After playing an innocent child in ‘Masoom’, Urmila Matondkar had swiftly progressed to romancing Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Chamatkaar’ and then slipped into the role of a sexy siren in ‘Rangeela’ for a career-defining performance. A popular icon of ’90s Bollywood, the actress refused to be typecast and experimented with films like ‘Kaun’, ‘Ek Haseena Thi’, and ‘Bhoot’. While she was away from the limelight for a while, only making headlines for her wedding a few years ago, the actress is now back and this time around, she’s trying to do her bit for the country by taking up politics. In an exclusive interaction with ETimes, the actress-turned-politician opens up about her two-decade-long journey in Bollywood, refusing to be stereotyped, experimenting with social media, and the lessons she learned. Excerpts:
You have been in Bollywood for over two decades now. Do you feel that the industry has changed for the better?
I think the industry has changed in every way, and, of course, for the better, because the way scripts are written has become better. Everybody has become more professional now. Today films go on the floors with an end date and a release date in mind, which is absolutely phenomenal! That way actors, directors, and producers are far more prepared. With communication channels and social media making the world a smaller place, global trends and products have found their way to the industry. Even simple makeup stuff was not available in India earlier but it is now. Bollywood has taken it to the next level; everything has become much more larger-than-life. And that’s a very exciting and welcome change.
From being a child artist in ‘Masoom’ to the leading lady in ‘Rangeela’ and ‘Satya’ – how would you describe your journey in front of the camera?
It has been a very, very beautiful journey for me, for the simple reason that I was probably the only actor who refused to constantly get typecast into any mould or format. No matter how hard the media tried to portray me in a particular way, I constantly broke it. I must have been the only actress who even tried so many different looks in terms of hair, makeup, clothes. From my characters to the genres of the films I took up– everything was different from the other. That has been very exciting because growth has to be a constant part of life. So, that’s what reflects in my film career as well. I didn’t sit happy and glad on any particular role and did it for 50 more films. I quickly changed and went on to another, and another. And that, I think, truly has been the most exciting part.
How choosy were you? Have you ever felt the need to reject a movie?
I have rejected a lot of movies; we all do at different times, for different reasons. But I’d rather not talk about them now because I don’t think it’s fair to the people who eventually made the movie and they still turned out to be great.
What challenges did you face to make a career in the industry?
From shooting in the coldest of places in shorts to filming in the hottest places all decked up in a saree, or finding yourself, for some reason, in leather pants–it has all been pretty challenging! We were to shoot the first part of the film ‘Kunwara’ in Switzerland, but because of date issues, the sets of a house were erected right here in hot and humid Mumbai. For the scene, I had to sit shivering in front of the raging fireplace with Govinda who had brought me in after I fell on the snow. It was the peak of summer and I was wearing leather pants with a leather jacket over a velvet T-shirt. I was going berserk but now it’s a hilarious memory! But apart from these things, nothing felt like hard work because I enjoyed all of it so much. I’ve always been so passionate about films, that it didn’t feel like a challenge at any given point. Everything was a part and parcel of being an actor and every moment of it was great!
A lot of cult classics are being remade today. How would you feel if ‘Rangeela’ was to be recreated 25 years after its release?
I think it’s a little unfair to take one rule for all. Some of the remakes turn out to be great and some don’t hit the mark because you can’t forget the original. Those films were big because we had made such an impact on the audience’s minds. It’s very difficult for any actor or maker to recreate that every time. So, some of them really work and some of them don’t; I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule whether they should be made or not made. Even in Hollywood, it’s the same thing.
Do you feel that after a certain age, fewer characters are written for actresses?
Yes, certainly and sadly so. Even now, though there has been a major shift and more scripts and better options than earlier, there aren’t many roles. I recently noticed a yesteryear actress playing the mother of the same actor that she had starred opposite. We have come a long way, but it’s still a long way to go and it can still get better. There are so many interesting concepts and ideas that can be implemented even in web shows. I find it worse that web shows too are still focussing only on girls between 18 to 25, or older women. There is nothing meaty for the in-between category, which is quite sad. Web shows can be so much better than films because films are anyway a difficult proposition in today’s day and age, but yes, it can still be better than what it is right now.
Any regrets you’ve had about the way your career shaped up?
I’m not a person who regrets anything. I believe that everything happens either to teach you something, to take you forward, or to show you the other side of some story. So, I don’t have any regrets and doubt that I ever will. However, I have learned a lesson that my father had told me that all name, fame, and glory, are like dewdrops on a leaf–which evaporate when the sun shines, but the people you meet and connect with make your life bigger and much more fulfilling. So, what has kept me sane and positive even today, is my belief. A person’s compassion and integrity matter; nothing else does. So, that is the lesson that I’ve learned in my life. And that is the only thing that stays with you. The rest just comes and goes. Like Jim Carey said: “I wish everybody had name, fame, and money, because then they’ll realise that it was never about all of that.” It is so simple, but the funniest thing is that by the time people understand that, it’s a bit late. Luckily, it is not so late for me yet!
Madhuri Dixit, Raveena Tandon were your contemporaries in the ’90s. How would you describe your relationship with them?
Back then, there were a few magazines that always worked on creating rivalries between stars; actresses were easier targets than actors, even though actors were more into the cutthroat competition than actresses can ever be. Madhuri, Raveena, and I didn’t get much of a chance to connect with each other because we were all so busy. Of course, a healthy competition was always there because we were all contemporaries, but I don’t remember indulging in any kind of silly arguments. And I don’t remember that happening to me either. As I said, we were all very busy creating our own careers and making it through our own struggles.
One piece of advice you would want to give your younger self?
Nothing, actually! So far at least I have tried to live my life to the fullest and to the best of my capabilities. And I don’t mean to sound condescending towards my life or anything, but during my younger days also I was making the most of the time, be it my career or studies, because, at one point, I was juggling them.
You are now on social media and also recently went live on your birthday. How are you liking the medium?
Social media is a double-edged sword! I wasn’t on it earlier because I am an extremely private person. I feel the best life is one in which the best moments don’t make it to social media and that’s still the truth of my life. But it’s an excellent way to communicate with your friends. And in fact, of late, I am finding it to be even more important because the line that I’ve chosen to be in is such a negative and poisonous one to be in the world of politics. So, it’s great to have a straight connection to the people of the country; you can clear up a lot of things that are being wrongly spread about you. I wish we had social media when I was an actor as well. Today, any actor can pick up any form of social media and connect to the people and clarify the situation. So, in that sense, it’s very good. And in many ways, it’s very bad too. Also, this trolling army that many people quote, I don’t think that they are the real people of the country in any case, but it just spreads a lot of negativity. That’s the sad part.
What’s keeping you busy these days?
My political career. That’s something that takes as much or more time than movies did because it’s a different career for me. I’m a complete novice here but I’m enjoying it tremendously. I have as much passion for it as I had for films and my acting career. So, that’s going to be an interesting journey to watch out for.
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