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How Renuka Shahane got the pivotal role in Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! – Birthday special

In an exclusive chat with Cinestaan.com, the actress reveals some funny and memorable moments from her Hindi debut film with Sooraj Barjatya.

Keyur Seta

Twenty-two years have passed since Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! was released. But the film and its characters remain household names in India. Among these is the character of Pooja aka Bhabhi, played by Renuka Shahane. Today (7 October), as the ever-smiling actress celebrates her 50th birthday, she speaks exclusively to Cinestaan.com about her special day and special film.

"I usually celebrate my birthday with school friends and family," Shahane said. "I accommodate other friends on other days, but on the 7th it’s always with school friends and family.”

Shahane has been celebrating with the same set of friends since childhood. “My mom used to prepare cake and snacks. I can’t remember celebrating with balloons and festoons. I am lucky and privileged to have these friends still in my life.” 

There is an interesting tale behind Shahane's selection for Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! (1994), her Hindi film debut. She used to do a lot of ad films as she had become popular owing to her TV show Surabhi, a show on Indian culture and heritage that she co-hosted with Siddharth Kak.

“Art director Bijon Das Gupta, who was part of a lot of ads, suggested my name to Ram Gopal Varma for a Telugu film, Money (1993). I also did its sequel, Money Money (1995). At that time, Soorajji was looking for someone to play Madhuri’s bhabhi in HAHK. He was looking for someone with a similar face and background. He auditioned many girls but couldn’t find the right person. Bijonda suggested me for the role.”

Das Gupta wasn’t the only one to suggest Shahane, though. “The same day their make-up man, Jayantidada, also suggested my name. His production controller PK Gupta, who is still with them [Rajshri Productions], also went on to suggest my name the same day. Soorajji had never seen me; he hadn’t seen Surabhi either. So he was very surprised to find three individuals recommending me,” she laughed. 

After watching her work on Surabhi, however, Barjatya felt Shahane had the Indian-ness needed. “He couldn’t place me in Circus [the TV serial] as I was playing a Christian,” she said. When she landed for the audition, the first person she met was Rajkumar Barjatya [Sooraj’s father], who asked her to read a passage from an old Hindi novel.

“He said my Hindi is very good. I said no, it’s all because of Surabhi,” she said. Rajkumar Barjatya told her that this passage was read by every Rajshri heroine. “I suddenly felt very honoured that I am holding a book so many heroines must have held,” said Shahane.

During the course of discussion, she told the veteran that she had seen all Rajshri films from Dosti (1964) onwards. “When he asked for my favourite film of all, I said it was Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaaye (1977) and Chitchor (1976).” 

Sooraj Barjatya then narrated the film to her along with Dilip Joshi and Ajit Vachani. “It took around four and a half hours," she recalled. "He narrated with music and background score. The film was already made in his head (laughs). He was so perfect with it. We were stunned after listening to it. We were so involved with the characters that we all had tears, especially during Bhabhi’s death.”

Although she knew Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit were playing the main leads, Shahane had no idea which role the Barjatyas were planning to offer her. Finally, Sooraj said they wanted her to play Bhabhi. “You should have seen our expressions," she said. "My jaw dropped (laughs). Oh my god, what an important and lovely role it was.” She was signed after the makers were satisfied with her audition with costumes and make-up. 

A lot of actors in the past have been impressed with the behaviour of the Barjatyas. In Shahane’s case, Rajkumar Barjatya also warned her about her future prospects if she played the role of Bhabhi. “They are so sweet. I have never met such people. Rajbabu told me that if you have ambitions of becoming a heroine, please don’t take this role because you might be stereotyped. I said I am too happy to play Bhabhi, especially if she is that sweet.” 

Shahane’s debut didn’t turn out to be difficult because of Sooraj’s clarity. “All we had to do was follow what Soorajji said. What he had in his head is what you see today in Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! There is no credit to us. You can say nobody can teach dance to Madhuri. But when acting is concerned, all of us just followed what he wanted.” 

Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of all time in Hindi cinema and won the National award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment.