What would Kajol tell Simran, her dutiful and obedient character in the 1995 hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, if she were to meet her today? “I would have told her then itself,” says Kajol. “Develop a spine, be honest with your father, and be smart about running away with Raj. Find a nicer way around the whole thing,” she says with a laugh. Perhaps she could give some advice to the men of her generation who are struggling with ageing gracefully. Kajol, 48, and women of her generation have done that beautifully, playing their age, with roles being written to put them at the front and centre of storytelling. “I like the direction I am going in as an actor,” says Kajol. Having just played a mother whose son wants to end his life through euthanasia in Salaam Venky (2022), she will soon be seen in the Lust Stories 2 anthology on Netflix; The Trial: Pyaar Kanoon Dhokha, Disney+Hotstar’s Hindi adaptation of CBS’ The Good Wife; and in a Dharma Production film with Ibrahim Ali Khan and Prithviraj. The Trial also sees the welcome return to Indian screens of Alyy Khan, who deserves much better than the role he got as a slumlord in the awful Shantaram (Apple TV+). “There is a lot of stuff coming out,” acknowledges Kajol. “The older you get, you know yourself better. I’ve certainly become more well-rounded and want to say different things through my work.” And the roles being written for her are more complex and layered too, venturing into more realistic cinema. So, does she plan to turn producer like her famous grandmother Shobhna Samarth? “No. I’m enjoying acting too much,” says Kajol.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is a graduate of Kirori Mal College and the National School of Drama, but for Bollywood, he has always been portrayed as a Hindi heartlander. So when he was cast as the editor-in-chief of an English newspaper in Netflix’s Scoop, there was some concern from the powers that be on whether he could deliver the English dialogues with ease. Turns out he did so more than comfortably, but Ayyub is used to being underestimated and pigeonholed since he arrived in Mumbai in 2010 and burst on to the big screen playing a version of Manu Sharma in No One Killed Jessica (2011). His challenge in playing Imran, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper whose journalist was arrested for allegedly conspiring with gangster Chhota Rajan in the killing of a veteran crime reporter, was to not make him boring because he was so righteous. Used to playing the “hero ka dost” or “koi side main ghoomta hua aadmi” (a minor character), he says he was vulnerable playing Scoop’s central character, which was outside his usual scope of body language, age and even class. He had to be poised, older, and certainly from the upper middle class—characteristics Ayyub has usually not portrayed before. “Two days before the shoot in January last year, I remember feeling a slight fear about whether I could pull it off,” he says, adding that he has much to thank the director of the webseries Hansal Mehta who stood by his choice. “He was one of the people I went to when I was jobless during the eight months of the Citizenship Amendment Act [CAA] agitation when no one wanted to work with me,” he says. Sameer Nair of Applause Entertainment was another go-to person and he gave Ayyub a significant part in Zee5’s Bloody Brothers last year. His strategy of not playing the “hero ka dost”, which he took in 2019 with Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, seems to have finally paid off. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, he says. Among the many things the former alumnus of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Andrews Ganj, is looking forward to is his role in Meghna Gulzar’s Sam Bahadur and Devashish Makhija’s Joram.
Scene and Heard
If there was any doubt that Telugu is the new superpower film industry in India, it was settled when Devi and her cousin Kamala danced to the Tamil version of ‘Saami Saami’ from 2021’s breakout hit, Pushpa: The Rise. The season finale of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever features the popular song, with both Devi and her cousin, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Richa Moorjani, wearing a sari and lehenga, respectively, and dancing to ‘Saami Saami’. Since the fictional Devi belongs to a Tamil household, it makes perfect sense, but it is also a mark of how far the diversity discourse has come. Not every Indian wedding has to have Hindi songs from Karan Johar movies.