The next time you meet Kajal Aggarwal, here are few things that you could remember about her : 1) She’s too busy to fiddle with her phone and is active on social media only when her film is about to release, 2) She can’t stand the cold and prefers to use fans over the air-conditioner while shooting, 3) She’s obsessed with books. And when she says she’s busy, she really means it. One day she could be addressing the media in Chennai, but the very next day, she could be in Hyderabad, or any other place in India attending an event or launching a new brand. So, when she finally begins talking to us, Kajal makes it a point to inform us about where she has been and why it took her so long to schedule this chat. “I’m shooting for a song for my next Telugu film (titled MLA) in Nirmal in Telangana these days. I can’t tell you how hectic it has been, so far. And then, I’m off to shooting for the Tamil remake of Queen,” she smiles, as she begins to talk. There’s no trace of fatigue in her voice, and how she manages to be so enthusiastic, whether it’s on screen or in real life, is a million dollar question indeed.
Before she moves on to her next film — Paris Paris, the Tamil remake of Kangana Ranaut’s Queen — Kajal will be seen in Mersal (Adhirindhi in Telugu), directed by Atlee, for which she’s paired opposite Vijay. It’s their third collaboration after Thuppaki and Jilla, and Kajal says that this time, it was the social message in the film that really sealed the deal for her. “I loved the story and the social message that Atlee wanted to give through the film. He’s a very hardworking director. Moreover, he’s got fresh ideas and his presentation is quite contemporary,” Kajal says.
The film, according to several reports, deals with the corruption in the medical industry, and how a doctor and a magician team up to put an end to this menace. Kajal is paired opposite the ‘magician’ Vijay in the film, and her character works in the medical field.
Ask her about working with Vijay once again, Kajal says, “He’s one of the most talented, genuine, and hard-working actors in our industry. I feel that he’s so good with his job that he raises the bar for everyone around him. No matter what character he plays, his versatility and his craft genuinely comes through, and it’s very interesting to be paired opposite him in different roles in different films because it challenges you to up your game, and I think that’s why our pair has been appreciated.”
The duo had shot extensively in Macedonia and few other places in Europe, and it was here that Kajal picked up a trick or two from Raman Sharma, a Canadian magician who was training Vijay in the film. “I wanted to show off few tricks to my friends back home. It’s all about how convincing you are,” she laughs. However, the moment she recalls shooting in Europe, her tone changes completely. Apart from Mersal, Kajal had also shot for Vivegam, Khaidi No 150 in Europe. “I spent nearly eight months in Europe, and I was so harrowed and homesick in the end! And now, I’m going there again for Paris, Paris [laughs]. I can’t stand the cold climate. Even right now, I’m more than happy with a fan in my room. In my vanity van, I keep switching off the air-conditioner. When I’m in front of the camera, nothing matters to me, but when I don’t have a shot, I really struggle to keep myself warm with all sorts of things, like hot tea, hot water, blankets and jackets,” Kajal adds.
Vijay is one of the most talented, genuine, and hard-working actors in our industry.
The year 2017 has been a big one for her with huge projects to her credit in Telugu and Tamil. While Khaidi No 150 turned out to be a blockbuster in Telugu in the beginning of this year, Vivegam too was a money-spinner in Tamil. And she earned good reviews for her role in Teja’s Nene Raju Nene Mantri, which was arguably the first time in recent years that she got a well-rounded character. No matter how thrilled she is about how things are going on, Kajal won’t say if this is the best phase of her career. “I have never looked at my career that way. I feel that the phase which began in 2007 is still continuing, and in all honesty, I haven’t had the time to contemplate any of this because I’ve been busy with work. When I’m not travelling, then I’m spending time with my family and friends. This has been my priority all these years,” she confesses, adding, “I’m glad that people have appreciated my work so far and I would like to believe that it’s because of the roles I’ve done. There comes a phase in an actor’s life where you get recognised for what you do, and after that, your goals keep changing. I want to do quality work now and to do roles that are very emotionally satisfying.”
For the most part of her career, Kajal has been cast as a happy-and-bubbly girl in most of her films, and she admits that it has been her “trademark” for several years. “I haven’t 'mastered the art' of being happy and bubbly [laughs]. It comes naturally to me, because I’m like that in my real life. What’s challenging for me is playing the mature roles. I mean, I still get offered the fun roles, but I can’t be as enthusiastic as I was in a film like Darling. When you are young, you are as enthusiastic and bubbly as they show in films. But as you grow, you are taken more seriously. So, you sort of mature from being a hyper-enthusiastic young woman to a more serious performer. I think that’s what happened with Nene Raju Nene Mantri. It was a leap of faith for both Teja (the director) and me, because I hadn’t done a role like that. He has seen me grow right from the beginning of my career, and he knows what I can or can’t do. And I felt that no one else could have extracted such emotional performances from us other than Teja. I must also add that I’m quite enjoying the duality of roles being offered to me,” Kajal says.
Kajal is one of the most popular actors in South Indian cinema, and her fan following in the virtual world is immense. She’s quite aware of all this and she confesses that this adulation has often pushed her into thinking how she can justify the love. “People have always perceived me as their daughter or someone whom they are very protective about. I’ll always be very grateful and humbled by the fact that people consider me as their own, and that’s the biggest achievement of my career. What has changed in recent times is that the audiences want me to do newer stuff and I get that vibe a lot. That’s also a reason why a film like Paris, Paris feel so relevant at this point of my career,” she avers, adding, “I can’t relate to the character at all. It’s going to be a big challenge for me to be that naive because my upbringing has been quite different. I’ve had a lot of exposure to the world, thanks to my family. And my friends, extended family have always been very supportive. For the character that I play in the film, she’s from a simple background who hasn’t seen the world yet. It’s going to be a challenge. I have to be as naive as I possibly can…this has got nothing to do with innocence. That comes naturally to me, but not naivety.”
Directed by Ramesh Aravind, Paris, Paris is the Tamil remake of Kangana Ranaut’s Queen, and it narrates the story of a young girl who goes on a soul-searching trip after her fiance calls off their wedding. “A breakup is a breakup no matter which part of the world you are from. Is there a trick to dealing with a breakup? I don’t know. Perhaps, I would probably do the same thing which the character does, and I wouldn’t go back to the guy possibly. But, having said that, situations are different for different people. It’s just about how you deal with it and what sets your mind free and finding that little zone of happiness. I’m sure millions of women will relate to the movie and that’s why we are remaking it. It’s a very empowering film.”
The film also addresses aspects like finding oneself and liberating the mind, and it’s this transformation that the protagonist goes through that is both inspiring and endearing. And we couldn’t help but wonder if Kajal had this moment of epiphany where she saw her whole life change because of a certain incident. She broods over it for several minutes and finally says, “My parents come from a traditional and conservative family, but they are very liberal in their thought process. They have been extremely supportive of my choices, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. In a way, societal norms don’t affect them. I couldn’t be more grateful about this, because they have raised my sister and me with a sense of equality, nurturing, pride, love. There was always an envelope of protection and shelter, but we were also thrown into the real world to deal with issues on our own. I haven’t had a moment of epiphany in my life, like how the character in Paris, Paris would have….it’s very different for me and girls like me. It’s not about whether one is better than another; I’m not judgmental. I have had several breakthroughs both personally or professionally; however, I haven’t had that one single moment where realisation hits you and you aren’t the same person anymore.”
While she confesses to being open to new experiences, there’s one thing that is resisting with all the power that she can muster. “I don’t want to get too addicted to my phone and social media. My parents are so fed up that they can’t reach me instantly [laughs]. On a serious note, social media has crept into our lives so much that we have started prioritising what's virtual over the real, and I don’t want that to happen to me. I’m making a very conscious effort to keep things real, and my world is filled with books, movies, friends, who keep me connected to reality,” Kajal signs off.
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