'I am not the Juhi I used to be'

I’ve cut down on a lot of things that we have been running after for so long. Life is simpler, less frenetic. I don’t know how I did so much before," says actor Juhi Chawla

'I am not the Juhi I used to be'

Roshmila Bhattacharya

Rishi Kapoor, as a co-star, was somewhat special for Juhi Chawla. Their connect went back to ‘Bobby’, long before she made her debut in Bollywood. Their last film together, ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’, premiered on Amazon Prime Video on March 31 and has since struck an emotional chord with the audience. Here’s why 'Bobby' clips, gurukul education and seeing Aryan and Suhana Khan, along with her own daughter Jhanvi Mehta, is special for Juhi Chawla.

What are your earliest memories of Rishi Kapoor?

I was in school when Bobby released. The film was a huge hit and soon the market was flooded with Bobby dresses, Bobby shoes and even Bobby hair clips. I went to school wearing Bobby clips in my hair. (Laughs) That was my introduction to Rishi Kapoor.

Back then, I had never imagined that one day I would get to work with him, in so many films, including his last one, Sharmaji Namkeen, which is such an honour and a privilege. It was only a couple of days back that I finally realised that I will now never be on a set with Chintuji (Rishi Kapoor) again, which is such a tragedy because he was one of my most fun co-stars.

When did you see him in person for the first time?

It was at the music launch of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. He was the chief guest, the big star, while Aamir (Khan) and I were nobodies. So, we went and stood next to him. (Laughs) That was the only way we would get clicked and featured in newspapers.

Your last film together, ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’, has struck an emotional chord with the audience since it premiered on Amazon Prime Video on March 31. It’s like one of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s slice-of-life films.

Yes, people are enjoying the film, for Chintuji, and because Sharmaji is a character you can connect with. Pehle aise bahut films bantithi, they are still remembered for their little ‘moments’, but we hadn’t seen one in a while.

To be honest, even I am surprised by the reactions because we weren’t sure how people would accept Paresh Rawal and Rishi Kapoor playing the same role. But I’m getting texts from even people who don’t normally react, it’s like divine intervention, Chintuji orchestrating things for us from up there.

The film survived not just the illness and sudden demise of its lead character, but also a Coronavirus-triggered pandemic and subsequent lockdown. What was that tumultuous period like for you?

It was quite an adventure. We were in Austria for a skiing holiday with the kids, when sitting in the lounge, waiting for my daughter’s flight to come in, we heard that students who were not American citizens would not be allowed back into the country because of the pandemic.

I was like, “What? Jhanvi can’t go back to college now!” Never in our lives, had we imagined something like a lockdown.

After three-four days in Austria, we were informed that if we didn’t leave immediately, we would have to stay back at the ski place for 14 days. We frantically packed our bags and fled to Switzerland to catch a flight back. We had to stay there overnight and woke up to the news that Switzerland was closing its borders as well.

We managed to get away in the nick of time, but the day after we landed in London, the Indian government announced that all those who wanted to return should do so immediately because the UK was locking up too. We ran to the embassy to get our papers and managed to take the last flight home.

And after that?

There was the initial fear and panic, then I started reading up on the subject and knowledge sets you free. I realised that with your daily dose of vitamins, pranayams, naturopathy, you can make yourself stronger.

My daughter Jhanvi stayed back with my in-laws for five-six months. My son, Arjun, was with us and since he did not have to go to school and we didn’t have to rush off to work, we got to spend a lot of time with each other. It was beautiful and I realised how little we really need. There is nothing more important than peace. I’m no longer the Juhi I used to be.

What has changed?

I’ve cut down on a lot of things that we have been running after for so long. Life is simpler, less frenetic. I don’t know how I did so much before, but today, it’s okay if I don’t live up to all expectations as long as I’m in touch with my inner peace.

Have you started a gurukul for girls in Gujarat?

Arya Kanya Gurukul was set up in Porbandar by my husband’s (Jai Mehta) grandfather (Nanji Kalidas Mehta) in 1936. My in-laws have now handed over the gurukul with its 2,000 girl students to us to supervise its running.

For me, this is what education should be like. It doesn’t break down the syllabus into subjects like history, geography and math, which makes academics bookish. Knowledge should be imparted in its entirety, only then will it set minds free.

The girls are also not confined into little boxes that we call classrooms. They can roam around the farm, go boating, learn archery and other sports, play with the animals, dance and have fun, in the process getting a more rounded education.

You learn best from nature, but as Sadhguruji has pointed out, the biggest problem facing our planet is that instead of using nature optimally, we are killing it. Our soil is eroding, the corals are getting bleached, the rivers are polluted and filled with dead fish, plants are being destroyed. And that the ones committing this harakiri are educated people means there’s something wrong with our education. We need more gurukuls and Shantiniketans.

Once we were the wealthiest land and imbibed high moral values. Then, the British had us chasing a different kind of wealth. We need to combine the best of East and West, embrace digitization as also our rich cultural heritage, only then can these bright minds make the world a better place.

Talking about children, when it comes to cricket and your franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders, Shah Rukh Khan and you seem to be gearing up to pass the baton to the next generation. His children, Aryan and Suhana Khan, and your daughter Jhanvi were present at this year’s auction?

(Laughs) They have already taken the baton and run away. I feel blessed that though we never pushed them, perhaps watching us ride this emotional roller-coaster for years, has got them interested.

Jhanvi who is an avid cricket buff came to the table two years ago, followed by Aryan the next year and Suhana this year. It’s a joy to see one kid joining up every year and all three together at the auction.

Is Arjun coming on board next year?

As I said, we never push them. The decision is theirs alone.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines