance that should act as a reference guide for all aspiring actors.” This is one of the many rave reviews she got and the depth of her performance and the film itself, which co-starred Amitabh Bachchan, astounded audiences. Her performance was also celebrated by the receipt of several best actress awards including the IIFA, Filmfare, Screen Weekly and Zee Cine awards!

Other notable films include: Chori Chori (2003) with Ajay Devgan (my personal favorite!), Hum Tum (2004) opposite Saif Ali Khan, for which she won the Filmfare Best Actress Award, Bunty Aur Babli (2005), a huge hit with Abhishek Bachchan and Paheli (2005) costarring SRK, which was India’s entry to the Oscars that year.

With this Friday’s release of Laaga Chunari Mein Daag we will see Rani in many different avatars. The story (not usually seen in Hindi films) is that of an eldest daughter who has to become a call girl in order to support her family. Recently Rani spoke about the upcoming film and why she chose to do the role: “I think the beauty of the script is that it talks about a strong female character in a slightly unconventional way. The very fact that the script talks about the eldest daughter trying to be the son of the house is something that lot of girls will relate to because every elder daughter is kind of pressurized to be the son of the house. It’s got shades of grey and that’s what has interested me and the fact that she is not ashamed about what she has done. It’s something that she has kind of accepted and goes with it and she is not apologetic about it.” From watching the promos we can see that this will be another power packed and brilliant performance of Rani’s. We are eager to see how the story unfolds and the gamut of emotions that she must portray in this difficult role.

After Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, her next appearance on the big screen will be in her role in the highly anticipated Saawariya, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and she has also started work in Kunal Kohil’s next opposite Saif Ali Khan.

Some fun facts:
Rani has won well over 60 awards, 6 of those Filmfare awards, which ties the record set by Nutan Behl for the most wins by any actress. She is also one of the few actresses who have won two major awards within the same year, which she has done several times.

Her favorite sport is sleeping.

She said in a chat online “As a child I always wanted to grow up and become famous and independent.”

Her screen idols are Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan.

After her 2007 appearance on “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” with Preity Zinta she donated her prize money, Rs. 250,000, to the Holy Family Hospital. The hospital takes care of children with heart problems. She has also contributed to and worked for many other worthy causes.

Rani is a trained Odissi dancer, and began learning the style when she was 15.

She once said, “I’d rather have a room full of cuddly teddy bears than a diamond necklace in a safe deposit locker.”

As of 2006, her films have made well over Rs. 5 billion at the box office.

Her favorite film is Titanic and her favorite song comes from that film, ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

When asked which were her favorite roles she said “all of them!” but when pressed she answered laughingly, “Alright, it’s just that I don’t want to hurt anybody. But if I had to list them, Alisha in Ghulam of course, then Tina of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and my character of the bindaas girl in Bichchoo; then there’s Suhaani of Saathiya, who is a lot like me in real life, and now Priya of Chalte Chalte!”

Rani topped Filmfare’s ‘Top Ten Bollywood Actresses’ List for the last three years. Also for the third year in a row she was number one on Rediff’s ‘Top Bollywood Female Stars’.

She has also toured the world in several Bollywood musical extravaganzas. First in 1999, with the Magnificent Five, Rani, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Akshaye Khanna and Twinkle Khanna put on an amazing show. In 2004, she was a part of the hugely popular Temptations 2004, which included performances by Rani along with Shahrukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal and Priyanka Chopra. The showcase had an amazing 19 performances with stops all over the world.

“One should not go on the length of the role, but whether the role has substance. That should be on the priority list. Quality and not quantity.”

From Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Mujhse Dosti Karoge, from Bunty Aur Babli to Black, this petite young woman has won the hearts of many with her brilliant acting, beautiful looks, and sexy voice. As she said, “I am here to act, entertain and make good films. Today I am looking for banners and costars who have the same goal as me — to work towards making a good film with dedication.”

We look forward to seeing Laaga Chunari Mein Daag on Friday and for many more dazzling performances from this great actress. Who knows what she shall achieve next! Aage aage dekho, hota hai kya! (Wait and Watch!)

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