The Sanjay Leela Bhansali film Black, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji, released 16 years ago on this day. Rani, who essayed one of the most challenging roles of her life in the film, surprises you by saying she was initially reluctant to do the role.
“At first I was reluctant to do the film when Sanjay offered me the role. Not because I had any doubts about the film or the character as such, because working with Bhansali is a dream for any actor,” Rani recalled.
She plays the specially-abled girl Michelle McNally, born with visual and hearing impairment. The story traces her bond with her teacher, played by Big B.
“I had already been a huge fan of his work after watching ‘Devdas’. So, for me to get an opportunity to work with Bhansali was huge. However, as an actor, I wasn’t very confident that I would be able to pull off the role that Sanjay was offering me. I discussed this with Sanjay and asked him, ‘are you sure you are asking me to do this role, I think it is a very difficult part, something which I have not even envisaged ever in my life’,” Rani said.
She was “quite intimidated” at first but it was entirely Bhansali’s belief in her that helped them make “Black”.
“When he told me that he believed I would be able to pull off the character and that he would be there with me at every step guiding me through the role, and give me as much help as is I needed to basically study the character of Michelle McNally through the real people who are speech, sight and hearing impaired, I felt confident,” she said.
“Sanjay fulfilled his promise because I actually went through intense training and learning the sign language and interacting with all the impaired people for 6 months and that’s how I was able to then get into the character of Michelle,” Rani added.
She was deeply touched by Dilip Kumar’s kind words for her.
“The fact that when Mr. Dilip Kumar watched the film, he wrote a letter of appreciation for my work and for me — I think that was one of the highest compliments I received as an actor, from an actor of legendary repute like Dilip Kumar. Getting blessings and a pat on my back from a thespian like him is no less than an honour,” she said.
Rani shared that her father, late filmmaker Ram Mukherjee, has worked with Dilip Kumar. The late filmmaker was screenplay writer of Dilip Kumar’s 1964 release, Leader. She has “literally grown up hearing tales about his work and professionalism”.
“I have been a huge fan of his work from childhood. We as a family have always looked up to him as an elder in the family so obviously a letter of appreciation for my work written from him is something I will always cherish,” she said.