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May 14, 1999


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'If you give love you get love'

Sonali Bendre
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L ooks like the tide has turned in her favour and Sarfarosh is going to carry her into the big time. Sonali Bendre, for her part, is thrilled with the reviews this film has fetched her and says, "I know people go to see films to be entertained, I know they want to forget a few things when they're in the movie hall but perhaps it'd be nice to see a film which makes you learn a few things too. Maybe make themselves more aware of what is happening around...?

"I think more films like Sarfarosh should be made. Even when I was shooting for the film I was thrilled to be part of the unit. There was substance in the film, even if I was there only to provide comic relief. I still think that this film shows that I've more to me than just looks."

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Working with Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah has made Sonali more grounded and she herself says, "I think in terms of my profession I've settled down. Earlier I used to be too tense but now I take it in my stride. I also find time to do different things today... Earlier I was so engrossed in my work that I had no time for anything else."

She's much too pretty to sound so earnest but you realise that this Capricornian, despite her 1000-watt smile, is rather reticent, in fact even shy, but her profession demands a gregariousness which she delivers with honour in an interview with Lata Khubchandani.

How do you manage in the big, bad industry?

I think the nicest thing about the industry is that it literally forces you to become one of a family so that its warmth envelops you. You can't function alone in the film industry, to work comfortably you have to have some relationship with each other so that makes everyone friends. I enjoy that, even though most of my friends are not from the industry.

What makes you tick?

That's a difficult one to answer because I'm a very private person. I can be very mad at times but I'm really private. So those who know me well know both these sides to me.

If I have to face a crowd I really become tense and exhausted.

How do you see your career today?

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I know that money is very important but I also realise that money is not everything and when I'm old I'd like to look back and say that I did quality work -- something that I can be proud of.

What is the most important quality that is required to be part of the industry?

The ability to fall flat on one's face, rise and move on. One has to have that something to rise up -- ie, one's own creativity, and belief in that creativity. It takes a lot of courage, because with every failure you get mud on your face and you have to have the courage to wipe it off and move.

What works in the industry -- talent or good behaviour?

Both. Producers put in a lot of money and ours is not a 9 to 5 job, so it's very important that you get along with people. Otherwise, doing the sort of work we do would become difficult. The whole process of acting would become harrowing.

I am a private person but when I'm working I make the effort to open up and be sociable.

In Hum Saath Saath Hain you're a large team of stars working together. What sort of vibes operate there?

It really is such a large team that all other units have started appearing very small by comparison. I think if you give love you get love. We've all enjoyed our work together. Everytime you're bored you can always hop into somebody's van and chat -- or joke around.

Was there any rivalry?

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Even before we signed the film the whole script was ready, bound, and the shot divisions were ready. Sooraj Barjatya is the most meticulous director I've worked with, so there was never any doubt as to how the role was shaping up. We all knew what role we had, if anyone didn't like that we would have refused the film in the beginning but as we all knew what our role was, everything was fine.

The same thing happened in Sarfarosh. John Mathews was very clear about letting us know our roles in detail. I liked the whole approach to the film and I liked the dedication of the director. It wasn't as if my role was the greatest thing in it, but I liked being part of a film of this kind which was meaningful. I think the subject was one that we should all be aware of. I was impressed that John actually stopped making his ad films and concentrated so much on making this film.

How do you feel about the rave reviews Sarfarosh is getting?

I'm thrilled because at last people are moving away from my looks to look at me. I do know that if it wasn't for my looks I wouldn't be here, so I'm glad. I have my kind of looks but it's not something that I have done -- so I'd like to be acknowledged for my work. I have not had any kind of training -- I haven't come from any acting school or theatre company or even acted in school or college, so all my training has been in front of the camera here in the industry.

I'm very glad that this film got made and that it looks like succeeding because it'll encourage people to make more films of this kind -- films they believe in. The people loved Sarfarosh -- they've been clapping and watching the film very engrossed in whatever is going on. They've enjoyed the relief my entry provides. The public has identified with it and I'm thrilled.

As a person you are a bit of an enigma --always smiling but one is unable to guess what you're thinking under that glorious crop of hair. What makes you happy?

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Anything, clouds, the moon, it could be something very small.

As a person I'm very simple, my happiness and joys are very simple -- I enjoy home food, what my mother cooks, I love wearing jeans, shorts anything.

What about the person you'd like to marry?

One who could be my best friend too.

What about your friends?

Mostly people not connected with the industry.

What is the best thing about the industry?

The bonding.

How would you describe your approach to acting?

I take it as it comes. If I feel strongly about something I voice my opinion, if the director agrees fine, or let him convince me. It comes from having a relationship with the director. You talk out the scene with your directors and your co-stars.

What are your best roles?

This year I have some good roles. Dahek and Hum Saath Saath Hain and Love You Hamesha. Dahek should come now. While Hum Saath Saath Hain and Love You Hamesha should release after Diwali.

What about other films?

I've done my first Tamil film with a new boy. It is made by the filmmaker who had made Kaadal Desam -- there's AR Rehman's music and it's wonderful. It's a wonderful film which should release by May.

What else?

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I'm getting back to my reading -- I'm alternating between Marcus Aurelius and something lighter. The whole acting thing is settling down and I'm enjoying my work more. I'm getting all interested in other aspects of film-making. I'm finding things behind the camera very interesting.

What are the highlights of Sarfarosh?

When we were doing the rain song it was so cold and John would keep apologising to me because I was freezing as I'd sit by a coal fire in between shots. I've never seen a director who was so concerned. I felt very protected.

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