Indian actress Kajol, who plays a single parent in her new Hindi film Helicopter Eela, doesn’t subscribe to its theme in real life — helicopter parenting, marked by over-controlling and an excessive interest in your kid’s lives. She’s a hybrid, claims the mother of two.
“I am more like a drone parent and a partial helicopter parent,” she says laughing. “I maintain my distance from my children and I don’t make as much noise as a helicopter. But just like a drone, I can fire missiles and get it over and done with.”
It’s a well-documented fact that the 44-year-old daughter of legendary actress Tanuja is an upright role model to her children with Bollywood actor-producer Ajay Devgn: daughter Nysa, 13, and son Yug, 8.
The award-winning actress, who plays the title role Eela in director Pradeep Sarkar’s new drama out in the UAE on October 11, belongs to a minority in Bollywood who doesn’t take herself too seriously.
She laughs as she defends her ideology that seems to have worked wonderfully in her life.
“I don’t think in this world you can be a hands-off parent. If you are a good parent, you have to keep an eye out and be alert about your kids. I am not talking about stalking them or smelling their breath every morning. I have faith in my children. But in this day and age, you have to be aware of what mental and emotional space your kids are in,” Kajol says.
While she may have figured out the best way to parent in her real life, she’s on shaky ground in Helicopter Eela, in which she plays a mother to a college-going son Vidvaan Arora (Riddhi Sen). The trailers show Eela as an involved mother who derives her self-worth and happiness from her son’s growth and life.
“Eela does whatever she thinks is best for her son all her life. Although the mothers around her think she’s an ideal parent, her son doesn’t seem to think so,” she explains. “She’s involved in his life [and] she seems to have lost pieces of her life in the process of bringing him up. At one point, her son has to remind her about who she used to be and who [she] wanted to be before he arrived into her world.”
The theme of where to draw the line when it comes to parenting holds universal appeal. The boundaries are always blurred.
The film also explores the concept of space between loved ones.
“There’s always this question of space and claustrophobia in any loving relationship. It’s not specific to a mother-son relationship, but also between siblings, best friends or with your own partner,” says Kajol.
The theme, which also explores the co-dependency between a single mother and her son, is a strain that’s rarely touched upon in Bollywood films.
“The relationship between a single parent and their child is slightly deeper. There’s this co-dependency between them as they know that there’s no third person in their relationship dynamic. At 3am, if you have an issue, you know that it’s one of you who will call for help… There’s so much meat in my role too,” says Kajol, adding that the script written by Anand Gandhi is of top quality.
Kajol remains one of Bollywood’s most bankable stars and has acted in iconic films including Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and My Name Is Khan with Shah Rukh Khan, Fanaa with Aamir, Khan and Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya with Salman Khan in the lead. Despite her projects being studded by Khans, Kajol has always held her own.
But there’s no denying that Helicopter Eela isn’t as high-profile as her previous outings at the box office. Kajol is aware of it and takes a pragmatic stand.
“Ten or 15 years ago, such a film would have been written but would never have been made. There would be no takers as it may not be considered a financially viable plot,” she says. “At the end of the day, films have to be financially viable. We often forget that there are many people in the entertainment industry that sink their hard earned money into it. When things don’t go well, they may end up on the streets.”
The reality is less bleak now as the audiences are now open to good content and to hearing interesting voices and stories.
“This is the kind of role that probably comes to you once in your lifetime. When I read the script, I knew instantly that this is something I wanted to do. I was lucky that a director like Pradeep Sarkar was leading it. Every actor wants to always build on a good script. You can pitch in a good character in a good script, but it is rare that you can get a good script culled out of a good character… When there’s meat to the story, you can always make something cool out of it.”
The word ‘cool’ was often used by Kajol in this interview to describe her film and her role. She promises that Helicopter Eela won’t be preachy or bore you with parenting sermons.
“[It’s] very realistic. All the mothers and parents out there will be able to relate to it. The scene in which she has an infuriating conversation with her kid who fails to understand her is a familiar circumstance in a parent’s life… We haven’t glossed over anything,” Kajol says.
Kajol, who took a self-imposed sabbatical after the birth of her children and is notoriously picky about her projects now, claims it’s a fabulous time for actors in Hindi cinema.
“I love the fact that audiences have opened up and are saying that they want to watch all kinds of movies — potboilers, the non-potboiler… everything that has something to say,” she says. “Suddenly we all have to pull our socks up. 15 years ago, we could have got away with a lot of stuff saying ‘chalta hai’ [it’s OK] or nobody will notice. But we don’t make such statements anymore because everybody will notice and pull you up for it. You can’t take anything for granted right now.”
Her thoughts aren’t limited to films anymore. Bollywood is experiencing its own #MeToo movement where a string of women are naming and shaming sexual predators in entertainment circles.
Kajol calls it a step in the right direction.
“Their actions will ensure that such things don’t happen to others in the future. They are setting examples for those joining this industry and have deal with it [sexual misconduct and harassment] at the workplace on a daily basis,” she says. “We have to change our environment of work. This problem is not gender specific… We are living in a wonderful time where social media is a great platform. You don’t have to have a famous face to be heard anymore.”
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Helicopter Eela releases in the UAE on October 11.
KAJOL’S TOP 5 PARENTING TIPS
1. Take one day a time.
“I don’t beat myself up if I cannot do something. I am a good multi-tasker.” (Case in point: during the interview over the phone, Kajol took care of a personal issue with impressive command and alacrity. She had her game face back on as soon as she was back on the phone to finish the remaining call).
2. Don’t be self-critical
“Stop that constant monologue that goes in your own head that you are not working hard enough.”
3. It’s OK to take a break, if you can afford it
“Generally I am a secure person. Why most women shy away from taking a break is because they worry about what will happen when they take a break or the fear of failing at doing something else. This feel is not restricted to women alone. Even men feel they can’t afford to take a break or afford to take a chance at doing something else with their lives. If you are financially secure, then try being brave.”
4. Tell your children to own up to their mistakes:
“If you are wrong, you are wrong. Have the courtesy to apologise.”
5. Be more kind and tolerant towards each other
“I hope you walk away from Helicopter Eela by realising that we are strangely unkind and intolerant towards each other. We have low tolerance towards the people we love. Let’s learn to be more kind towards the people you love. Just be less harsh.”