Raavan has been a gruelling experience for you?
Why just me? Everyone in the film has gone through an equal amount of hardships to create a film we all believe in. There we were, getting drenched in the rain, and Mani Ratnam , Santosh Sivan …everyone was there facing the weather. We were all friends in the project. Everyone was there for one another. We could joke say it was like an adventure sport, or a video game while we were making our way through the most impossible conditions. But we knew what the truth was.
Were you prepared for the severe hardships when you read the script?
It was still a bit of shock and surprise when we had to face the climactic conditions in the jungles. On top of that Mani loves to make on-the-spot changes . He improvises all the time. He doesn’t want to strictly follow the written word. He’s a master of creating magical moments out of the seemingly ordinary. What he does is incredible. Just the pleasure of working with him again (after Iruvar) was amazing.
But for a lady to be climbing those slippery rocks….
Really(laughs) we didn’t know how slippery those rocks would be. There was this huge waterfall where we shot a lot. One never thought one would leap down those heights in and around the waterfall. Of course we were wired. But once you’re going down there’s no control. The rocks were so mossy, we had no control over our movements . We were climbing so close to the waterfall we could feel its power. It was the power of Nature in all its glory.
How could you focus on emoting while doing such dangerous stunts?
That’s magic of the camera, the magic of cinema. As for getting the emotions right, you know Mani Ratnam. Do you think he would relent until he got the emotions he wanted? We’d go through the most incredibly impossible scene. Then he’d come up to us and say, ‘I’ve got a better idea. Let’s do the whole thing again.’ I was like, ‘Are you for real? Do you know what we’re doing? And we’ve another version to capture before the light fades.’ I’d do it in Hindi and then do it all over again in Tamil.
Was the scale of your emotions higher in Tamil?
I haven’t seen the Tamil film. No time! The nuances alter from one language to the same. But the emotions were the same. Some of the lines were changed to show a difference in culture. What would seem theatrical in Hindi is natural in Tamil. But I didn’t consciously move into a different zone in the two languages. Our cameraman, Santosh Sivan was so innovative. The changes in lighting and mood were done by him. He was having a party while we were trying to get it right in two languages.He doesn’t only create fabulous images. He creates a magic in the language of the film. You can be sure that Mani and Santosh will together bring it all together finally. You know, Manikandan was doing the cinematography earlier. But you can’t tell where and when Santosh took over.
You actually dubbed your own lines in Tamil?
Oh yes, as far as dubbing is concerned I’ve come a long way. I remember during my first film Iruvar in Tamil, I panicked at the language. Now of course I am far more confident. But two films simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil meant pressure full-on . Until we were on the sets none of us knew what pressures we were getting into. After a while Mani was giving me scenes on the sets. Then he’d humour me saying, ‘Come come let’s do it. ’It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I’d be standing there, having just completed a harrowing scene with Abhishek, and then without a minute’s pause I’d have to do the same scene with Vikram. We were all passionate about the project to the point of being obsessive. Everyone in the crew was there in the jungles throughout. We would tell one another that we were on a picnic or a safari adventure. But we knew what we were going through.
Would you do it again if you have to?
While we were shooting Raavan we felt the situation was impossible and we didn’t know how we’d get through it. But now that we did …yes, I’d do it again! Just before the film’s release we all met up and we kept looking at each other thinking the same thing. ‘Is it all done already?’ And we kept saying, ‘We can do it any time again.’ And Mani was like, ‘You guys are crazy.’
You feel ill with serious viral infections during the film?
It just got widely reported. Even Abhishek and Vikram fell ill. These things happen when working under tough conditions. Mani got it. His wife Suhasini visited us. And she too got it. Such things do happen especially when you have to remain drenched from head to toe. During childhood we were taught to keep our head dry. And here I was getting drenched from early morning till late night. There was no point in drying myself because I was soaked in seconds.
Curiously you shot with two of the finest directors Mani Ratnam and Sanjay Leela Bhansali almost simultaneously, Mani completely outdoors and Sanjay fully on the sets.
And both so fulfilling in their own way. Let me tell you, I consider myself blessed. I’ve worked repeatedly with both. And both have taken my acting abilities seriously.
— Subhash K Jha/ Sampurn Wire