Rani Mukerji turns 40 on March 21. Two days after her birthday, Hichki, her first film in four years, will be released. Mukerji took a break after Mardaani (2014) to start a family. She is single-handedly fronting Hichki, in which she plays Naina Mathur, a teacher with Tourette syndrome. The Yash Raj Films producton is an adaptation of Brad Cohen’s Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had.

Mukerji crosses another milestone in October: it will be 20 years since the release of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Karan Johar’s movie, in which Mukerji plays the glamorous Tina, is considered a turning point in a career that includes Ghulam, Black, Hum Tum, Bunty aur Babli and No One Killed Jessica. Excerpts from an interview.

What are the main themes of ‘Hichki’?
In a very nice way, the film talks about, and will make a lot of people aware of, Tourette syndrome. It’s important that parents should be educated and aware of what this syndrome is. The decision-makers in a child’s life need to understand Tourette syndrome so as not to put pressure on the child who goes to a normal school. The child actually needs special attention and special teachers, not because they have a problem as such, but because they will get more sensitive care. Similarly, teachers need to be aware so that they can also inform the parents of the syndrome if they identify it. The formative years are very important for a child and the correct care, attention and upbringing can make all the difference.

Hichki (2018).

The movie also seems to be making a comment on the education system.
Yes. We also talk about the education system and discrimination in society towards a person with a weakness. Society needs to change its way of thinking. What someone thinks could be a weakness in a person could be their strength. Who are we do decide or be judgmental or discriminate? How can a teacher in a school differentiate between a bright student and a not-so-bright student? Every child has the right to blossom and right to equal opportunity in education. These are the layers in the film, and hopefully they will make a big difference when people watch Hichki.

The film industry too has impossible standards for beauty and physical appearance.
I have always looked upon my life very differently. At a very young age I saw my father deal with heart problems, so I had become health conscious very early. I think I was in the eighth standard when my dad had a heart attack. He had certain dietary restrictions that we all became aware of.

Whether I was in films or not, I would still want to lead a healthy life. It’s more about fitness than appearance. While appearance does make a difference what is most important is not to make yourself look good by going under the knife and doing surgeries. Rather, feel good about yourself internally by being healthy. I feel if you love yourself, it shows.

Films are now being made differently, and there is a new pool of talent pool out there. Are you up to date on all things film?
During my time off, things have changed in the ways films are mounted and made. As my husband [Aditya Chopra] is a producer himself, I do see the changes every day. Even if I am away from the arc lights, I always know what is happening.

I am absolutely looking forward to working with the new talent because every new filmmaker comes with the voice of the youth. And it’s good to know what they are thinking, how they are thinking and to see what they are bringing to the table.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).

How does it feel when you do a good job but the film does not fare well?
When you make a film and it does well, it is an overall achievement by a team. When it does not work you feel sad because you cannot measure your success in solitude.

As an actor you borrow things from everywhere in the unit – whether it dialogues or costumes or hair and make-up. The cameraman shoots you, the editor chooses your best takes, the choreographer or music directors give you their best, and the director directs you. In turn, you give your best to the director.

So success is very much attributed to teamwork. But when a film does not work, then it is like disillusionment. You feel sad, not for yourself particularly, but for the fact that so many people have been part of that journey. And that journey will not seem 100 per cent fulfilled because the culmination of that, or the ‘The End’, as we say, was not a very happy one.

Are feelgood films the need of the hour?
Yes, I do. Films have been a reflection of society and of what is happening in the world around us. Before, cinema was consumed differently. The relationship of the audience with film stars or films was only in the theatre. There was no satellite TV, no way of communicating with the film or the people in any other space besides the theatre. Now films have travelled to your home, your phone, to all different mediums.

When you make films, if some of them are educational or come with a message and can make a difference to society, well that’s a basic responsibility. Today, films have transcended from just being entertainment to being more than that, and I think that’s beautiful.

No One Killed Jessica (2011).