(2006) On Umrao Jaan
Umrao Jaan was not an easy performance for Aishwarya Rai, who has essayed the same role which was played by veteran actress Rekha. Aishwarya is all set to surprise the audience through her latest film. She spoke to us about her experience while shooting the movie and more.
Umrao Jaan must have been emotionally as well as physically taxing for you?
This is an emotional journey that follows an entire arch. It goes through all the possible emotions that being a woman you would understand. This emotional journey can be very demanding and draining but at the same time, it’s a catharsis. It was a wonderful experience to get the opportunity to actually go through the arch of emotions. This provided the perfect experience for an actor as I keep repeating myself to get the opportunity to do precisely that. Working with the director like J P Saab has made that process absolutely satisfying, inspiring, challenging and forcing me to deliver possibly my best with every moment on set.
Umrao was known for her songs and music. What do you have to say about the music and the story telling through the songs?
Its just sheer joy for me personally and for the actor in me because I personally enjoy music and dance. I had always been greedy as a member of the film industry and to get an opportunity to work with this very special combination of J P Dutta, Javed Akhtar and Anu Malik is amazing. Their music is beautiful and extremely memorable. Every moment of performing these songs was fulfilling. Probably the media or audience would expect seven-eight item songs but for Anu Malik each song is part of the narrative. It’s a part of her journey and that’s the way he has treated these songs. Can you tell us any experience that touched your heart?
Umrao Jaan is a courtesan and a performer, not just a dancer but a poetess as well. She performs her poetry in the form of dance. It is literally from her soul and through her experience on every stage and to pick any one experience is very difficult because the entire art from her first performance to her journey of life is touching.
How did you prepare yourself for Umrao Jaan?
It was a study on set. I’ll be very honest as I didn’t get the chance because of my crazy schedules. I have learned many things on the set under the guidance of OP Dutta, JP Dutta and off course Javed Saab. They have made my work conveniently smooth and I have to thanks them immensely. As you all know that we tend to speak in English most often and our generation is not smooth in such a beautiful language like Urdu. Though we are not fluent in that language, I thoroughly enjoyed the mouthing of dialogues in this film because I had the opportunity to explore that world and their language.
How was it working with J P Dutta?
It’s like a blessing in my career. I had some great opportunities to essay such incredible characters on screen as an actor. It’s a very special experience and a great opportunity to play a character like Umrao Jaan, who has already become an icon in our cinema. I have been through this area of questioning even when I was essaying Paro in Devdas. All my sincere thanks to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who conveyed the story to today’s audience. Whenever a story is told or retold it is the interpretation of that director, cinema finds its audience.
How do you react when you are compared with the previous Umrao Jaan, Rekha?
As a performer, she is inspiring. It’s not only Umrao Jaan but her entire career and characters that she essayed through her performances that are extremely inspiring. In terms of my performance in the film, I am very clear that when I am acting in a movie I am interpreting my director’s vision. I have said this even during Devdas when I was performing Paro. It’s all about how the director sees the character and how he wants me to perform onscreen in the story. I was inspired by her performances before but I just can’t simply be copying or aping her. There is no meaning in remaking the cinema then.
How was the whole experience like?
It was a pleasure. I would like to thank him for giving me the honor of learning so much under him as a student. I have tried under his sincerity, guidance, under his knocking and breaking down. But to become a mirror of her journey all the way to realizing Umrao Jaan on celluloid was a great experience.
It was a privilege to have incredible company like Shabana Azmi, Suniel Shetty and Abhishek Bachchan. Mr. O P Dutta made me break down several times by telling me those sensitive incidents. I couldn’t have asked for a better role to essay than this celluloid. Javed Saab made gave me songs with the most soulful lyrics. Emoting has come naturally with his lyrics. It’s an honour to be part of this project.