The innocent, iconic and loveable Suman from ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ left Bollywood in the 90s after a blockbuster debut. Cut to 2020 and the adorable Bhagyashree has made an impactful return and exudes the old school charm in her latest release ‘Thalaivii’. Her fans have lauded her comeback, her kids are backing her filmy dreams and her husband is the wind beneath her wings! Bhagyashree is once again flooded with offers but is still cautious. In an exclusive tête-à-tête with ETimes, Bhagyashree opens up about ‘Thalaivii’, her return to films, kids and much more. Excerpts:
You must have been showered with love and compliments post ‘Thalaivii’, how does it feel to be back? What kind of feedback are you receiving?
Just about everyone said, ‘why did you leave after Maine Pyaar Kiya’? And that I was looking beautiful in ‘Thalaivii’, which I found very funny because I’m playing the mother there. I’m not supposed to look beautiful (laughs). But, it was lovely receiving compliments that everyone acknowledged and what really made me feel good was that even though it was a very small role, it registered in the hearts and minds of people. So I feel very grateful for that.
Coming back to the question that everyone wants to know, why did you leave after ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’? Do you regret that decision?
Well, it’s all about priorities, you know, and at that point of time my family was my priority. I was all of 19-20 and I thought it would be impossible for me to balance both my career and my home. Society also has changed now, it wasn’t like that when ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ released. You had problems managing the family, society, your career, and it was looked down upon if you couldn’t manage it all. So it was all about prioritizing what really matters, staying longer.
When I look back and look at people of those times, probably contemporary heroines, at that point of time. And I look at my family life right now, touchwood, I feel lucky. I didn’t have to hide my husband. I didn’t have to regret not being able to get married. I didn’t have a late marriage. I have two wonderful children who are looking towards their careers now. Mere hisaab se sab time se ho gaya (according to me everything worked out in time)! (laughs). It’s actually wonderful that I have both my children telling me, ‘Jaa Simran, jee le apni zindagi’ and in my case it is ‘Jaa Suman, jee lee apni zindagi’. So, I have them supporting and encouraging me to get back into work and do what I really love. And I’ve got all my fans and all my well wishes out there saying, yes, we want you back. What can be better than this?
After the success of ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, you must have been snowed with offers and films. So is there any movie that you regret turning down, some project you wish you had not rejected?
Actually, I can’t even look back and say ‘achaa yeh tha’ because, at that point of time, practically every movie that was made on a grand scale or became a hit was offered to me. So no, I really can’t pinpoint one singular film. I was far away from all the adulation and all the fame. In fact, just a week ago, I was telling my children that, when ‘Thalaivii’ released and the kind of messages and the kind of phone calls and the response that I got, it felt like, I’d almost forgotten what it feels like! And, if this is what is happening now after 30 years, when I’m playing a mother, I can’t even imagine what it would be at that point of time just after ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’.
And, both kids said, ‘Toh aapne mehsoos nahi kiya? (you didn’t experience the fame?)’ And I said no, I was so involved in Abhimanyu, bringing him up and his school work and everything. I guess I didn’t even touch upon the fame and adulation at that point of time. So yes, I’m extremely thankful to everyone out there. I’m thankful to God for giving me this second chance and opportunity to do what I really love to do.
Now that you have returned to the big screen, are there any plans of reuniting with Salman Khan?
Now, that remains in the hands of the producer or director who would probably want us back and give us roles enough to match what we want to do at this point of time. It would be fun working with him again and I guess there would be a lot of conversation on that but it all depends on whether a producer or director comes to both of us with roles that we would like to do.
When you were away from Bollywood, were you in touch with anyone from the industry? Be it your co-star Salman Khan, or any close friends?
It’s not that we didn’t meet, maybe at someone’s house or at dos, which once in a while I used to go to. But I kind of distanced myself from the film industry for a very, very long time. I was leading a different life. I was a mother, I was a daughter-in-law, I was a wife before anything else. And that took away a lot of my time. I would say my coming back has just opened up different doors and I actually look at the industry and say, ‘main ek newcomer jaise aa gayi hoon (I’ve returned like a rank newcomer)’. There’s so much to experience now, I’m thrilled.
Compared to when you left, how much has the film industry changed?
I don’t think it was a different experience where work is concerned because, I was very nervous on the first day of shoot for ‘Thalaivii’. I was shooting after a very long time, but the moment I entered the sets, everyone around me made me feel so welcome. And just the feel of the camera on me, it’s just like cycling or swimming. You just know it from within. I don’t think you forget doing what you really love.
You have the support of your kids and your fans. But what does your husband, Himalaya think about your return to acting?
So actually he says, ‘you deserve it, you’ve done a lot for the family, and taken out a lot of time, spent all your youth taking care of all of us so now it is time for us to be the wind beneath your wings’ He says go and fly. So it feels good. It feels good.
Do you feel fewer roles are written for actresses after a certain age?
The whole idea of OTT platforms and the variety of scripts being written right now, it’s no longer what it used to be probably a decade ago. And the difference in society is eventually going to show up on screen as well. I think films or roles are written as a reflection of society. So we, as a society, are changing today. When I walk on the sets today, I see a ratio of almost, 40-60 gender wise, where as during the late ‘80s, at best your hairdresser or your fashion designer, would be a woman, but today things have changed. Society in general is more acceptable of women occupying different roles. So it’s not just playing the mother, sister, bahu, but it could also be playing a doctor, police officer, entrepreneur or any other role.
Coming to Abhimanyu, what advice did you give him when he decided to pursue acting as a career?
Well, as all mothers and all parents would say, I told him to look at the pros and cons of everything. And especially in this industry, I think there’s a lot that you have to give before you get anything at all. So there’s a lot of sacrifice, which people outside the industry do not understand. There’s a part of yourself that dies every day that you put yourself out on the sets because you become a different person. You have to inculcate different attributes. You kind of lose yourself when you are trying to gain the insight into a person’s psyche, which you’re playing. There’s a lot of hard work involved. There’s a lot of expectation and aspiration that sometimes gets broken. And you have to be prepared for that. You have to take the laurels and the brick bats, no matter what. And every decision that you take is yours and yours alone. So no one can be there to kind of lessen the hurt because everything that you do is all public. So when you are out in the open, there is little that other people can do to support you, unlike any other business ventures. Here it’s all about you, so you make or break yourself. It’s a hard life to live. It’s also, a lot of perseverance, a lot of patience to reach where you have to. There’ll be times where you’d be working on a set, and then there’ll be the longest time where you’re just sitting at home and you may not get work. So that’s the time that one has to understand their mental strength? Are you strong emotionally to tide over that time when you wouldn’t be working when you wouldn’t be able to get work or interact with the people or do the things that you like to do?
I laid out everything in front of him. And he looked at me and said, so you don’t want me to become an actor? (laughs) He was excellent in his education. So I told him ‘kuch aur kar lo (do something else)’, something more stable, something that will give you the life that you wish to lead without having the pitfalls, but I’m here to support you for anything that you want to do and I’m happy in whatever decision you want to take. He went ahead, gave auditions, and more than half the auditions, I didn’t even know where he was going. Then he got his first film, after he signed everything, he came and said, ‘Mom, I’m doing this’. His journey has been his own. And, I would say it’s been tough for him and I’m very happy that he went through this whole process of auditions and rejections because it makes you value what you have.
And what about your daughter Avantika? Is she planning to follow in your footsteps, too? Or will she take after her father and explore an entrepreneurial career?
Well, when she left from here to London, she went with the intention of becoming a business woman. She studied in CASS university on a scholarship, so she’s really very brainy. And when she came back, she also spent a good year teaching underprivileged children, because she is extremely empathetic towards people that don’t have the luxuries of life that she has had. And then she saw her brother and she said, ‘Mom, I think this is where I would like to be’. And I think by that time, unlike Abhimanyu, I kind of mellowed down and I said, ‘Okay, well you have our support, but it’s again going to be a journey’. And I told her all these pitfalls that would happen. So she did her stuff, gave her auditions and finally she’s doing something for Rohan Sippy’s Applause Entertainment.
Do you feel like a proud parent?
Absolutely! And what makes me feel good is that they have achieved these things on their own without any recommendations from their parents. So it’s the hard work that really counts and I’m glad that they made it on their own.
Also, OTT is big right now so are you considering any web series or shows?
There have been some offers, but when I’m doing OTT for the first time, I would like to choose something that’s closer to my heart, something really interesting for the viewers to see. I’m still waiting for the right script to come around.
Can you could shed some light on your next movie, ‘Radhe Shyam’?
‘Radhe Shyam’ is going to release next year, I think they are planning it for Pongal and Makar Sankranti. It’s a very different love story. People have seen Prabhas in ‘Baahubali’ and in total action oriented roles. But a few people know that earlier on in his career, he did plenty of comedy films, which were extremely successful. So this has a bit of comedy, it has a bit of a love story. It has got huge sets, which have a splendour that needs to be seen on the big screen. And, they have me as the surprise element! (laughs). What I’ve done in ‘Radhe Shyam’, is something I’ve never done before. It took a great deal of practice for me, and I’m just waiting for the time when people see it and react to it.
Your Instagram feed is packed with fitness inspiration and it’s all about endorsing yoga, eating right and being healthy! So what inspired you to take up this healthy approach and also feature it on social media?
I think everyone’s journey towards health always starts with a failure within themselves and that’s what happened with me too. I had a very unfortunate health problem a couple of years ago where my right hand refused to move. I couldn’t move it at all. And the whole healing aspect happened without doctors because I’m really afraid of surgery. And surgery was something that all the doctors had recommended for me and I didn’t want to do it. So I studied nutrition. I studied fitness. I studied how to heal myself because we keep on hearing that the body does heal, but we tend to not look after it. And that’s something that I wanted to experiment with. So I healed myself. And when I thought that it was possible for me to do it, I decided to share it with people around me, share it with the world and make women more conscious.
For me, I think life began after 50, whereas people give up on life after 50. So I feel if this is what I can put across, where I can inspire people to look after their health, I would like this to become the mantra. I don’t want people to see 50 year olds with greys in their hair, with a walking stick, not being able to bend down or do their work by themselves. I think there is more to life and I’m living my life to my fullest right now. And if I can inspire people to do the same, then that’s what my social media is all about.
If ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ was to get a remake, who would you like to see in the cast?
I think Alia is a splendid actress, she’s got that innocence and yet got that masti in her. That baby charm is still there, she’s done so many films, but she still has that feel to her. So yes, definitely Alia and I think the flamboyancy could only be played by Ranveer Singh, as of right now! So, I think that would be a perfect combination.