Q. Fifteen years is a long coffee break. Was English Vinglish a planned move?
A Not at all. It’s not as if I sat down and made up my mind about making a comeback. Boneyji (Kapoor) and Balki are friends and Balki told him about the two scripts he wanted me to check out. I loved Balki’s Cheeni Kum as well as Paa and so agreed to go through them. One film was with Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) for the Hindi version and Rajni in Tamil but it didn’t happen as Rajni fell ill. It’s a very interesting subject. Though English Vinglish just happened, it’s something I would have taken up at any given time.
Q. Which films did you enjoy doing more — Hindi ones or those down South?
A I have always enjoyed my work no matter which language I worked in. But Tamil films gave me more challenging roles. But today Tamil films wouldn’t be a priority as they would entail leaving my children in Mumbai and staying away from them. It wouldn’t work.
Q. The audience goes to see a Sridevi film not only because you’re one of our most beautiful and versatile actresses but also because of your dance moves. Is there another Kaate nahin katte in the offing?
A (Laughs) I don’t think that will ever happen again. It turned out to be special at that point of time. Today I think my children will kick me out of the house if I even attempted something similar. Besides, I don’t think I’d be comfortable doing such a dance today. No way. It wasn’t vulgar but I don’t think it would suit my personality today.
Q. Would you have opted for a comeback behind the camera?
A That’s not my cup of tea at all. I was asked this earlier too and my answer remains the same. It’s not easy to direct a film. It entails tremendous responsibilities. But I do sit in at the scripting stage and now so does Jhanvi.
Q. When you stopped working, was it a relief that you no longer had to rush to the studio and apply make-up?
A Nothing like that. Because I enjoyed my work. It was a different life. Playing different characters was a challenge. For me, films were a job. Something like a regular 9-5 routine. My mom had set a rule that come what may, I should stop working at 6 pm. It was like a school bell and on the dot I would run and sit in my car. But I enjoyed my work, otherwise it would have been sheer torture. But then the last 15 years have been another beautiful journey. It was a pleasure watching my daughters grow up. I believe every woman must experience this else your life isn’t complete.
Q. You didn’t miss the limelight?
A Not one bit.
Q. When did you take up painting?
A That’s something I’ve always been interested in. Even when I was an extremely busy actress I indulged in it as a hobby. Whenever I returned from shooting I would sit and draw but I didn’t take it seriously. Then I completely forgot about it till my children started going to school and needed help with their art classes. I would help them and the teachers even called me to help them with their art section. Jhanvi one day told me the teachers said I was very good. With encouragement, I slowly started picking up my hobby again. One of my paintings, called Thoughts, was auctioned at Christie’s for charity and fetched $ 50,000.
Q. Any plans to hold an exhibition?
A Where’s the time? You need a minimum of 35-40 paintings for an exhibition. Subhash Awchat, a family friend, keeps asking me to paint more and says he’ll organise everything but I’ve never taken seriously. We travel a lot. Painting is not something you can do a couple of hours a day. You need to devote your full attention and time to it.
Q. Is it true Salman Khan has gifted you one of his paintings?
A (Laughs) Not just one, lots. I’ve kept them in my other home. They’re all beautiful and I cherish them. I too gifted him one of my paintings when he was released from Jaipur jail. We form a mutual admiration society. When he was shooting for Wanted, he used to paint with the children.
Q. You started out at the age of three. Did you resent that?
A I believe that to gain something you have to lose something. I’m grateful to God and my fans for whatever I am today. True, I lost out on childhood, school and college but I gained something much more in whatever little I have achieved. I want Janu (Jhanvi) to experience normal life. There’s no urgency for her to start working.
Q. Lamhe didn’t work at the box-office.
A A lot of people loved the film but I always had doubts. It was too bold a subject two decades ago and even today — the daughter falling in love with the man who loved her mother. Of course, the film was very well made and the music was good. I used to have arguments with Yashji (Chopra) during the making of the film but he was firm. Ultimately the director is the master on the set.
Q. On what basis did you choose a film?
A The character and the director are all that mattered as I am totally a director’s actress. My main concern was that I should be comfortable working with the director. Who the hero was never mattered to me. Of course the hero is important to the film and gives it weight.
Q. Is it tiresome to have to look your best all the time?
A Why just celebrities, I think everyone should always look their best. You feel good and who doesn’t like receiving compliments?
Q. What’s the secret of your slim figure?
A Be positive, as Anilji keeps saying in No Entry, ‘Be positive’. Diet definitely makes a difference. I keep fried foods away from my life, in fact away from my house. Drink lots of water. And exercise, be it yoga or any exercise you prefer. You have to be health conscious. Whatever you may do, the most important is inner peace and happiness. That reflects on your face. I enjoy every moment of taking my children out or shopping together or going on a family holiday. We go to malls on weekdays when they aren’t too crowded.
Q. Does the thought of ageing scare you?
A Not at all. It might when you’re young yet look old.
Q. Would you indulge in artificial methods to look young?
A I don’t believe in them because they aren’t permanent. It’s a temporary remedy and very noticeable. After undergoing treatment the only facial expression you can give is a startled one. It’s not worth putting your face and body through it. And I’m 100 per cent sure they must have side effects. Nothing like being natural. Make your life systematic rather than look for short cuts.
Q. Do you go vegetable shopping?
A I used to when the children were small. I used to be finicky that the servant wouldn’t get proper fish or fresh vegetables. So I insisted on choosing them myself but my husband and friends told me to stop saying they couldn’t see me doing such things. I don’t understand what the big deal is. I enjoyed shopping.
Q. Would you like to do TV again? We haven’t seen you since Malini Iyer (2004).
A I don’t think so. I didn’t enjoy myself. My children were very young at the time and the schedules were too hectic. I don’t like being away from my family.
Q. Do you ever get lonely?
A No because I’m never alone. I like to have my people with me. Even when we were shooting in New York for three months, my niece was with me. Boneyji came to drop me and stayed for a week and when it was time to return he brought the children to pick me up. Someone is always with me; I’m not used to being alone.
Q. Are you a better wife or mother?
A I’m a great mother and a devoted wife. And I’d like to add that Boneyji is the best father, husband, son and brother ever.
Q. How dependent are you on Boney?
A I’m not the only one who’s dependent; he’s equally dependent on me. We are companions. It’s good that we still want to be with each other after 16 years of marriage.
Q. Is your relationship with your daughters similar to what you shared with your mother?
A With my mother there was a lot of respect. I never had the guts to tell my mother whatever I wanted. In fact, all my heroes would be scared of my mother. This generation is different. Jahnvi treats me like a friend and confides in me. She’s a normal teenager and very interested in fashion.
Q. Is Jhanvi inclined towards films?
A It’s too early, she’s just 15. I’ve never asked her mainly because I don’t want to divert her mind or put ideas in her head. Both my daughters are good at studies and Boneyji and I would like them to have a strong foundation before they decide what they want to do. Jhanvi is in the 9th, which is a crucial year and Khushi is in the 6th. Actually, which child isn’t interested in films? When Janu (Jhanvi) was five years old, she told Boneyji, “Papa I want to be an actress.” Boneyji said, “Beta, I want you to be a doctor” and she promptly piped up with, “Okay Papa you make a film and I’ll play a doctor in it.”
Q. Your mother’s illness was a traumatic time for you. Did Boney and you get close during that phase?
A Not only did he travel with us but he was with us in New York for three months. We took her there for the best treatment but everything went wrong. I still remember, once when my mother and I were travelling in a car with Boneyji and his friend, she pointed at Boneyji and said, “He’s such a nice man. If you ever do another film with him, you will not ask for a single penny.” Boneyji and I didn’t get close during those three months. I realised how supportive and caring he had been and our relationship grew over 10 years.
Q. At one point there was friction between your younger sister Latha and you. Have you patched up?
A That was a long time ago and we’ve been close again for years. Boneyji and I are the only family she has from her side and she’s very fond of my daughters. This evening we leave for Chennai to take part in the celebrations for her mother-in-law’s 60th wedding anniversary and her 80th birthday.
Q. You’ve changed over the years, you appear more confident, in control now.
A I don’t know if I’ve changed. Earlier I used to refrain from commenting perhaps because I didn’t want to hurt people. Not that I want to hurt anyone now. Perhaps I was holding back because I’d been misguided a couple of times and so chose not to say anything. As a person I think I’m still the same.
Q. An entirely new generation that has so far only watched your films on TV will be your new audience.
A True. Everything depends on the audience, whether or not they want to see more of me. And their reaction will decide if I sign any more films.