The thing about an actress like Kajol is that she seldom bestows viewers with overkill, so ensuring that every time she is seen on screen, she leaves the audiences thirsting for just that much more. Wondering when next they will get to see her again in a movie. She never promises anything, so whatever she puts out then, is eagerly devoured by a populace of cine-goers hungering to see her work. She breezes in and out of the theatres, with long gaps. But what she does leave behind, along with the fragrance of her characters, is the secure knowledge that whatever comes next, will be worth the wait. Suguna Sundaram traces the journey of the phenomenon that is Kajol.
As the gray-shaded Meera in her latest release Dilwale, Kajol still managed to tug at your heart-strings. Especially when coupled with her most dynamic on-screen lover, Shah Rukh Khan, playing Raj yet another time. Raj and Meera had fans swooning when they shared tender looks, or when he folded her in his arms or when they walked together into orange sunsets. Like they did when the pairing first ignited the screens, as Raj and Simran (Kajol’s career-defining role) 20 years ago, in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. That became Rahul and Anjali, or Raj and whoever Kajol became. Kajol manages to imbue the same freshness today that she did in her early films, minus the gauche aspect, now with the addition of a glamorized sheen.
Let’s take a gander through the various phases in her life, and follow the trajectory, that’s still aimed at and following the path to a different galaxy. Kajol’s personal and professional lives have been separate at all times, yet they meld seamlessly into each other, the events, people and memories all linked inextricably. Even as a child, she had a distinctive, personality, she was headstrong and some may have called her rebellious. We would call her an iconoclast. She doesn’t care to conform to things she considers limiting. Her attention and energies are otherwise occupied, rather than the salon trips, designer outfits, brands and labels that are so important for most actresses. Even as a young girl, she was never attracted to the same. She shares the same spirit as her aunt Nutan, Tanuja’s late sister, who was also an actress of understated talent and great natural expression. She has a formidable lineage and naturally, her talent extends over vast grounds. She was like her aunt, more than her mother as a performer; but while Nutan was a tad gentler, Kajol is a little more aggressive. And of the three, she is the fieriest. Shobhna Samarth, Tanuja and Nutan are not easy names to be compared with, but in her times, Kajol has etched her name on the creative canvas so sharply and formidably, that even her absences go unnoticed. Hers is a solid presence that cuts through superficiality and establishes itself in an all pervasive mannersomething that came home to roost two decades ago.
Kajol’s sister Tanishaa, and cousins, paternal and maternal, namely Rani, Sharbani, Ayan and Monish Bahl are the only ones in that vast family that are in the industry, but none of them have managed to sear their names on celluloid with the magnitude of Kajol’s work and magnificent talent. Kajol’s nature is like mercury, bubbling at times and calm at others. She has the cultural temperament in her genes from both parents, Maharashtrian and Bengali. She herself comes across as wonderfully cosmopolitan, having a melting pot at home of multiple communities - husband Ajay and his parents are Punjabi. Kajal’s fierce independence was probably inbred from having working parents, and her days at boarding taught her resilience. That was also the world she discovered books in. And she would disappear into the secret gardens of the literary world, quite content not to stir for days on end. In fact, even today, she remains one of the few actresses who reads for the sake of reading.
As a child, words used to describe her were mischievous, stubborn, impulsive, and independent. Words that would possibly still apply to those who know Kajol as an adult. The essential person remains the same, adding layers of other qualities to her persona with the passing years, though some of the add-ons sometimes seem contrary to character. But she’s assimilated them gracefully, well, with as much grace as she is willing to grant it. Four decades of frenetic living, and not looking the worse for wear in any aspect of her life. She’s as happy a householder as she is an actress. Youth still gurgles out of her when she laughs, her eyes twinkling. She maintains her right to not fraternize too closely with fans, celebrity bounty-hunters and selfie seekers. And considering she’s a mother of two, dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, actress parexcellence sought for her talent, she’s always been prickly on that topic. She’s consistent there too. Motherhood may have added a softness to her, but that doesn’t mean you’ll see her lifting babies and tots joyfully and creating photoops for fans and their families.
She bagged her first film with her bright face and joint eyebrows, an awkward teenager all of 16. In 1992, director Rahul Rawail unleashed on screen a firebrand child still in school (who had just turned 18), who went by the name of Kajol, in a film titled Bekhudi. This spitfire, the daughter of industry parents, director Shomu Mukherjee and actress Tanuja (the surname for unknown reasons, is now spelt as Mukerji) was a hardcore Leo child. Even though she gave up school and academics to do films, Kajol remains one of the sharpest and intelligent (literally) actresses of our times. Success came to her in her infancy in the industry, with her second film Baazigar, where she was cast opposite Shah Rukh Khan for the first time.
Bekhudi had Kajol paired with Kamal Sadanah, also debuting in the film. The film released in 1992, and it tanked. But Kajol stood out and Abbas-Mustan roped her in for Baazigar in 1993. She bit the game, and hasn’t looked back ever since. Noteworthy was the birth of the on-screen pairing with Shah Rukh Khan, which close to two-and-a half decades later, still has young hearts and old, skipping a beat. Commercial and critical acclaim followed in spades and sheets. And even when the films did badly, Kajol always managed to sway the audiences with her understated histrionics.
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