Soni Razdan has always been a bit of an oddity in the Hindi film industry. The British-born actress made her screen debut in Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane in 1981, and became a familiar face after starring in the popular television drama Buniyaad on Doordarshan in 1986. Razdan has also notched up a series of acclaimed roles in arthouse films in the 1980s, including Mandi, Trikaal and Saaransh, apart from appearing in mainstream and stage productions, where she worked with the likes of Satyadev Dubey. More recent appearances include Monsoon Wedding, Page 3, Jaaneman, Patiala House and Love Breakups Zindagi.
These days, of course, Soni Razdan has been reinstated in popular consciousness as Alia Bhatt’s mother.
“I am always incredibly proud to be known as her mother, but I am also an actor and unfortunately no one has approached me in a while with any work until now,” Razdan told Scroll.in. At a time when “stereotypes are being broken and women are playing roles beyond that are centre stage and not mothers in the background”, Razdan hopes her eagerness to get back to work will be broadcast in the filmmaking community.
Perhaps she is being modest, because she recently wrapped up Sanjoy Nag’s Hindi movie Yours Truly, in which she plays the lead. This is the first time in years that Razdan has been offered a film that puts her in the spotlight, and the 61-year-old actress says she is enjoying it.
“It is very rare at my age to play such a central role, to get an offer like this to begin with is quite unusual,” she said. The film is based on a short story by Annie Zaidi, about a woman who lives a solitary life and is about to retire from her job. Also starring Razdan’s husband, the filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, Pankaj Tripathi and Aahana Kumra, the movie deals with loneliness and love, and has Razdan excited about the unusual plot and treatment.
“It is not a run-of-the-mill story,” she said. “It gave me the usual opportunity to get into someone’s head and explore a life that is very different to mine, at least on the surface.” As she immersed herself in the character, she began to find certain similarities with her own life. “I went against conventional wisdom to study acting in the UK, where I was on my own, alone and quite lonely,” Razdan recalled. “I drew from my memories of the time. That’s what happens once you get into the role. You find things in common with your past or present. It is no longer about imagining a character and space. But you bring all the experience and understanding you have acquired over the years to the role. It was very exciting to have been challenged this way.”
Born to a German mother who used to be a nursery school teacher and a Kashmiri architect father, Razdan continues to think of herself as a misfit. “I was at a disadvantage when I tried to be an actor,” she said. It was the late 1970s, when the Hindi film heroine had to pack in a generous amount of oomph in order to be part of male-star driven projects. “There were the likes of Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, doing extremely glamorous roles, and I did not see myself fitting in.” Rather than try to blend in, Razdan chose to focus on her passion. “My understanding of an actor is simply this – if you want to act, it does not matter what your role is. Whether you are doing a play or a television show. You just act. I don’t know where and when acting became all about being the glamorous babe in movies where all the attention is on the clothes and makeup and very little on the craft.”
Razdan says she did not look for lead roles, and the only thing that kept her going was her hunger for acting. “Television, movies, theatre, I did whatever was offered to me,” she explained. “I just wanted to act and I guess this come from my theatre background.”
The narrative has been very different for her daughter, who is already a star at 24. Alia Bhatt, who was launched with Student of the Year in 2012, has moved from strength to strength, showing a natural ease with both glamorous and gritty roles. “She is born into a family where her mother and father [Mahesh Bhatt] have already carved out a niche for themselves,” Razdan said. “Unlike me, she came into a business that was ready for her, and since then she has worked with the top production houses in the country. Her life has taken on a different trajectory. Alia tells me that she regrets the fact that she missed out the struggle. I tell her that all this sounds very romantic but you will have your own struggles too.”
Razdan says her daughter may have been fortunate to have been offered the kind of projects that have helped her experiment and grow as an actor, but her life is still a work in progress. “This profession is not without its struggle, and without the struggle you never really touch home base,” Razdan said. “Despite the opportunities, it does not come easy to Alia. We did not know and neither did she know that she will be an actor some day. Life is all about a lot of accidents, after all.”
That her daughter has been eclectic in her choice of projects when she could have easily remained cast in the Student Of The Year mould is thanks to her genes, Razdan feels. “Kudos to her for taking up challenging films – she has definitely inherited that renegade gene from her parents,” Razdan said. “At least her father has it in abundance.”
The mother-daughter pair will be seen together on the screen for the first time in Raazi, a spy thriller directed by Meghna Gulzar and adapted from Harinder S Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat. Razdan plays the mother of Bhatt’s character. “But I cannot play her mother in every film,” Razdan said with a touch of mock despair.