Bubbly romantic in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, the tortured wife in Daraar or a conniving politician in Gulaab Gang, Juhi Chawla has been a force to reckon with in her 30-year career. Considered something of a pioneer for women in the field, she happily took a step back from the glamorous life of an actor to shine the spotlight on her children Jhanavi and Arjun, with industrialist Jay Mehta. Last year, she made a full-fledged comeback alongside Madhuri Dixit in Gulaab Gang, to play a villain for the first time. She also joined the Hollywood bandwagon, sharing the screen with Dame Helen Mirren and Om Puri in Steven Spielberg’s The Hundred Foot Journey. Now she’s gearing up for Subhash Singh’s Chalk and Duster, a film about the business of education. Shabana Azmi and Divya Dutta make up the rest of the cast. The soft spoken yet vivacious Chawla talks about her role, how her perceptions and priorities have changed, and what her kids think of their famous mother.
Tell us about your role in Chalk N Duster
I play a teacher in the film, and what drew me to it was the script. It is a very engaging and sweet story – one that will make you just want to get up and clap at the end.
What was it like working with veterans as well as newcomers?
It was interesting as there’s something to learn from the experienced as well as catch on to the enthusiasm from those just starting out.
You have worked with Shabana Azmi, for the first time?
I remember the first time she read the script, listened to the role, and just got so taken up with the whole thing. She even took the film’s designer to shop her wardrobe for the film, which matches her character of a teacher in the film. That actually put me to shame, as I was always not very involved in these aspects. Working with such an evolved actress as her has been amazing.
This is Subhash Singh’s directorial debut. How was it working with him?
I am a director’s person; for me working with a director is getting him to guide me and telling me what to do. The last debutant director I worked with was Soumik Sen (Gulaab Gang), who made me do one of my finest performances ever!
Is this a performance you’re most proud of?
I have done some lovely performances in a lot of films, but always in the space of goody, funny, romantic, sweet and emotional. The one that stands out for me is Gulab Gang which was totally dark.
What was your toughest film?
Arjun Pandit - a lovely film with Sunny Deol and directed by Rahul Rawail, some years ago. The first half seemed like a romantic one, but the second half brought out a different me as it had a negative shade.
Who are the directors you would like to work with?
Rajkumar Hirani and Shoojit Sircar, definitely.
How do your kids react to having such a famous mother?
My kids are really funny. And I think they’re a little embarrassed about me too. If we are out somewhere and people come up to me, I always stop by and give out some autographs. But my kids do get a bit impatient as they have to wait. So they almost pull me to stop. It’s a bit mixed though, as they’re also proud of me.
Critical acclaim or mass appeal?
Oh, why do we have to pick? I would actually love both. A box office hit and great reviews, perfect.
Actress, producer and full-time mum. How do you juggle it all?
I work on prioritising. Once they are clear, then I try to fit other things in. When you are single, it’s just you and your work but when you are married it’s you, your husband, your children, work, etc. At the top of the list it’s my family, my work, my music and that takes precedence over everything else. Then it’s my social work, friends, social life, etc. So if I have to cut off, I will start from the bottom.
The film is scheduled to release on September 5, Teachers Day.
Deepika Padukone: She is very talented and is shining bright on screen
Ranbir Kapoor: He is fantastic. I really like him as an actor for the various roles he plays
Ranveer Singh: He is also an actor one must watch out for
Alia Bhatt: She is quite young but very talented
Varun Dhawan: Varun has progressed a lot with some great potential
Shraddha Kapoor: According to me, she is the new superstar
Imran Khan: I have also lately been wondering where Imran has disappeared