Juhi Chawla was quite shocked when director Soumik Sen approached her with a negative role in Gulaab Gang

It’s quite difficult to see what director Soumik Sen saw in Juhi Chawla to cast her as the scheming politician Sumitra Devi in the upcoming Gulaab Gang. Here is an actress who looks splendid at 40-plus, laughs like a child, and retains that innocent twinkle in her eyes. “Hey! I don’t laugh all the time,” says Juhi, giving that infectious smile. “But I definitely was quite shocked too, when Soumik approached me with this role. Me? Negative? No shades of grey either, no background story on being a repressed person. Pure bad. Without any reason. I told him to leave and return with a background story to Sumitra Devi. He did. And I was quite upset again. All the meat of the character was gone. That’s how I decided to go with his vision and do this mean-without-a-cause character,” says the actress. The director said that he was inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s role-reversal — playing a serial killer in Monsieur Verdoux.

Asked if getting under the skin of a villainous character was challenging, Juhi says she relied only on Soumik Sen for what she needed to bring the character to life. “I did some references to get the look of a politician right — the body language, that wave of the hand (!) and the styling. Soumik was of great help when I needed to mouth the worst of dialogues. He’d tell me that gaalis (abuses) can be hurled chillake (screaming), chabaake (gritting) or muskuraake (smiling). How you do it makes it more sinister than what is being said,” she says.

Gulaab Gang is based on a women’s movement to guarantee equal education opportunities for the girl child, headed by Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit). “Madhuri is really the hero of the film. She is almost the alpha male — full superhero material. She sings, dances, fights and has all the great dialogues. But what’s the use of having a good hero without an equally good villain? I am the namak-mirchi (spice) of the film! I am not there in every frame but when I am there, I do make an impact,” she adds.

Juhi says that she envies not being part of each of Rajkumar Hirani’s films and also Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. “When you look at such beautifully-done movies, you wish the filmmaker had approached you for some role in it.” Of her own unique films since the turn of the century, Juhi says she especially enjoyed Onir’s My Brother Nikhil and Nagesh Kukunoor’s 3 Deewarein. “I remember that for 3 Deewarein I had to be constantly reminded by the crew not to act! That was terribly demoralising for someone who knew just how to slap on the makeup or cry or whatever it was!”