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20 years of Gupt: When Kajol crossed over to the dark side

To celebrate the release of Rajiv Rai's thriller 20 years ago to the day, we look back at its jaw-dropping ending which still has audiences talking about it.

Sonal Pandya

Trimurti Films’ thriller Gupt (1997) arrived at a crucial moment for Kajol. In 1996, running high on the success of Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), she had a single release, Bambai Ka Babu, opposite Saif Ali Khan, which failed at the box office.

Her next film was the Tamil film, Minsara Kanavu (1997), known in Hindi as Sapnay. The feature was the directorial debut of cinematographer Rajiv Menon and co-starred Arvind Swamy and Prabhu Deva with Kajol in a love triangle. The film, aided by the spectacular music of AR Rahman, was a hit mostly in the South. The film’s soundtrack was popular in Hindi but the film itself failed to connect with audiences in the North.

Therefore, a lot was riding on Kajol’s following film. Directed by Rajiv Rai, the Trimuti Films production Gupt was also a love triangle of sorts. The modern suspense film found Bobby Deol’s character Sahil accused of the murder of his stepfather Jaisingh Sinha, played by Raj Babbar. Sahil’s childhood sweetheart is Isha, played by Kajol, and he wants to marry her, but his stepfather doesn’t take his choices into account and instead announces at a party his marriage with Sheetal (Manisha Koirala).

Infuriated, Sahil tries to attack him after the announcement, but his mother intervenes. But the next day Jaisingh is found dead and Sahil is the one who finds him. He is sentenced to jail for 14 years but he plots his escape and tries to hunt down the killer with the help of both Sheetal and Isha.

The mystery of who actually killed Jaisingh Sinha sustained itself throughout the film. There were a few red herrings sprinkled in as well. Is it a political angle, a property dispute or is it actually someone who is close to Sahil? The film kept audiences guessing all along. Spoiler alert: It was Kajol! Even if one hadn’t watched the film, the big reveal of Kajol as the big bad one has been firmly woven into Hindi film pop culture over the years.

Kajol with Bobby Deol in Gupt (1997)

It was a massive gamble for the sweet, supportive love interest to actually turn out to be the killer in the film. For Kajol’s 10 previous films, she was slotted in as the typical Hindi film heroine, albeit with a streak of mischievousness that was inherently her own personality. Here, she dared to be different and ended up being the only woman to win the Filmfare trophy for Best Performance in a Villainous Role. She was also the first woman to be nominated in that category.

Kajol’s releases after Gupt were Ishq (1997) and Hameshaa (1997). The year after was even more successful for her with Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, Dushman, Pyar To Hona Hi Tha and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It solidified her as the top actress in the industry at the time.

This year, Kajol returns to Tamil cinema after 20 years with Velai Illa Pattadhaari 2 aka VIP 2, where she plays Vasundhara, a woman at the top of her game in the corporate world. She comes up against Dhanush’s Raghuvaran when they both compete for the same construction project. In the trailer, Kajol can be seen trying to persuade Dhanush to work for her instead of battling her.

The film has positioned Dhanush as the underdog and Kajol as the antagonist. It is again a distinct choice for the actress, who was last seen on screen in the lacklustre Dilwale (2015), which even the Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol pairing couldn’t save. Perhaps, like 20 years ago, this could signal another shift for the actress who has indicated she is keen to act again. Until then, we will have to see if Kajol tries to explore the dark side in VIP 2 as well. The film is set to be released on 28 July.

20 years apart: Kajol in Gupt (1997) and VIP 2 (2017)