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    'Black' was a blessing: Shernaz Patel

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Thursday, March 03, 2005
    Watching her play Ayesha Kapoor''s ravaged mother in Sanjay Leela Bhansali''s "Black", you wonder where the petite and powerful Shernaz Patel had been hiding all these years.

    "Nowhere!" she laughs. "I just didn''t pursue cinema. I''ve been in theatre for a long time. I can''t believe the kind of recognition that''s come my way after ''Black''."

    Shernaz was chosen by the casting director on the basis of her work in theatre and the ad she did for Johnson & Johnson. "That ad was on for years and years. So even though I''ve done just one ad people believe it''s many. Then I auditioned for Sanjay, and that was it!"

    Years ago in the 1980s, Shernaz was seen in soaps like "Khandaan" and "Naqaab" on national television and also in Mahesh Bhatt''s "Janam" opposite Kumar Gaurav.

    "That was so long ago. ''Janam'' was the first telefilm on national television. So technically I had never seen myself on the big screen before ''Black''. I belong to a theatre family. I was heavily into theatre, and happy with it. I never pursued cinema. And frankly I didn''t fit into the kind of cinema that was being made in the 1980s and 1990s. It''s only now that the whole concept of crossover cinema has caught on," Shernaz told IANS in an interview.
    "I guess I can fit in better now. The screen mom doesn't have to make gajar ka halwa. She can make cakes if she wants."
    Shernaz says she had some trouble getting into the discipline of cinema as opposed to theatre. "It took me a few days to get used to basic rules of being on camera. At the end of it, I was full of praise for a film crew. The conditions that they work under! We were dressed in woollens in a sultry studio pretending it was snowing outside.
    "It requires a lot of concentration to be truthful on camera. Sanjay demands and requires full attention. Otherwise the discipline between the two mediums isn't that different. Nowadays theatre, too, is performed before intimate audiences. That transitional pang doesn't exist any more."
    Shernaz isn't really old enough to play Hrithik Roshan's mom.
    "God forbid! The child in 'Black' (Ayesha Kapoor) was just right for me... and 'Black' was a blessing. I never thought I was doing anything but what the role required. The working atmosphere on Sanjay's set was such that an actor had to give the best. He demands only the best from his entire cast and crew. I did my very best. Sanjay is a brilliant director. I can't compare him with others because I haven't worked with anyone else."
    Shernaz conveys the mother's agony in 'Black' so well that it comes as a surprise to know she's single in real life. "But there's a maternal instinct in every woman. I don't think an actress needs to be a mother to react to a little girl who's so in need of a mother's care. Besides, Sanjay made us watch a whole lot footage pertaining to the deaf and blind. For any mother to cope with such tragedy...
    "For a mother to realize that such a child comes from her is such a complex emotion to deal with. My part was beautifully written. And beautifully shot. I may not have much to say. But I've my space. I owe it all to Sanjay. There aren't any words to describe his brilliance."
    Shernaz lights up at the mention of her co-stars. "Ayesha Kapoor and I clicked immediately. It wasn't hard playing her mother at all. We got along like a house on fire. It was very painful to say goodbye to her at the end of the shooting. As for Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan), of course I'm completely in awe of him. I was shivering through every shot during my first few days.
    "But I had to overcome that. Finally we had to portray our characters. And he was of immense help in getting me relaxed. He never brought his super-persona on the sets. He was Debraj from the word go. He likes to rehearse. And I come from theatre where rehearsal is sacrosanct. I had to forget I was acting with THE superstar of India to be able to play my character. And Amitji helped me with that. Really, the atmosphere on the sets was amazingly conducive to creativity."
    Will "Black" be a new 'janam' (life) for Shernaz? "I sure hope so. If it happens I'm blessed. If it doesn't happen I'll move on. Success has a lot to do with luck. I'll just let my work speak for itself. If proper work comes my way I'd gladly like to do it."

    The buzz about "Bewafaa" in trade circles is that the film has got the pre-release anticipation of your two all-time hits "Raja Hindustani" and "Dhadkan". How does it feel?

    I had not expected this kind of a pre-release buzz about the film. But that has always been the case in each of my films. When I made "Raja Hindustani", I didn't expect it to make history at the box-office. I only expected it to be successful. I have no illusions about having a "Raja Hindustani" again in my life.

    In the case of "Bewafaa", I am hoping that people appreciate the film. The fact that the music is a chart buster is a big advantage. It will once again endorse my image of being a director with a great music sense.

    For a change, the distribution market is equally excited about the film. Do you consider it a privilege?

    Being in the good books of distributors is definitely a privilege as long as their expectations don't amount to creative interference. My father has been a distributor and I respect the fact that distributors have to run a film. Finally, they are the ones from whom the money comes so in a way they are very important to me.

    Distributors have somehow had a lot of faith in me as a director. That's probably due to the fact that they know that I have always delivered. Distributors are well aware that I make quality films keeping the market in mind.

    Coming to "Bewafaa", there have been several subjects revolving around extra-marital affairs in the past. How do you think this film is different?

    I think it is the treatment of "Bewafaa" that makes it different from most other films. I have treated the film in a delicate and gentle manner, without being judgmental about it. I think the time has come to be very open-minded and I have tried to reflect it in the film.

    Was the choice of the principal artistes in the film namely Anil Kapoor, Akshay and Kareena Kapoor in keeping with commercial considerations or at the instance of the producer?

    The artistes are there because of their suitability to the character, their acting abilities and star presence. Films are commercial vehicles and there is a lot of money at stake. It is essential to have stars who have a hold in the market.

    It is not as if the film was planned keeping the commercial dictates in mind. For instance in commercial cinema, you can never think of having a woman who marries a man double her age. Anil Kapoor is cast perfectly as the husband.

    You seem to have acquired the reputation of being an Akshay Kumar loyalist, having worked with him in three films.

    I enjoy working with Akshay. I think he's grown a lot as an actor. He listens to me and also gets excited about his scenes. He's happy that I try to stretch his boundaries as an actor and that encourages me to write something better for him.

    Like most of your other films, "Bewafaa" has also taken a long time in the making.

    It has taken two years to be precise, six to nine months more than usual but that has got nothing to do with me. Let's not forget that it is a star-studded film and the producer had his own problems. I have followed the trend and made the film in only 90 days. I have not re-shot a single scene or a song in the film.

    What next?

    I am a filmmaker and like a farmer who keeps sowing the seeds irrespective of the monsoon, I intend to continue conceiving ideas for films. I want to direct at least one film a year. My experience in directing six films has taught me to be clearer and faster in executing my ideas. Hopefully, I will meet more like-minded people in the future who'll help me achieve a good product

    Any plans of getting into production?

    No way. I am not here to build offices and buildings. I am here just to have a good life. If I manage that I'll be grateful

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