Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR

‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ created a stir, not just 25 years ago, but even now, for a different reason all together! While the song continues to be remembered over the years, the film made with the title has struck the right chord and lead to rave reviews for being one of its kind. We speak to director Shelly Chopra Dhar and actors Juhi Chawla, Rajkummar Rao, to chat about their latest release! Excerpts:

Do you feel fortunate to have a song like this fit in as the film’s title?
Shelly Chopra Dhar:Yes, it’s a beautiful title. This is a song which reached such amazing heights 25 years ago and it has still remained in our hearts. Even today’s generation loves the song, and it’s like poetry. The minute you say it, there’s a smile on your face. So, we loved it.

If you really had to describe ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Lagaa’, how would you?
Shelly Chopra Dhar:If I had to give it a title, I would say, it’s a dramedy. The golden rule of cinema is entertainment so the first thing that a film does is entertain. All my characters are weaved into this story telling. There’s no preaching, there are no lectures, nobody is telling you anything, or to learn from it. On the contrary, I just want people to enjoy the film. If they come out with something, great, if they don’t, great!

You’re working with Anil Kapoor after a long time, how was it this time around?

Juhi Chawla: Yes, it was lovely, that I’m working with Anil ji again. But to be very honest, I was excited that I was not just working with Anil ji this time, but I’m working with Anil ji and Sonam and they themselves are coming together for the first time. So, for me, that was more exciting and I was looking forward. Once I heard the story, I was excited to know I’ll also be having such fun moments with Rajkummar in the film. I just went by the narration and by the end of the narration, I was like, ‘what a lovely, well-written script’. To me this whole package, of a very wonderful script, and team was exciting!

What are the changes you see in him, as a person and actor?

Juhi Chawla: When we used to work with Anil ji earlier, he used to always look at his mirror, and suck in his cheeks. And he was like, ‘I want my cheeks to look thin’. Anil ji has a very cute face, he has a cute, round, heart-shaped face. We used to work with Indu Kumar ji and all, and they know each other very well. So, Indu ji used to tell us, when you’re working with Anil, just go in the morning and tell him, ‘Anil ji what happened? Your face is looking a little puffed up today,’ and then watch the fun all day. But now, Anil ji doesn’t look into the mirror anymore. He has really changed. In his own way, as an actor, he is more at ease.

And how much has the industry changed?

Juhi Chawla:I think some things just don’t change. A good complete script worked then, and a great script works today. The basics are the same. I think all the other things – technology, organization has changed. It’s a lot more compartmentalised, departmentalised. Otherwise, the basics of story-telling, film-making, the heart is where it was.

What is it that you really look for in films at this point in your career?
Juhi Chawla: I don’t think I have a lot of choices. It depends on who comes to me with scripts and feels that I would be able to fit in. It’s not like I’m looking for messages in my films. For me, the script must hold my interest, if it holds my interest, I know it will hold the interest of the audience. I am a simple regular person when I hear a script, it’s like you’re watching a movie. Once it feels complete, wherein, you have a beginning, and end – you know it’s something solid, and chances are, it’s going to be something worth watching.

Today, the expectations from a film usually go high the moment, Rajkummar Rao is there in the film. How happy are you about that benchmark?
Rajkummar Rao:
I think, more than me, it’s about the stories I’m a part of. I need to first like the story, and then only I will be able to convince people. So, maybe, that’s why, People come with the conviction that the story will be good because Raj is in the film. But we make films with a lot of sincerity and maybe that reflects. But it’s a great thing and I’m grateful. I just love acting and being on a film set, so hope that continues. I just work because I want to work. I’m not chasing money, or fame or anything else, I’m just genuinely in love with the craft. So, there’s no pressure. Even if nobody expects anything out of me, I still know I have to push myself, try different characters which are challenging for me. That’s the only thing which keeps me going as an actor otherwise it’s plain Jane, it’s monotonous. It’s a great feeling when a film does those numbers, because we want it to reach out to maximum people, but that’s not the thing on our mind while making the film.

How did you prepare for the film with other co-actors?
Rajkummar Rao:
I didn’t really prepare with Anil ji or anyone, because it’s not like, we share a certain relationship in the film. Anil ji and Sonam had to prepare together. I just had to work on my own character which was all there in the script itself. It was a very well-crafted script and a very well-etched character.

As a director, what was your brief to your actors?
Shelly Chopra Dhar:
Because, I’ve also co-written the script, what happens is, you know the character so well, that it’s very easy to talk about those characters and live with them. I based this film in Punjab and I’m a Punjabi. I got a lot of nuances from my own personal experiences as all writers do. So, there’s a lot of us in the film. Then, when you know the characters at the back of your head, it’s very easy to talk about them. There’s no question that can throw you off, you will stay on track. And when you work with highly professional people, they know their job and are on track.

How’s it been to be a part of such an iconic song being re-created?
Rajkummar Rao: I’m so happy that I have this song in my filmography now. I remember hearing it initially, when we had hardly finished a chunk of shooting. It’s a lovely track, so soulful with lovely lyrics.
Juhi Chawla: I echo his sentiment. I remember listening to this song time and again. Of course, at that time, to be honest, I was a little envious of Manisha Koirala because she was looking so fabulous and she was presented so beautifully. My worry was, how do you recreate an iconic song like this and not let it slide? So, I was wondering, how will we make it? But when you hear ‘Marjaani ve’, it’s just fabulous. It matches the film beautifully!

Do you feel now the audience is finally ready to accept characters in the forefront that the stars?

Shelly Chopra Dhar: I think that’s already happening. Look at Ayushmann’s last film, ‘Badhaai Ho’. Who is the hero-heroine in the film? Really! It’s about the story, characters today and age is really becoming irrelevant as it should. That’s how it is!

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