If one were to count the most influential actors of our country, then Jaya Bachchanís name would surely be there. Though this trendsetting actress brushes off all compliments the truth is, mainstream Hindi cinema owes Jaya a helluva lot.
Her appearance in movies has become as rare as the Eid ka chand. Last seen as Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshanís mom in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham she now returns in Karan Joharís latest production Kal Ho Naa Ho, a film that the exacting actress is enormously proud of.
"Yash and Karan Johar really look after their crew. Thereís absolutely no tension on the sets. After working with the unit in K3G I know them so well. Itís really important for me to feel at home. I can only work with people who I know wonít let me down."
Throughout the making of both K3G and KHNH Jaya kept grumbling godnaturedly that she was a junior artiste. "But I had full faith in Karan. You know what? He l-o-v-e-s his actors. Karan and Nikhil Advani work so well together. Itíd be impossible for anyone to say who contributed what to K3G and KHNH. Theyíve a lot of respect for each otherís aptitudes. They agree and disagree without ego problems. So what youíll see in KHNH is a thoroughly complete film. I really hope the two continue working together. The twosome is unstoppable."
To Jaya, itís impossible to say how much Karan and Nikhil have contributed individually to KHNH. "And itís even more impossible for me to say how satisfied Iím with my performance. Iím not an actress who does a lot of homework. As soon as I read a script I form a certain image of my character. Thatís all the spadework I do. I follow my instincts. With age a lot of your acting mechanisms change. All your emotional faculties become exaggerated. A smile looks like a grin and sniff becomes a sob. I had to be very craeful about how the camera caught me."
The acting strategies have changed. But Jaya still reacts to scenes instinctively. "I can be very very indifferent when Iím turned off."
She refuses to divulge the names of the films where she has given indifferent performances. "Fortunately I Ďm in work-friendly set-ups most of the time. Thatís when I become one with the character. I must tell you I was very comfortable with Preity . I loved playing her mother. Sheís full of fun , a very warm person and totally tension-free. She speaks a nine to the dozen. Every now and then sheíd come and hug me and say, ĎYouíre the best screen mom Iíve had.í I love outward demonstrations of affection. A sincere hug can win me over for a lifetime. But I canít be that way with everyone. I can get very cold with people I donít like."
Playing mom is new to Jaya. "It started three years ago with Govind Nihalaniís Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa where I played Joy Senguptaís mother. Then came Khalid Mohamedís Fiza where Karisma Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan were my children. Preity and I make a most natural daughter-mother pair. We didnít have to fake our feelings. Iíve seldom met anyone so frank , and yet she keeps distance. It was like sitting and talking to my own daughter. Like my Shweta, Preity is so young and yet like my friend. But Shweta is not as talkative as Preity. I must tell you, Preity used to get very upset when people expressed their disappointment that I wasnít playing Shah Rukhís mom."
Jaya confesses "a tremendous fondness for that boy . When you see the film youíll see a peculiar rapport between Shah Rukh and me. I think he Ďs wonderful with mothers. Heís so wonderful with Reema Lagoo who plays his mom in KHNH. Sheís another person I love. Thereís something very gentle about Reema."
Jayaís face lights up when she talks about the New York stint of KHNH. "Such close association for such a long period , and that too so far away from home, could get on oneís nerves. But I had great fun in New York."
A dreamy look seeps into Jayaís eyes. " I think this film will be a bigger hit than K3G. Itís got great entertainment value. I hope Iím not wrong. Like Dil Chahta Hai KHNH uses a great deal fresh technique, never applied to our cinema before."
Mention of Dil Chahta Hai reminds Jaya of Saif Ali Khan. "Oh heís too good in KHNH. In his last sequence with Shah Rukh heís fantastic. Saifís sense of timing is amazing."
Coming from an actress who has worked with all the stalwarts, from Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Govind Nihalani this is high praise indeed. Mention of Hrishida brings a smile to Jayaís face. "You know, almost every filmmaker I meet today says he wants to make a film like Hrishida. Maybe thereís a bit of him in KHNH. As in Hrishidaís films you canít say which actor is better than the rest. We all worked towards the same goal. And that sense of togetherness shows in Kal Ho Naa Ho."