Juhi Chawla’s bubbly and vivacious smile can light up a room. Over the years, she has matured with grace and panache. Her body of work boasts genres and titles that showcase her versatility. Since winning the 1984 Miss India, Juhi Chawla starred in major Indian potboilers like Sultanat and Premaloka. But her biggest breakthrough was in Nasir Hussain’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. There was no looking back since then, and she became one of the leading actresses during the ’90s. Some of her popular works include Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Aaina, and Yes Boss.

She was recently seen in Sharmaji Namkeen opposite the late Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal. It has been an emotional journey for her as she completed the film without Rishi Kapoor. Kapoor passed away on April 30th, 2021, after a prolonged battle with cancer. He had shot for the most part of Sharmaji Namkeen with Juhi Chawla at the beginning of 2020. Actor Paresh Rawal later stepped in to play his part. In an exclusive interview with Man’s World, Juhi Chawla shared her experience of working with the late actor, her journey in the industry, the Bol Radha Bol remake, and more. Excerpts from the interview:

You have worked with Rishi Kapoor in the past as well. How was Sharmaji Namkeen different?

Everything about this film was different. We all had heard the script, first Chintu Ji was finalized and then it came to me, I loved the script and wanted to do it. We were about to start filming and Chintu Ji felt unwell and had to go for treatment, so we took a break. After a year, we resumed and started shooting again. Then again, he was sick and that was the last time we shot with him. I have always admired him as an actor. He was full of joy and used to scold me so much on the sets. He was not at all self-obsessed and never saw his shots. Our director wanted to complete the film and he called us back. We didn’t know how to do it; we considered using graphics, Ranbir tried prosthetics, but eventually, Paresh Ji came on board. This is the first time such a film has been made in Bollywood. The first day on the sets was quite awkward as I was shooting the same scenes with Chintu Ji. He taught us: The show must go on…

What has been the biggest change in you and how do you think it has translated in Sharmaji Namkeen?

That’s a difficult question. When I came into the industry, I learned a lot while working with people. Being a newcomer, in front of huge stars, my knees used to shake, I used to be so scared of forgetting my lines. The moment I used to hear the camera turn on, I used to freeze. It used to be overwhelming. From there to working on Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak – where there were newcomers and everyone was making mistakes, learning from them it got much easier and we had a great time. The film became a hit and I started getting more films and I learned while being on the sets. In the beginning, we didn’t even know how to do makeup, the way they made us dress and did makeup we used to think that it was proper. Over years, I learned so much. Working with Chintu Ji has been an experience. At first, I used to be scared as I couldn’t fool around him. If he scolds you, then you are a part of his inner circle. I learned so much from him. I have seen so many phases in life. 

At this stage in your career, how do you select your scripts, especially when it’s a film like Sharmaji Namkeen? And how important has it been or it is now to play a lead? 

Sharmaji Namkeen selected me, I didn’t do anything. Having heard that script, how could I say no? When I was listening to it, I was enjoying it and wanted to do it. The length of the role didn’t matter. Thanks to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and a couple of other hit films I was a part of, I was getting lead roles. Sometimes when there were two lead actors, I did get scared and wanted to know about her part, if that was bigger than mine, or how is it. Having said that, more than the length of the character, I feel a story is incomplete without a heroine and I was lucky enough to get the lead parts. Things are now changing. Now I have started asking questions like how important is the character, and is she bringing any change or twist in the story.  

Do you think OTT platforms have changed the game for female actors? They are now being portrayed in a better light? 

Yes, definitely, many stories are being told, and many more characters are being explored. Thanks to OTT platforms, people are getting work. It has opened doors to the new actors, directors, and writers and it’s beautiful to see that.

Any behind-the-scenes moments?

Before we started shooting, we decided to have readings. The entire cast was there but Chintu Ji was not too comfortable. He had his way of preparing and shooting. He was the last to enter the room and everyone was ready to read their parts out and see how they will fit. As soon as Chintu Ji sat, he announced, ‘Dekho, main yeh reading ni karta, yeh sab Amitabh Bachchan Ji karte hai and unke kehne pe aaya hoon. I’ll leave in 30 minutes.’ Now the reading began and he started enjoying himself so much that he was the last one to leave the room. He used to be that grumpy kid on the sets and that was his beauty.

Bol Radha Bol, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga, Luck By Chance, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Darr, Duplicate, yes Boss, My Brother Nikhil and now Sharmaji Namkeen…. I can go on and on…You have given us some of the best films. I want to know how has your journey been so far? Was there a time when people told you that you cannot do it? 

It’s been a dream and I can’t believe that I’ve done so much work. I feel blessed and grateful. In the beginning, people from the industry told me that I might not fit in the industry and it was difficult for me to understand what they meant as I was new. To be honest, I didn’t even know if I would last another day. From there to here, some divine power has helped me. I also worked hard, but everyone does that. I believe some power guided me to reach where I am today. When I thought I can’t make it big, it helped me in pushing my limits.

When we talk about Bollywood, actors need to look a certain way, be of a certain age. What do you have to say about that? How do you process getting older in a notoriously ageist business?

I feel you meet good, bad, and ugly in every industry. You are fortunate if you are in the right place at the right time and that’s not the case, then you are taught a little less. As a public figure, my every failure was open to public judgment, and that was tough. I have spent many Fridays crying in my bed, thinking the world has ended. It was frightening. I have always loved my job but these Fridays were scary as an actor.

Bol Radha Bol will be completing 30 years. If you had to cast actors from this generation for the film, who would they be?

I think those kinds of films can’t be made again because everybody is too groomed and educated now. There’s a lack of innocence that was there earlier, so it can’t be made in a similar way.

(Featured Image Credits: Special arrangement)