Interview Hindi

I don’t remember saying my lines in front of Shah Rukh: Mahima Chaudhary on 20 years of Pardes

On the 20th anniversary of director Subhash Ghai's film, actress Mahima Chaudhary speaks exclusively to, sharing her memories and the experience of her Hindi film debut. 

Keyur Seta

Pardes is one of director Subhash Ghai’s memorable success stories. The film is remembered not just for its patriotic fervour but also some superhit songs like 'Yeh Dil Deewana,’ ‘Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain,’ etc. Pardes was one among the four films released in 1997 that made Shah Rukh Khan a superstar, the being Koyla, Yes Boss, and Dil Toh Pagal Hai. 

The film also marked the debut of Mahima Chaudhary in the Hindi film industry. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pardes, Chaudhary speaks exclusively to, sharing the colourful memories and experiences of the film. 

Like many others, Chaudhary finds it difficult to believe that it has been 20 years since the film released. “It really doesn’t seem like it has been 20 years. I was taken aback when you said it’s been so long. Time really flies,” she chirped.

Pardes, obviously, means a lot for her. “It holds a lot of importance in my life. It gave me a great start. It gave me a career. It gave me a life. It gave me tremendous amount of love. I may have done 50 films after that, but even now when I travel, whether it’s abroad or India, people just don’t seem to forget (the film). The film means a lot to people also. It is one film that has a great shelf life,” she says. 

The film is also known for its sweet patriotic song, ‘I Love My India', which has remained to be one of the go to songs during the Independence day celebrations. “Young kids, who have seen me in ‘I Love My India’ song, tell me that they have performed on the song. It is one of the top three songs being played at Independence and Republic Days all around the world, wherever you have Indians,” says the actress. As the ambassador of the famous song in the film, she is still invited at patriotic functions. “I have just returned from America this morning. And now I am travelling again on the 11th as they have called me for an Independence Day parade. They will play this song and AR Rahman’s ‘Vande Mataram’.” 

Chaudhary further tells us that she couldn’t believe she would be working with Shah Rukh Khan in her very first film. “It was unbelievable because you enter the industry and you aspire to work with one of the biggest actors. Suddenly you are told that he is the one who is starring. It happens in your first film. So it gives you jitters, sleepless nights and at the same time there is a lot of excitement. It’s a joyous feeling,” she said with a smile. 

She was so nervous while shooting with King Khan that, even after two decades today, she is unable to recall the moments when she acted with him, as she says “I don’t remember ever saying my lines in front of him. But obviously when you look at the film, I have performed. But it’s a blur. I must have been so nervous that I don’t remember when I did that film, especially the scenes in front of him."

However, she clearly remembers director Subhash Ghai coming to the rescue. Ghai played a big role in making Chaudhary comfortable about working with Khan. “Mr Ghai was very clever. In one of the first few scenes with him, he (SRK) had all the talking to do and we were in the sidelines. So, we got used to him on the sets. We gradually got used to him doing the scenes. He didn’t just throw me in front of him and asked me to say these lines,” she remembers. 

She remembers the surprising response by Khan after the film, “Shah Rukh said that my audition was better than the film. He said, ‘I saw your audition and you were far better in the audition than you were in the film.’ I said I don’t even remember what I did in my audition because I was in a hurry to get somewhere,” she says adding that she had a modelling assignment on the day of the audition. 

Shah Rukh Khan, Apoorva Agnihotri and Mahima Chaudhary in Pardes

The most memorable incident she recalls is the one where she was supposed to ride a moped. As a newcomer trying to impress her seniors, she hesitated in confessing that she couldn't ride one. “In your first film, you are supposed to know everything. Suddenly, when we were on the sets Mr Ghai said, ‘Now you will be riding a moped.’ I was like, ‘Ya ya of course.’ In the hills of Darjeeling, where I am from, there is not a single moped. You have motorbikes and bullets but no mopeds. I rehearsed and rehearsed,” she said, while laughing to her heart's content.

“I had such a desire to get it right. Suddenly, he said, this is your moped and go ride and we were doing the scene,” she adds, building on to the suspense.

“There were a lot of youngsters who played my brothers, sisters and cousins. They all knew I have just learnt it. The road was high and then there was a slope and a ditch. They called for ‘cut’ and I couldn’t stop it. I almost fell into the ditch but we got it right in one take. So that was a great moment for me. You can’t tell your director that you don’t know thinking you might get thrown out of the film,” she recalls. 

Chaudhary also shared an amusing anecdote on how she was informed of her selection in the film, and it seems Ghai made it as dramatic as he could. Chaudhary and Ghai were in the middle of a role play session, where Ghai was acting as a friend, “He was playing the role of my friend. So my friend calls me when I am on a vacation and tells, ‘Lots of mails have arrived and there is one mail from Mr Subhash Ghai’s office, so should I open it?’ I said open it. He said that that it says I am in his next film. I remember hitting my forehead three times. Mr Ghai’s reaction was, ‘You are in his next film. Why are you hitting your head? This is supposed to be something good.’ I just turned off the camera and asked if this is true. He said, ‘The scene is still on.’ That’s how he broke it to me. So, it’s all on camera. It took me a long time to know that he was directing. I thought he was signing me for one of his productions,” Chaudhary narrates. 

At that time, she wasn’t told the name of the film and the fact that her co-star would be none other than Shah Rukh, but when she did realise, she asked for a written pledge fearing this could only be a prank. “He then said he will have Shah Rukh Khan in it and the film is Pardes. I was like, 'I feel it’s not true, can you give it to me in writing?' I couldn’t believe it as I didn’t hear him announce such a film. So he gave it to me in writing. I have framed it and I still have it at home on my wall. Those things were more important than the contract,” she says triumphantly.