Shilpa Shirodkar is a name synonymous with 90s blockbuster like Hum, Aankhen, Khuda Gawah to name a few. Shilpa had shared screen space with names like Rajnikanth, Mithun Chakraborty, Rekha, Jaya Prada, Amitabh Bachchan to Govinda, Suneil Shetty, Anil Kapoor and others.
The actress recently made a special appearance in, ‘Guns Of Banaras’. Shilpa was at her residence in Dubai when we called her for our #BigInterview. In our conversation, she opened up about her Bollywood journey and how she made her own mark in the entertainment industry despite being considered a ‘jinx’ by the industry people. She also revealed how much she is missing Bollywood, her relationship with sister Namrata Shirodkar and brother-in-law Mahesh Babu and much more. Excerpts from the conversations.
It’s been a long time since we have seen you on the big screen. Do you miss Bollywood?
Honestly, I’ve also missed being on the big screen. My last film ‘Gaja Gamini’ was released in 2000. My god! that’s such a long time. Marriage took me around the globe. The Netherlands, New Zealand, London, back to Mumbai after thirteen years, I made my debut on television after thirteen years and did three back to back shows in four years. Honestly, I called it my golden period as I was busy, loved, respected and did what I love doing the most, that is being in front of the camera. After which I did a small cameo in ‘Guns Of Banaras’ which released in theatres in 2020 just before Covid hit us all.
Where have you been and how are you keeping yourself busy these days?
I have been in Dubai for two years now with my family. I have a 16, soon going to be 17-year-old daughter, my husband is a banker so he travels a lot, and I am a ‘full-time mother’ and I simply love this tag. So I don’t do much professionally but take care of my family needs and make sure everything is in order. And trust me managing a family is extremely time-consuming.
Describe your B-town journey…
What can I say about my Bollywood journey? Let me tell you from the start. I belong to a basic middle-class Marathi family, where my dad used to play for Ranji Trophy but never made it to play for the country due to politics that existed. He then got a job with Air India while my mother worked for Centaur hotel and used to model a bit for extra income. Me and Namrata were little kids going to school. I started my career in 1987 when I was just in my teens with a film titled, ‘Souten Ki Beti’ which was produced and directed by Saawan Kumar Tak. However, the sad part, when I stepped into the film industry, was that I had no godfather, no understanding of the industry, nothing.
I still remember on August 9, 1987, at Filmistan studio. I was supposed to be shooting with the biggest actors of the industry. I saw so many people waiting to see Rajesh Khanna, Tina Munim, Jaya Prada, Sumeet Saigal and Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde. It seemed like the whole industry was in a frenzy that a new girl was to be launched, the hype was too much. It was absolutely like a dream come true, but as we all know, everything doesn’t always turn out the way we want to. The film didn’t take off. Nevertheless, at that time it didn’t matter much to me honestly and I continued studying. I am blessed that I had a very strong family. But a year later, journalists started calling my mother asking her about me and my career. They also suggested that we should not waste our time and that the film would never be made.
Post that I met the miracle man of my life, Gautam Rajadhyaksh, I did a photoshoot with him. He organised everything that was required for the shoot. Right from the make-up artist to hairdresser everyone without any cost and the photo shoot was amazing. And as god may have had it, one of the stylists from the photoshoot met Rikkuji (The top-most manager then who handled actors like Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit) at Juhu beach for their casual morning walk and told them that they should consider me for films. Rikkuji at that time was working with Anil Kapoor, Boney Kapoor and was planning to launch Sanjay Kapoor and they were in search of a new girl. One day, Rikkuji came home and we went to meet Boneyji and the meeting went well. As Mr. India was a huge hit, Shekar Kapoor was going to direct Sanjay for his debut film. They were planning a film titled, ‘Jungle’ with Sanjay and I was a huge candidate for it. But again that didn’t work out and Kapoor made his Bollywood debut with ‘Prem’ along with Tabu. By this time everyone in the industry had named me “Jinxed”
But Rikkuji didn’t give up on me. He started showing my pictures to everyone in the industry and I bagged ‘Brashtachar’ and my journey in Bollywood began. Mithun Da helped me a lot, he was instrumental in my Jinxed tag to be wiped out. So yes, I didn’t come with all the frills and fancies but I made it.
You have multiple blockbusters to your credit, but are there certain films that weren’t box office hits but still your favourites?
Honestly, for me, all my films are very dear to me. But yes, there are a few films which if released would have made a big big difference in my career.
Please name them.
‘Kalinga’ which was directed by Dilip Saab, ‘Singer’ opposite Ajay Devgn which was directed by Sunil Agnihotri, ‘Ladies Only’ which was produced by Kamal Hassan.
How did you react when films didn’t work at the box office? Would you cry?
I never cried if my films didn’t do well, but I used to be very very sad sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks. Because as an actor we all work hard for every film, and the judgement is made in just 2.5 hrs of the release. I think that is the sad part to digest.
Now when you watch your films like ‘Ankhen’, ‘Gopi Kishan’, ‘Khuda Gawah’ on TV… how do you react?
You know even today when I watch my films every scene that I see, I go back in time as there are so many memories associated with each and every film, with each and every scene. It is amazing.
Does your daughter know about your popularity? as you were one of the leading ladies in the 90s how does she react when she sees your films on TV?
Well my daughter knows her mother was an actor, she may have seen a few of my films but she’s not a fan of them. Film making has changed with time, she’s a today’s generation kid so she can’t relate to the films made at that time, but she’s extremely proud of me and my work, she saw me working on television and she knows the hard work that goes into it.
You were known for your sensuality and boldness. Also, some of your pictures were the topic of controversy. How would you react to them then and what you have to say now?
Well, being sensual or bold was never a deliberate or conscious effort. I never reacted to controversy then, it’s such a waste of time honestly. People will write about you and people will believe what they want to and what suits them.
Also, your grandmother Meenakshi Shirokar made headlines for wearing swimsuits on the screen right in her debut film.. so was the boldness in you inherited…
My Grandmother Meenakshi Shirodkar was the 1st lady in 1936 to wear a swimming costume in Indian cinema, and we are extremely proud of her. But many may know that my grandmother was already married and my grandfather supported her throughout her life.
But honestly, her status in the industry did not help me get work, I had to face my struggles, but again she did always tell me two things, never give up and nothing is permanent and today I passed that knowledge to my daughter.
What are the kind of films that excite you and what sort of work are you looking to do
I would love to do some exciting work… Today the industry has changed, there is work for everyone, for all age groups and for all sizes (laughs). I would love to work in films, on OTT and of course on Television. Something that’s challenging, there is such amazing content today, it’s unreal. Being part of this time will be ever so exciting.
When you look back at the choices you made, do you think you would have done anything differently or any regrets that you feel you shouldn’t have done this in your life or career?
I have absolutely no regrets about my career. God has been extremely kind to me and my family and I am ever so grateful for everything in my life.
What were some of the hurdles you faced after coming into the industry?
As I said I had no godfather or mentor. I did a lot of small films to get a few big films. The journey wasn’t easy but it was amazing
Did you encounter casting couch or maybe some incident that made you feel uncomfortable?
Honestly, I never faced any casting couch issues, I met only amazing people, my co-actors, my directors, my producers, my technicians. They were all so amazing. I only learnt each and every day of my being in this outstanding industry.
Your sister Namrata is married to Mahesh Babu who is a superstar in the South..how is your relationship with them and how often do you meet them?
Namrata took over being my Mother and Father after they passed away in my life. She is my pillar of strength. Mahesh is a superstar for everyone but for me, he is my brother in law. Sometimes he’s more there for me then my sister. If I have to describe our relationship in one word “FAMILY”.
You worked with Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Govinda, Mithun, Chunky, Big B, Sunil Shetty and other A-listers of Bollywood. Are you in touch with any of them now? Whom are you in touch with
I’m not in touch with anyone, but I know if I ever meet any of my co-actors we would start from where we left. There is mutual love and respect for each other.
Any films you said no to and now you feel you shouldn’t have said no to the film?
I don’t remember.
You did a lot of films with Govinda, describe your friendship with him.. any anecdotes that you would like to share.
Govinda was always a challenge to work with, his timing in comedy, his dances, everything about him was so stressful for me. I remember my first shot with him was for the song ‘Kagaz Kalam’ in ‘Hum’, we were shooting in Ooty in Fern hill palace and Chinni Prakash Masterji used to make me do rehearsal after rehearsal, I had broken, bleeding knees and Chi Chi used to only encourage me, saying I am doing so well. He was one actor who never made me nervous, he used to rehearse with me, give retakes as much as possible. He was so good.
Any learnings from any actor you still follow
You know, even before I came into the industry Amitji was my favourite, when I got a chance to work with him in ‘Hum’ and ‘Khuda Gawah’ was a dream come true. I still remember Amit ji used to be on set at 6: 45 am for a 7 am shift. His professionalism and dedication towards his work is admirable, his humility towards his cast and crew is something I have learnt and I will always remember it until my last.
How would you deal with link-ups that made headlines in the past?
Link ups, controversy’s the way to deal with is to ignore them. And that’s what I always did.
You did a lot of raunchy songs in the 90s… the era had too many double meaning songs… Be it you or Karisma Kapoor for that matter… Do you regret doing them as those songs aren’t made now?
As I said I don’t regret anything in my life. I enjoyed my stint as an actor of the ’90s. I have got a lot of love and respect in this industry and the world around because of my work. And I will forever be indebted to GOD for everything he has given me.
What is the difference between the actors now and the earlier ones… are they more professional or what?
As I said the industry has completely changed. Actors today come fully prepared, whereas in our times we learnt with every film, our director’s moulded us as per their story and script. Of Course, the industry has become more professional, in our times we used to do three shifts with so many films signed today. Films are made in 30/40 days and it’s so good to see the quality of each film. Today our industry is content-driven which is amazing. I think the change is only for the better.
What are your views on social media? How do you deal with trolls… any comment on social media that made you think?
Social media has become an integral part of every individual, fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m not yet able to tell. But yes, I think we should all strike a balance and then it will be good. About trolls, I haven’t had any, is that a good thing? I hope it is.
What are your views on nepotism and the insider-outsider debate that is happening in Bollywood?
I don’t see the harm in a child choosing a career like his father or mother. And I think in India it’s been a norm to do that isn’t it? Doctor ka beta Doctor, lawyer ka beta lawyer, teacher ka beta teacher, jeweller ka beta jeweller and so on, so Actor ka beta Actor, the journey becomes slightly easy for them, but it’s not a given that they will be only and only be successful in that industry. Success only comes to those who deserve it, who work hard for it and with the blessings of the almighty. There are so many successful people in our industry who didn’t have anyone and yet have made it big, today if their kids want to pursue their parents’ career why not! I think it’s unfair to judge everyone.