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Kajal Aggarwal: I don’t work like a maniac any more

Kajal Aggarwal

Kajal Aggarwal   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Ahead of her Telugu film Sita, Kajal Aggarwal talks about taking up characters she can relate to and why she’s consciously seeking a work-life balance

It’s been 12 years since Kajal Aggarwal debuted in Telugu cinema with director Teja’s Lakshmi Kalyanam (2007). She went on to become one of the most popular female actors in Telugu and Tamil cinema. Ten years later, the director-actor duo teamed up again for her 50th film Nene Raju Nene Mantri (2017). Their third collaboration Sita, in Telugu, scheduled to release on May 24, promises to present Kajal as a feisty and ambitious business woman.

Excerpts from an interview with the actor:

How would you describe your character Sita? Going by the promos, she seems to steer away from the conventional notions associated with the name Sita.

There’s a notion that Sita refers to a docile woman who stands by her husband in all situations. To me, Sita is the strongest character in Ramayana. She’s courageous and chooses to go to the forest with her husband, when she could have stayed back in the palace. She’s resilient and has self respect; she’s not okay when she’s asked to go through the fire test to prove her chastity. In this film, Sita is a woman of today — ambitious and unafraid to live her life on her terms. Work is a priority for her and after a point, she feels the need to strike a balance. We all go through that phase, where we choose to take up four instead of seven projects and get a life.

You are teaming up with your mentor, director Teja, again. Tell us about your equation over the years.

He never ceases to amaze me. I learnt so much about acting and cinema from him when I did my début film (Lakshmi Kalyanam). Then, when we worked together almost a decade later for Nene Raju Nene Mantri, I had to unlearn a lot of things when I returned to his sets. Somewhere I had become monotonous; he taught me to take a fresh approach to my work. During Sita, he made me drop my inhibitions and react to situations the way I would if I were at home and no one was watching.

Are you extremely conscious of how you would look on camera when you react to situations?

Very much. I want to look good even if I am crying. As actors, at a subconscious level, we are worried if our faces would look contorted while expressing emotions and we try to tone it down. Teja sir taught me to break free of that and be myself, unmindful of the camera. I am a greedy actor and would love to work with him in more films.

Director Teja and Kajal Aggarwal on the sets of Sita

Director Teja and Kajal Aggarwal on the sets of Sita   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Do you remember your first day on the sets of Lakshmi Kalyanam? In earlier years there were reports that Teja allegedly slapped some of his actors to get the right expressions.

I knew nothing about his method of work when I went to the sets. Then, I started hearing such stories. He came across as a sweet person and we forged a formal, professional rapport. I wasn’t intimidated. There were occasions when he would get angry with me but in a few minutes, he would laugh it off. He’s never slapped me (laughs) and I can’t speak for others. After Lakshmi Kalyanam, he had approached me for other films but somehow they didn’t work out. We kept in touch and eventually, it was a happy coincidence that we worked together for my 50th film (Nene Raju…).

You seemed to have enjoyed yourself in Sita, moving away from the typical roles where heroines are just required to be cute and bubbly.

I’ve grown up. I can’t relate to those bubbly, cute kind of roles any more. I enjoy playing characters that are more realistic. Sita is a woman who means business, so she wouldn’t be all cute. She’s neither black nor white, just the way we all are. It’s a coming-of-age story and it was creatively satisfying to play such a character.

You’ve been choosing films like Awe (2018), Sita and Paris Paris (Tamil remake of Queen). Are you finding more creatively satisfying roles today?

Filmmakers are writing stronger roles for women today. It’s a great place to be in. Awe came to me when I was looking to do something different. I still don’t mind running around trees for a mainstream commercial film, but that’s not the only thing I want to do. Even after so many years in cinema, I’m still fighting being typecast. Awe did reasonably well at the box office and got me appreciation. My intention was to expand my horizons. In turn, the film earned me a new-found respect.

Kajal Aggarwal: I don’t work like a maniac any more

How did you approach the Tamil remake of Queen? It was never going to be easy to make viewers forget Kangana Ranaut from the original.

Viewers came secondary, I wasn’t able to shake off Kangana’s performance. If I closed my eyes and visualised a scene I could only think of how she did it. I had to get over that phase. The emotions dealt with in Queen are universal. A girl is dumped and heartbroken. She goes through trauma, denial, and when it all sinks in she fights back and rises above it. It’s a character evolution we all can relate to, so I tried to interpret it my way.

You mentioned that you’re taking up fewer projects now. What made you re-evaluate your priorities?

I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with that statement (laughs). In the initial years, I worked in a lot of films. I used to have seven releases a year. I’d manage two shifts a day. I didn’t realise its impact until I felt a burnout. When my sister (Nisha Aggarwal) got married (in 2013), I attended it like a guest rather than as a family member who should be more involved. She’s very close to me and it hurt me that I couldn’t devote enough time on her big day. I decided to slow down. Now, I’m happy doing four projects a year and spending time with family and friends. I am still a workaholic but I don’t work 24x7 like a maniac any more. I am a work in progress and I think I will get better at work-life balance.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 4:28:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/ahead-of-sita-kajal-aggarwal-talks-about-working-with-her-mentor-director-teja-and-and-why-she-seeks-a-work-life-balance/article27147311.ece

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