Kajol completes 25 years in Bollywood, yet remains blissfully unscathed by industry’s diktats

Contrary to popular belief, Kajol did not take a break from her career immediately after she got married. She starred in six films before she decided to shift her focus to starting a family. The last out of those six was the highest Hindi grosser of that time, Karan Johar’s family drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

It is difficult, however, to attribute the career-altering decision to her focus on her personal life. Kajol made that clear right at the start of her career. While she shot for her debut film, Rahul Rawail’s Bekhudi (which released on this very day 25 years ago) during her summer vacation, she chose never to go back to school. She enjoyed the process of being in front of the camera so much that she decided to not even complete her basic education.

Over the years, she has more than made up for that drastic step. A voracious reader, Kajol is known for having her nose buried in books between shots. While this inconsistency would have deprived a method actor of that necessary focus, it was a never an issue for the more spontaneous Kajol. This switch on-off approach to acting is just a drop in the sea of unpredictability that she harbours within.

It is this instinctive approach, coupled with her love for reading, that has compelled her to do only 30 films over a span of 25 years. But ‘compel’ is a word that doesn’t seem suited to Kajol. The headstrong actress celebrated individualism at a time when it was considered a ‘flaw’ for female actors.

She admits that she has never played by the book, particularly the glossy fashion magazines. She has sworn by her fashion mantra: “I just take 15 minutes to get ready and it shouldn’t be more than that.”

She was never a red carpet darling yet managed to galvanise the silver screen every single time she appeared on it. This aspect of her has surprised the fahsion police more than it has rattled them. Veteran journalist Kaveree Bamzai has a rather apt description for the eccentric actor that Kajol is:

“She hardly looks into the mirror, barely ever glances at the set monitor, usually the crutch of every insecure actor, puts on make-up only under extreme duress, and as befitting someone who was only allowed to see The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur at school, never watches her old movies,” said Bamzai, after a 2006 encounter with the actress.

The infamous unibrow that she proudly flaunted in ‘Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye’ from Aditya Chopra’s classic 1995 romantic comedy Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge speaks volumes of how the actress, just like her character Simran, felt entitled to the ‘man of her dreams’ despite her unconventional looks.

“My concept of beauty is strength and vulnerability and security at the same time — and I believe I have it,” she had said in an interview to Rediff.com. These three qualities are exactly what lend an air of eccentricity to Kajol.

Though she has displayed vulnerability onscreen multiple times, we have also enjoyed her portraying strong characters in films like Rajiv Rai’s 1997 suspense thriller Gupt: The Hidden Truth, Tanuja Chandra’s 1998 psychological thriller Dushman and Rohit Shetty’s 2015 family drama Dilwale. These three characters had shades of grey that fascinated her.

She even opted for a supporting role in Prakash Jha’s 1999 film Dil Kya Kare over the lead role opposite her then-new husband Ajay Devgn purely for the sake of a more layered character. Her fascination towards the grey, and the ability to strike the middle ground between vulnerability and strength, explains why she is the only female actor to have won a Filmfare Award for the Best Negative Role.

She won this award at a time when the role of actresses was reduced to eye candy. But Kajol realised quite early in her career that she was meant for much more. She even confessed that the only reason she agreed to do the short part opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Rakesh Roshan’s 1995 revenge saga Karan Arjun was because she wanted to experience how “it feels to be an ornament”.

This probably brings home the point why she was never the queen of brand endorsements. She even refused a number of commercial entertainers, an area that she felt at home with. Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara, Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots and Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se — these are some of the films she decided not to commit to, mostly out of personal reasons.

The quantity in her illustrious body of work may not match up with the quality but she has a clear explanation for the same. “I want to take my time, wait for offers to come my way. I will not rush into it. I’m being honest when I say I’m in a comfortable space right now. I have kids, a family and I have a production house going. So there’s lot of stuff happening in my life. I’m not at a loss over what to do. Films are not the sole area in my life. Films are a passion. [Laughs] But it’s not like I’ll die if I don’t get another movie. I’ll grow, I’ll flourish, I’ll learn something new but I’ll always do something that I like. If I get the right film, I’ll do it. I will not compromise for anything else,” she said in an interview with iDiva.

Thus, it is evident that it is her clarity of mind, that tells her that cinema is not the be all and end all of her existence, that allows her to pay little heed to cosmetic and professional diktats that have governed cinema over the years. Expect her to churn out four films a year and then go on a break for four years, only to return with no rust. That is Kajol for you.