September 20, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Sonali Kulkarni is known for her exceptional acting abilities
In her parents’ footsteps
Esha Deol with Tusshar Kapoor in ‘Kya Dil Ne
Sonali proves critics wrong
FROM Hrithik Roshan’s foster mother in ‘Mission Kashmir’ to his love interest in a new untitled film, theatre-actress and Bollywood’s latest diva, Sonali Kulkarni has surely come a long way.
She’s being called the new generation Smita Patil who is busy carving a niche for herself that places her enviably between art and commercial cinema.
"I am not afraid to experiment," she says with the confidence of an actress who’s arrived. When she accepted the role of Hrithik Roshan’s mother in ‘Mission Kashmir’, many industry watchers said she had committed professional hara-kiri. They told her bluntly that her film career was over before it had begun and that she’d now be condemned to motherly and sisterly roles.
Then she played the second lead in ‘Pyar Tune Kya Kiya’. As Fardeen Khan’s wife, she had a far smaller role than Urmila Matondkar. Again, critics clucked-clucked saying it was another grave career mistake and she could kiss lead roles goodbye.
Now the same doomsayers are eating crow. Sonali Kulkarni is one of the most-sought-after faces in Bollywood. Gone are the days when she was considered good enough only for parallel cinema. Today she is giving top heroines a run for their stardom.
"It doesn’t matter whether you are playing the lead role or that of a sister or a mother. You have to be comfortable and confident only then you can give your best," says Sonali. "I really enjoyed doing ‘Mission Kashmir’. As I always say, I love variety. And to be acting with heart-throb like Hrithik was great fun. I didn’t hesitate to become Hrithik’s mom as I had signed a number of films as a heroine. So, I wasn’t going to be in the ‘moms only’ danger zone."
And with her rising stature, her entire demeanour has changed. She sports a new trendy air and her drop-dead looks have been considerably enhanced after she shed a few kilos. The weight loss has further toned up her already sleek figure.
But more than her appearance, it is the impressive array of films that she’s signed which has got ‘industrywallahs’ amazed. She’s worked with some of the best directors in the business. Starting with established names like Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Ram Gopal Verma to a debutante like Farhan Akhtar, Bollywood seems to be welcoming Sonali with open arms.
Though playing opposite Saif Ali Khan in her latest, ‘Dil Chahata Hai’ hers is not the sole lead, there are a number of forthcoming films where she’s the single heroine, including the untitled film where she’s playing Hrithik Roshan’s girlfriend.
With so many commercial offers pouring in will she bid goodbye to art cinema? "No", says Sonali, "I enjoy working in both. In ‘Dr Ambedkar’ I am playing his wife Rama. Earlier I did the role of a transvestite in Amol Palekar’s ‘Daayra’. It was very challenging, as I had to play the role of a girl who dresses up as a man. It won me the best actress award at the Vallanciense Film Festival in France."
Starting her career as a theatre artiste under Satyadev Dubey, she graduated to parallel cinema and played some memorable roles in Girish Karnad’s ‘Cheluvi’, Jabbar Patel’s ‘Mukta’, Amol Palekar’s ‘Daayra’, ‘Kairee’ and ‘Doghi’, for which she won the National Award.
Apart from Hindi, this versatile actress has to her credit films in many different languages, including Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. She even starred in an English film on an Indian theme titled ‘Vrindavan’.
But her real love has been theatre. Since her school and college days in Pune, Sonali has made a name for herself in Marathi theatre doing lead roles in hits like ‘Chahool’ and ‘Kovali Unhe’. She even runs her own theatre group called ‘Samanvay’.
Despite my film engagements, I am still associated with the theatre. We just had a very successful season of ‘Basant Ka Teesra Yauvan’ by Makarand Deshpande," says Sonali.
But now with a slew of films she’s signed it would appear that she’ll have less and less time for theatre though she’s determined not to abandon it. However, Sonali plans to make up for her loss on the stage by doing good meaningful cinema.
Says Sonali, "I think one of the best films I’ve done is ‘Dr Ambedkar’ which is slated for release in December. And one of the best roles I’ve done is that of Lady Macbeth in a forthcoming Telugu film, ‘Yellamma’."
And who’s her favourite star? "It’s hard to say, I like Mammoothy, Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan for various reasons — their professionalism, concentration, acting skills."
And of the two heart-throbs in ‘Mission Kashmir’ who did she like better — Hrithik or Sanjay Dutt? Her diplomatic answer, "How can you compare a son and husband!"
In her parents’ footsteps
AFTER years of waiting in the wings, another star kid has risen on the Bollywood horizon. Esha Deol, daughter of Hema Malini and Dharmendra, makes her debut with ‘Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche’, to be followed by ‘Na Tum Jano Na Hum’ and ‘Kya Dil Ne Kaha'.
All three are big-budget movies, made by reputed banners and boast of some of the top-selling names in Hindi cinema, such as Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan and Tusshar Kapoor. Much is expected of them as all eyes are fixed on how these films fare at the box-office.
Esha, however, chooses to play safe lest she be expected to match her parents’ acting standards. "Both my parents have been great performers and I am sure, the audience will make comparisons," she acknowledges. "But come on, I am still a newcomer and it will take time."
She goes to the extent of saying that as Hema Malini’s daughter, they could share a "facial resemblance", but nothing beyond. "I am an individual in my own right and she is in her own," she insists. "This is not to say that I do not admire her, but comparing us to each other, I feel, is a bit unfair."
Esha reveals that as she does not have a secretary, she counts on her mother to handle her dates, story sittings and negotiations with producers. While on the sets or on location when she is not around, Esha is "in constant touch" with her on telephone for advice on matters like costume and make-up for the shoot.
Likewise, her father has been very supportive as well. She has "detailed discussions" with him about the roles she could be taking up, the storylines and the offers she is getting. He also advises her on her career moves and the general pitfalls in the profession.
"One thing he keeps telling me is not to be affected by hits and flops," she narrates. "They are part of an actor’s life. One must go with the flow and focus on work. Just take things in your stride as they come and the rest will take care of itself," she says.
Esha discloses that acting in films has always been an ambition, only that she was much too scared to speak about it as a child. It remained a secret till her mother, one day, told her that some producers were coming up with offers and she could, perhaps, give it a thought.
"I promptly said ‘yes’, I want to do it. Mom was taken by surprise by my reaction as I had been doing pretty well as a dancer and had made a name for myself. My sister and I used to accompany mom for all her shows and our performances were widely covered in the media."
So did films amount to a career shift?
"I am extremely passionate about dance," Esha replies. "Whenever I have any spare time, I rehearse and do shows. My mother also pursued both acting and dancing, and excelled in both. I believe it is an advantage for an actress to be a good dancer as it enhances her performance. Besides, dancing helps me to remain physically, mentally and spiritually fit."
She, however, hastens to add that dancing in films is not the same as a classical performance on stage and for that matter, she does not want to be known as a "dancing actress". That would only lead to her getting ‘type cast’ and limit her range as an actress.
"I keep refusing offers for films in which my role is limited to just dancing," she says. "After all, one has to maintain a healthy balance between the two — dancing and acting. I am lucky to have inherited both. It would be wrong on my part to exploit one at the cost of the other!" (MF)
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