It’s been two years since I last met Rani Mukerji. She took a break from the life she knew to concentrate on the life she made — Adira. She was immersed in motherhood, and movies were nowhere in the picture (excuse the pun). Now that the Queen has committed to a film, she has decided to come out of her self-imposed exile. On the eve of her birthday, March 21, I find a luminous Rani sitting on her throne (okay, chair) in her cabin in YRF studio. The vibe of her office space is warm and friendly, an extension of her own personality. From the colours of the furnishing to the posters of her films on the wall, everything spells to this being her domain. And there’s an extra-special place in her world – a photograph of husband Aditya Chopra and her baby girl. As she talks about her husband, I can’t help but marvel at her fairytale marriage. It’s a coming together of two very different people and they make it work, without making it seem like work. Somewhere during the interview, she tells me how she would not have returned to work, had it not been for him pushing her. It just makes me a fall a little more in love with the enigma called Aditya Chopra. As she returns to the set, she talks about what drove her back to work (her hubby), what drives her to act (the love of her fans) and what she hopes to change (read on to find out).

Let’s talk about your comeback…

Again, that word! Comeback! It’s nothing. It’s just any other professional taking a maternity leave/break and then coming back to work. That’s exactly what I am doing.

I am sure that in the last two years, you must’ve had other films offered to you. Why Hichki?

I still don’t know if I am ready to get back to work. I am doing the film and I have said yes to working again. But I don’t feel the same the way I used to feel before I had Adira. Right now, though work is something which gives me happiness, the joy that Adira gives me is just too special and I keep telling my husband that because he actually forced me to get back to work. He was after me about for three months from the time Adira was born, because he saw me getting obsessed with her. He said, ‘If I don’t push her now, I think she is going to go into that full-on obsession zone.’ And I am still there. He has been after my life since I gave birth to Adira. ‘Come on you have to reclaim your life and get back. You have to do your work and you can’t completely immerse yourself’, but I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I am ready even now.

So what brings you back?

I have a lot of people who love me and love my work, I think it’s my responsibility to keep doing films, so that they get to see a part of me that I am known and loved for. I think working is very important for every woman. It’s a special feeling for a woman when she is independent. It’s a different kind of satisfaction, a different kind of respect she gets, a different feeling of well-being feeling that she feels. There are a lot of mothers who dedicate their lives to their children, and that’s absolutely great and that’s their chosen path. I respect that. At the same time somewhere down the line when the kids grow up and start wanting freedom and have no time for their parents, that’s the time when few parents or mothers get a bit…

The empty nest syndrome?

Yes, when the kids grow up and they have their own life and schedule and their friends, they don’t want their mothers or fathers around that much. I think it’s very important to understand very early on that while your child is very important, what is equally important, is that you have to make yourself completely happy and share that happiness with your child. The way our world is now, I think a child kind of adapts to both parents working. They understand that they are going to work and they will come back and spend quality time with them. For a person like me, it is much easier because I do have help. Actually, I should not say easier, what I mean is, it gives me the confidence to leave my child behind when I go to work because I have people who I can trust. In other cases, parents have their family members who take care of children. I live in a nuclear setup, so I have help. And it’s taken me this long to kind of identify people and to be able to have that confidence of leaving my baby for those many hours and leave the house. For the first six months, I was completely immersed. I would not move out for a minute. I am a very hands-on mother.

Had you decided to take such a long break?

I’d definitely decided a break for one year because I knew that that’s the time I wanted to give my child. Because I want to be a part of each milestone in my baby’s life from the first word to the first step, etc. I would’ve hated it if she’d done something for the first time and I wasn’t around to see it. For me, that thing was very important.

Doctors say that a mother’s bonding with the child happens in the first six months…

I don’t know. A lot of mothers go back to work in the third or fourth month after having a baby. I don’t think there is any issue with her bonding with her child. I think more than what the child wants, it’s about what the mother wants. If you want to spend time with your child, you have to do it. For me, it was not about being told it’s going to be good for me or my baby or because it was the done thing. I chose it. I wanted to spend that time with Adira because that gave me happiness. If something else gave me that happiness, I probably would have done that.

Please continue…

When you go through nine months of holding a child inside your system, that’s such a great feeling. I have not experienced anything close to it. I have been a working woman for 20-22 years of my life and suddenly, I get this feeling which is way greater than every feeling I had in the last 20 years. All my achievements failed in comparison to what I felt when I gave birth to Adira. I felt I was doing something amazing. It was like, ‘Wow, I actually gave birth to a being that lived inside me for so many months and that child is out now, and it’s mine.’ You know, slowly I am discovering so many things in Adira which are so fascinating. It makes me feel like, ‘God! why didn’t I have children earlier? I would have had more.”

You still can have more…

(Smiles) Yes, I can. But you have to find the right person to have the child with. I was very sure that I wanted to marry for the right reasons and have a child for the right reasons. Now getting back to work is seeming very strange to me. I think of life now in terms of pre-Adira and post-Adira. When I didn’t have her, when I used to sign or work on a film, it was the only thing on my mind. I was focussed to another level. I was eating, breathing, drinking that film till the film got over. Today, somehow, I feel that’s completely changed. I hope I am doing the right thing by coming back to work now. Sometimes, I wonder, ‘Am I doing a film too early?’ or ‘Do I need some more time with Adira?’ I still keep chatting with my director and I keep telling my director, ‘Sid, I don’t know how am I going to be on set this time.’ My mum keeps telling me, ‘I know you really well, now you are feeling like this, but when you start your work, you will be very focused.’

Most mothers returning to work feel guilty about leaving their little babies at home.

I have spent so much quality time with Adira that I am not going to feel that guilt.

And you always have the option to take her with you on the set…

I am going to manage my time away from her in such a way… I have tried to make a shift in such a way that I am not with her when she is busy and then, during her playtime, I am back with her. So she does not register my time away that much. Or that is what I am hoping for… I don’t know how it’s going to be. I am dreading it.

Maybe your husband can babysit. Is she close to him?

Absolutely close to only me, there are no two ways about it. Adi keeps saying now because she is a baby, she is attached to me more, but the more she grows up since she is a girl, she will get closer to him. I think girls start getting attached to their fathers a little later when the mothers start putting certain dos and don’ts in their lives. With fathers, there are no don’ts. That has been my experience.

Ok, why Hichki?

When the script came to me obviously I wasn’t thinking that I would get back to work. For me, it’s all about something that excites the actor in me. You cannot do a film ki chalo mujhe vapas kaam karna hai toh kuch bhi kar lete hain. I got the script and I really liked it and said, ‘Okay, we can go ahead with it.’ It was a process that happened organically. Then it hit me, ‘I have to leave my daughter and go to work.’ So my husband feels if he hadn’t have pushed me, I wouldn’t have come back. I would be very happy being with Adira whole day long. And that’s true. I am most content when I am with my daughter. Right now, she is taking her afternoon nap, so I am comfortable. The minute she wakes up, I will be like, ‘Okay, time to go.’ I am mentally preparing myself for my shooting time of those 8 or 9 hours I have to give to my work every day. When they cast me, they were like Rani ko lekar kaam karenge. I keep praying to God everyday ki aisa nahi ho ki kyu le liya yaar, kisi aur ko le lete!

How has motherhood changed you?

When I look back at my career, I feel I was another person. This is actually my new life because they say a child gives birth to a mother. So, for me, it’s literally that. This innings with Hichki is going to be a new phase in my life as a woman, as an actress, as a person. I think motherhood has just made me a different person altogether. I think all women change when they become mothers. It’s an overnight thing. When I look back at my career of 22 years, I think now I am starting all over again. I am actually feeling fresh and new. Even the script that I have chosen, I think, it’s going to give me a lot of growth as an actor.

Is there some prep you are going to do for this?

Yes, from last month I have started to prep for the film. It’s a nice feeling because I suddenly get to know something new. And it’s only enriching for you as an actor. I am always hungry for roles which make me grow as an actor. This is an interesting new phase. It’s very strange, you know. I always used to always wonder about the film I’d start with, after having Adira. Also, I get damn emotional when I get to hear from my PR team that my fans keep asking about my next film. I feel really blessed because when they say you are not really in the running every day, that you don’t have it, but I see it. I feel my fans are just waiting. And I want to honour that by doing a film which is worth their while and they can be proud of.

It is nice that you feel that responsibility.

I feel that there is so much of love for me around and it is about doing a film every year. It is just that much. I don’t have to be doing four films a year. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to take away anything from my motherhood, from my time with Adira, so I will plan my life in such a way that I will work and I will give my 100 percent to her. That’s the way I want it to be because when Adira grows up, she should be proud that she has a mother who works. I hope she respects me for that. At the same time, I hope she doesn’t feel that I dedicated all my time to my work. When she is 18, I want her to tell me, ‘I loved how you balanced life. You worked and you made your fans happy, you made yourself happy, and you were there for me when I needed you and you were there even when I didn’t need you.’ I want to be a working professional all my life. It is important, and I am thankful to Adi for forcing me back. He was like, ‘You are losing your identity behind your daughter, you better get to work.’

How important are birthdays to you?

Very important. I love my birthdays. For me, when March starts, I keep telling everyone, ‘My birthday month has started.’ I don’t know why I have been like that. It’s probably because, my entire childhood, I never got to celebrate my birthday.

Why is that?

My birthday used to come in the middle of final exams. So, for anybody born in March, it is a torture because no kids come for your birthday party because everybody is preparing for their exams. The maximum you can do is wear a coloured outfit and go to school and distribute eclairs, which is what I used to do. I always missed out on having birthday parties.

Making up for that now?

Yes. I want my birthday parties to have balloons and a lovely cake… Though of course, I know I am getting older each year, but there is something about birthdays that makes me very happy.

What are your plans this year?

This year, I am working because my shoot is so near. I keep telling myself that I am going to have a working birthday this year because these last few years, I have given myself holidays and I have enjoyed my birthdays, Adi has pampered me and taken me everywhere and celebrated my birthday. This year, I told Adi, no pampering. This year, I just want to work on my birthday. Obviously, I wouldn’t mind balloons and cakes and all, so that can be there. But I am going to have a working birthday this year. I cannot distract myself now from anything. Already, I have a big distraction in Adira, I can’t have another big distraction.

How is Aditya as a father?

As a father, Adi’s life has not completely changed. I think most mothers will understand when I say, ‘It’s very fashionable to say, ‘Oh, he is a doting dad.’ But the bond that a child shares with the mother is very different from the bond that a father shares with a child. I think, for a man, it takes much longer for them to process the fact they have a child and it’s more from a wider angle. He was shooting in Paris for Befikre when Adira was four to six months. So, he didn’t get to bond with her that much. I think he started to bond with her from the time she turned one because Adira started interacting with him. From the time she started calling him Papa, I think his bond has increased a lot. First, it was more like she is there, but his life as a professional did not change. Not like the way my life changed – there was a 360-degree change. For me, I was living, breathing, eating, drinking Adira. For me, it was like every second and I was obsessed.

Do you think the involvement will become more now that you are going to work?

I think it will be the same. Adi is too involved in his work. He probably leaves last from the office and now, I am trying to change that because he has to understand he has a child waiting for him at home. Now, every day, I manage his time so that he comes back at a time when Adira has not yet slept. In the morning, he has his time with Adira. He has breakfast with her and he takes her for a walk. I am trying to inculcate that in him, so the bond grows and he keeps teasing me, ‘Once Adira grows up, she is going to be my baby and my girl. Enjoy the time now.’ He is crazy about her, but I would not say that his life revolves around Adira now. But I would say he is getting there.

Is he a better husband or better father?

A better husband, definitely. Till now at least, and I hope that he remains a better husband. Men become good fathers by default, but it is very important for men to be good husbands. So, I’d want him to become a better husband all his life.