You have been working for the last 60 years, what keeps you going? What inspires you?
I have been working for so many years now ki ab main chup chaap nahi baith sakti. I kept working even after my marriage and kids, all thanks to Dharamji. He never interfered in my work at all. Also sometimes, I need to go to Mathura (my constituency), for work. Managing all these aspects of life comes naturally to me. I feel that if I don’t work, I will get bored. Kuch na kuch karna chaiye. Kuch seekhne ko bhi milta hai. If it is difficult, I don’t say I can’t do it, I learn. If it’s a new role, then I plan for it. If there is a song, then I decide how to perform it, what to wear… I need to think about all that. You are constantly in a creative mode and that is what keeps you going. If you don’t do that, then what will you do?
Your work, especially your ballets have a spiritual tonality to them. Is that an aspect which you have consciously woven into your work?
Spirituality has always been a part of my life and upbringing. Also, my dance is connected to Gods and temples. So, automatically there is a connection there. Similarly, children also pick it up and get attracted to what the parents do. Parents should lead a good life so that they can set a good example for their children, hai na?
Your marriage with Dharmendra was not conventional, and recently, you posted a picture on social media celebrating your 43rd wedding anniversary…
Love is such a thing – you get involved with somebody, you like somebody, and that continues. Being conventional is something which I guess was not meant for me, and that is why I am able to do all this. If my marriage had been a conventional one, I think I would have been a nobody. Today, I am doing all this – films, dance, going to places for talks, being in politics – itna sab kuch kaise hota if it was a conventional life.
You were one of the first female superstars of Bollywood. What kind of pressure did that put on you?
I never planned to be a superstar in Bollywood. Aisa ho gaya. Maybe, I am the lucky one and people liked me. There was a transition happening in the Hindi film industry when I came in. Meena Kumari and Nargis ke jo type of films thhe, uss se badalke thoda sa modernise ho raha tha sab. You could call it women empowerment. In my film Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Geeta earns money by doing nautanki and that is her profession, while Seeta is very timid and is restricted to the house. These were contrasting roles, and then there was Basanti in Sholay, who was also an independent woman. I also played Meera, and even in bhakti bhava the character is of a very powerful woman who left everything. Lal Patthar is one of my best films, along with Ek Chadar Maili Si and Kranti. I have always portrayed very strong women on screen. Isi liye shayad logo ne mujhe zyada pasand kiya. Plus, main fight scenes bhi karti thi. Mostly, Dev Anand ki filmon mein maine dhana-dhan mar-peet ki hai aur villain ko maara bhi hai (laughs!).
This year, Indian cinema was celebrated internationally with RRR’s song Naatu Naatu bagging Best Original Song at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. The Elephant Whisperers also won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary Short category…
I’m very proud that we won two Oscars this year. It’s a great honour for India. Yeh toh bas shuruat hai. Main toh chahungi ki aage bhi bahut mile. I feel happy that RRR is from the South film industry. When referring to South Indian films, people would always say yeh regional films banate hain, but what a movie they’ve made! I watched RRR and I must say, Rajamouli ne kya kamaal ka kaam kiya hai. I also saw Pushpa: The Rise, aur bada maza aaya dekhke. So many people have done the dance steps based on Allu Arjun’s walk in the film. I loved his performance, too. Then I saw him (Allu Arjun) in another film and realised that he is such a good-looking boy. He looked so rustic and drastically different sporting a lungi in Pushpa. He played such a character and yet, he is the hero! It’s commendable that he agreed to sport such a look and do the role. Hamare Hindi film heroes thodi na aise dikhenge. I remember in Razia Sultan, Dharamji had to look darker, and he was hesitant.
Do you feel the South Indian film industry is finally getting the recognition it deserves?
The South film industry is doing very well now, but that wasn’t the case before. Itna ubhar ke kuch nahi aaya tha for all these years. Kamal Haasan had also tried his best, but those remained as regional films because the subjects were all very regional. Rajamouli’s Baahubali was amazing. They used technology so very well in the movie. With RRR, too, Rajamaouli has taken it to another level.