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Mast-Mast off the beaten track...

Raveena Tandon is the new generation actress, a girl who would like to do serious cinema but is bold enough to admit that it is mainstream cinema that gets her mass recognition. She was in Delhi this past week to promote "Agni Varsha", her latest foray away from the beaten path. MADHUR TANKHA catches up with the Mast-Mast girl... .

Raveena Tandon.... a slice of fame and more; a still from 'Agni Varsha'. Photo: S.Arneja.

THE MAST-Mast girl is mast no more. She is dead serious now. No, she has not bid adieu to mast-mast roles but post-"Daman" she is busy doing roles of substance, roles which her predecessors could only dream and desire. Roles she is beginning to accomplish with aplomb. If she played the usual jhatka-matka bit in "Akhiyon Se Goli Mare" recently, it was more to tell the pundits that she was game for everything, including the weather-beaten commercial cinema. Now, she is turning a new leaf with "Agni Varsha", the Arjun Sajnani film which evoked a fair response in the run-up to its release, and to promote which she was in Delhi this past week.

More than a decade after `Pathar Ke Phool', Raveena Tandon still looks bewitching and comely on the marquee. And leaves you mesmerised with her histrionics and versatility. She may not have the physiognomy of the late legendary Madhubala or the dancing dexterity of Madhuri Dixit but ravishing Raveena Tandon is a long distance runner in Bollywood. She has not only survived in the cat eat cat world but has also managed to leave behind her imprint.

Ensconced on a sprawling bolster at New Delhi's Hotel Le Meridien, Raveena looks fresh as a daisy. She doesn't want anyone to dance attendance on her. She doesn't have any gripes that her breakfast of idli and sambar hasn't arrived.

One wonders why she chose such an off-beat film as, "Agni Varsha". Raveena sings hosannas of the film for which she had to go to picturesque Humpy near Bangalore known for its tranquillity. She says, "I am at an important juncture in my career. Till now I haven't had a chance to do such a period film. For the first time I got an opportunity to try out something challenging. I am playing the role of Vishakha, the abandoned wife of Jackie Shroff, who is the head priest. It is a classy film. There is commonality between the real and the reel -- Jackie Shroff is performing a fire ceremony for seven years so that weather gods oblige. In reality our country has been facing the worst drought in the last 15 years. Moreover, I enjoyed the experience of shooting in Humpy. There is no civilization for miles and the environment completely moulds you."

She is not living in cuckoo land. She comprehends perfectly what her fans want from her. Exuding sensuality on the silver screen -- whether it was Rajiv Rai's "Mohra" where her song number "Tu cheez bari hai mast mast" became the youngsters' past time or the raunchy cabaret she performed in Amitabh Bachchan's "Aks" - everything comes naturally to this actress.

ON HER contemporaries like Karisma Kapoor and Tabu, Raveena says: "Tabu, Karisma and I have survived for so long in this industry because we have carved different niches for ourselves. We never step on each other's toes. Tabu is a splendid actress but she doesn't do much commercial films. Much was made about competition between Karisma, and me when the latter was slated to get the National Award for "Zubeida". Each one of us has space in Bollywood."

Bold as she is in her dance and songs, she minces no words about continuing with pelvic gyrations and double-meaning songs. "I won't be bidding adieu to all the jhatka-matka items. I know that I am not only recognised but synonymous with such song and dance routine at every nook and corner of the country. I am aware that there are many serious actresses who are dying for such attention."

On difference between Bollywood and Hollywood as chalk and cheese, she is fast to react. "That's true. You see our cultures are different. Generally in our films a hero expresses his love to his heartthrob by gifting her with a bouquet while in Hollywood the protagonist is shown doing a series of rollicking romantic scenes."

And she also tells you about the Indian diaspora's reaction to the new invasion by Bollywood on foreign soil. "Indian cinema has become such a rage abroad that even the Whites are giving us accolades. If you take a walk at Leicester Square you get swarmed by people. Mainstream international halls in London are running films like `Pardes' and `Devdas'. `Lagaan" and `Dil Chahta Hai' have already warmed the cockles of NRIs' heart. Bollywood is the largest cinema. Our industry has definitely much more talent than Hollywood. But we have to pull up our socks in the field of finance, infrastructure and innovative technology. We lack behind in these arena. But I am confident that on talent and dedication we are at par with Hollywood."

One might think that the `Mast Mast' damsel has gone overboard by clubbing movies churned out from the dream factories of Bollywood, which are mostly run-of-the-mill masala flicks with sophisticated, well-scripted and researched Hollywood cinema into one category yet one can only get impressed with her staunch support for the cinema from which she earns her livelihood. Can we have more Hindi flicks where there are no ubiquitous songs like "Danger"? "Songs are not only an integral part of Bollywood but also our culture. Whether it is the wedding festivities or even death. When chautha is performed on someone's death, a bhajan is sung. We have so many devotional songs. Our songs are favourites overseas. Among the top ten music album in U.K. we have at least one Hindi song," she informs.

Did it give her the creeps that media was insinuating that she won the National Award for "Daman" as allegedly she some saffron predilection? Fretting, she dismisses it as yet another cock and bull story to demean her. She says, "I was shooting for `Agni Varsha' in Humpy when the award was announced in front of 200 crew members. And it was circulated that I had won because of proximity to the NDA dispensation! It is nothing but grist to the mills story. I sat in front of the T.V. and left shooting mid-way. Is this `satyamev jayete' the media talks about? I could have sued the paper which had done this incorrect story. I met Sushma Swaraj for the first time at the ceremony and it was construed that I was close to the BJP. It was also rumoured that I was related to Sahara Parivar's CEO, Subrata Roy. This implied that Amar Singh of Samajwadi party was responsible for me winning the award."

A few years down the line would she accept an offer of a sister role, similar to that played by Juhi Chawla in "Ek Rishtaa"? "Not at all. I cannot be used as a piece of wood or furniture. I will bid adieu to the industry if I am offered the role of a sister of Akshay Kumar. I don't believe in doing such roles. I epitomise the actress of the new generation. Some of us are businesswomen. I am running my own production company and I can speak on virtually any subject with you."

She surely can converse on any subject under the sun but she is truly at home when she talks about Bollywood.

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