Kajol has made her web series debut and it couldn’t have been with a more apt show than The Trial: Pyaar, Kaanoon, Dhokha, the Hindi adaptation of The Good Wife. Directed by Suparn Verma and produced by her husband Ajay Devgn, The Trial sees her as a homemaker who is compelled to return to her profession of a lawyer after her husband gets arrested for a sex scandal.
(Also Read: Kajol: I’ve never paid heed to Log kya kahenge mentality)
The Disney+ Hotstar show addresses themes like public scrutiny, juggling motherhood with work, returning to a competitive profession after a break — themes that have also dominated Kajol’s real-life story. In an exclusive interview, the actor discusses the art of making comebacks, the art of taking long breaks, the one time she chose pragmatism over her impulse, and 30 years of Baazigar aka 30 years of Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan. Excerpts:
The first episode of The Trial is called ‘The Second Coming.’ Like your character Nayonika, you’ve also had a fair share of second comings in your career, or ‘comebacks’ as we like to call it. Have you ever felt at the bottom of the ladder or your rise restricted by the system?
I’ve never been restricted by the system because I’ve never followed the system. I’ve never been a part of the rat race. I was never in competition with anyone or striving in better with anyone. I was always in competition with myself. Regarding that, God willing, touchwood, I’ve had wonderful work coming my way. Even if it hasn’t come my way, I haven’t stressed too much about it because I don’t think I worry too much about that.
Yes, of course, there are days you feel, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing and where am I going from here’ etc., but I think… it’s a very Nayonika question really. She doesn’t have the confidence to stand in front of everyone and wonders whether I’ll be good enough. But then she realises it’s only her who didn’t have the confidence in herself. Everybody else had more than enough confidence in her ability as a lawyer. Even on an off day, if I haven’t felt confident, if I’ve felt low… and yes, there have been days where I’ve felt completely out of it, had the thought, ‘What am I doing and why the hell am I here.’ But it’s just that. You go out there and find that all your fears were really unfounded or I’d say in your head, pretty much.
In the first episode, you character and her colleague Sana (Kubra Sait) are listening to an aggrieved client. When Sana probes her, Nayonika says, “Arey usko saans toh lene do” (let her have a breather at least). Do you feel even as an actor, coming back after a break gives you a renewed lens and more empathy towards the character you’re essaying?
I believe heartily in breaks. I believe in long breaks also. Please excuse me, I’m the break queen. If I’m the comeback queen, I’m the break queen also. Let’s-take-a-nap queen. Let’s-go-for-a-lunch-queen (laughs). Yeah, all of that. This is my personal opinion, I’m not sure how everyone else operates. But for me, personally, I think to be an actor, I need to have a fuller life. I need to have a complete life. Acting is a part of my life, but I have a lot of other parts to my life. I love to travel, I love my friends, I love to read, knit, crochet, spend time with my kids. I want to do so many things, want to go to so many places. When I do them all, it makes me a better person, and also, I think, a better actor.
In the first episode, Nayonika slaps her husband in private, but also holds his hand in public when he’s getting arrested. How do you process this dichotomy in the character when you’re playing her?
Are you married?
Hence and therefore, I can only answer this question to married people.
You said that Nayonika reaches a point in the show where she takes a very practical decision. It’s not what she should have done or wanted to do had she been left to her devices, but is what she has to do. As a strong-willed individual, what’s the most practical decision you’ve taken that you wouldn’t have otherwise, but it has held you in good stead?
The fact that I came into the film industry. That was a very practical decision. I came here only because things worked out in my favour. I remember at one point, my mother (veteran actor Tanuja) asked me, ‘Would you like to join the film industry?’ And I was like, ‘There is no way I’d like to become an actor like you, because you work too hard and the pay is not enough. I want a pay cheque at the end of every month. I do not want to wait for someone to send me a cheque in 45 days or in six months. That is not happening. I don’t believe in this system of payment.’ So if I had to chalk out a life plan, this wasn’t the plan I would’ve wanted my life to follow. Films kind of happened to me. People that I had a great time working with came up to me and offered me a film. I was like, ‘Okay cool. I have two months off, I can take off to Canada for a holiday.’ Of course, it wasn’t a holiday by any angle whatsoever. I had a great time. I came back and was like, ‘Wow! This is acting! Who knew!’ As they say, the rest is history.
You’ve dabbled in all three diverse formats on streaming now — a feature (Tribhanga), a short (Lust Stories 2) and a series (The Trial). Do you feel streaming has lent a new lease of life to your career?
I think it’s a great time for an actor. It’s wonderful that now there’s a time and space where actors are not judged by anything else other than their talent. It doesn’t have to do with a perfect set of features or a perfect set of numbers on your figure, it has to do more with what you bring to a scene, the kind of scripts you choose and what you’re able to convey.
It’s 30 years of Baazigar. So 30 years of watching you and Shah Rukh Khan on screen together. When we see a classic romantic song even today, we crib, “Kajol aise nahi karti thi, Shah Rukh aisa nahi karta tha!” Was there something at the time of Baazigar that clicked between you guys or did it evolve gradually over the years?
We became friends during the first film, and that continued. We did so many films together regularly but also not one after the other that we got pakaoed with each other (laughs). It was a nice, gradual progress. We did a film every two years. So we had enough to talk about in between as well. There was a gap so we didn’t irritate each other too much. As you say, we’ve been friends for 30 years now. I hope that journey hasn’t ended and we do more films now.
Yeah, it’s been much more than 2 years since Dilwale (2015).
(Laughs) Han, ek aur comeback chahiye ab (Yeah, I need another comeback).