Back in the ’90s, Kajol lit up the screen with every blockbuster she did. She remains, to this day, one of the most loved actors in Bollywood. Kajol reflects with candour on her journey from stardom to motherhood, and how it has changed her personality and priorities.
"I was six or seven years old when I figured that I was famous. Not so much for being me, but for being my parents’ daughter. In school, some teachers favoured me over others and some of them hated me for my film connections. But my first brush with movies came early—on the sets of my parents’ fi lms. Even though I was a child, I gathered it was a lot of work because my mum left home at 7 am and came back at 10 pm.
"At that point, I remember telling her, ‘I would never get into movies. I will not work as hard as you do. I will do a 9-to-5 job instead.’ Then I turned 16, and I signed my fi rst fi lm, Bekhudi. I did my first film on a lark. Junior college wasn’t interesting enough, so I tried my hand at movies. Just before I gave my first shot, my father said, ‘You’re taking up a career that is very hard to get out of.’ I told him, ‘What are you talking about, Dad?’ He retorted saying, ‘Once you put on that greasepaint, it’s going to be very diffi cult for you to remove it and get back to normal life.’ My first film turned out to be a more enjoyable experience than I had expected it to be, and it led to more fi lms. What drew me towards the movies was not so much the medium, but the people I met on the sets and the relationships I forged. I never went back to college after my first film.
"My biggest strength was the fact I was very confident, and not at all conscious in front of the camera or the people working on a film set. What I enjoyed the most was the travel involved in my line of work. I roamed the world and shot at some of the most exotic and astonishingly beautiful places in Switzerland, France and Egypt, in the early years of my career. I was lucky to do some great movies, and my attitude unlike that of an arrogant star, worked. My first hit film was Baazigaar.
"After that came Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge—and Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha, with my husband. Ajay (Devgn) and I were already seeing each other. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai came right after—1998 was a very important year of my life. Ajay and I got married in 1999 after dating for nearly four-and-a-half years. Marriage was a big change for me—it is, for any girl. You lose everything familiar to you. I had taken six months off from work. I was just sitting at home and my husband was working. It took some time for me to get used to living in a different house and with a different set of people.
"Fortunately, I had a little bit of training as I went to a boarding school. I had no interest in the kitchen, so slowly I started taking on work. Dil Kya Kare and Raju Chacha were some of the first films I worked on after marriage. I was happy to work at a slow pace, and enjoy my family life. My daughter Nysa was a huge milestone in my family life.
"I was under heavy medication when I held her in my arms for the first time. All I knew was I had a baby girl and she was alive and squealing. I don’t think you become a mother
on seeing your baby. You are suddenly made aware of the huge responsibility you now have. As she started growing up, there were more things that needed to be done. She is one
of those kids who is really fussy about food. On a holiday to Switzerland, I remember, all she ate was rice, mashed potatoes, broccoli and mushrooms. But she also made me realise I could go back to work. Fanaa was the first film I did after Nysa’s birth.
"She travelled with me to Poland—she was just two-and-a-half years old, and made it all look so easy. It was around the same time that I started working more closely with children-related causes. Help A Child Reach 5 is my latest passion. The mortality rate among children, less than fi ve years of age, around the world is very high and the causes of these deaths are mostly preventable.
"Washing hands with soap is the simplest and most cost-effective way to prevent deaths caused by diarrhea. We adopted Thesgora village in Madhya Pradesh where the incidence of diarrohea was 36 per cent. We put this hand-washing-with-soap programme in place and this year, the figure is down to five per cent. Kids are a large part of our population that is ignored. We should do everything we can to improve their health and wellbeing. As a UN ambassador I have tried to escalate the hand washing programme and requested governments around the world to highlight it in their respective hygiene programmes. We have reached out to about 183 million people across 16 countries with our programme. Our goal is to reach one billion people.
"I tell my children they must be grateful for what they have, and the life they live. But today, there is a lot of peer pressure and they already know how they want to be projected. They already know what kind of person they want to be. This has to do with the access they have to information today. They have amazing self-confidence and, at the same time, there is a lot of pressure. I just hope they can handle all this information well. I simply teach them to follow their instincts and build them up as people, rather than break them down. We, as parents, often forget that the child has an identity and he or she is an individual in his or her own right.
"I like my life the way it is. I have worked very hard to reach where I am today. As an actor, it is hard to get a good script, one with fabulous character detailing. Whatever film I do next will have to suit me and my timings as a mother of two. You will hear all about it soon."