Ask anyone out there and they'll tell you, Rani Mukherjee is one hell of a friendly girl. Many people find her democratic friendliness a little hard to take and feel she lays herself out too thinly.
"Make no mistake, Rani is the cleverest girl in showbiz," says a senior actor who has been around and seen enough to be cynical without sounding bitter.
"Rani's mission in life is to be nice to everyone. But of course she has an inbuilt hierarchy. The 'nice' that she extends to Karan Johar would be different from the 'nice' that she would be to Raj Kanwar. And the quality of niceness to Amitabh Bachchan cannot hold a candle to its counterpart with Akshay Kumar."
But Rani defends herself. "What's wrong with being nice?"
"Sure I'm good with everyone. I'm naturally friendly. When I'm shooting I can't sit in a corner after every shoot. Nor do I withdraw into my makeup room. I remain right there on the set as the next shot is set up. What's wrong with that? If people find my attitude fake...well, so be it. I'd rather be called fake than unpleasant."
Interestingly, Rani's close buddies happen to be mostly men. Her friendship with Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and Kareena Kapoor came to rather inglorious ends.
But her ways are sure working. Rani is undoubtedly in the top league today. In fact, most people see her as the top actress today. She is the only leading lady of her generation to have worked with the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Mani Ratnam and Yash Chopra, all within the same year.
Every director loves to repeat her. After 'Mujhse Dosti Karoge', one of the leading ladies, Kareena, distanced herself from what she thought was a disappointing experience. Rani stuck around. Director Kunal Kohli chose Rani for his second film 'Hum Tum'.
Everyone wrote off this romantic comedy before release. And everyone has had to eat his words. 'Hum Tum' shocked cynics by becoming the surprise success of the year. Rani has decided to be a bit more assertive about her stardom and status in life.
"What's there to say about the success of the film?" she asks as she readies herself for a dance to be directed by Saroj Khan for Ketan Mehta's 'The Rising' with Aamir Khan in the lead. Rani is a hot favourite with Aamir and has been so from the time they did Vikram Bhatt's 'Ghulam' together. She couldn't do Aamir's 'Lagaan', but jumped when 'The Rising' fell into her lap.
With hits like 'Saathiya', 'Chalte Chalte' and 'Hum Tum' to her credit, Rani's career is really rocking. Bhansali's 'Black' will be the piece de resistance of her career. The director has elicited a quality of performance from the actress which will place her way above the competition, sources say.
"It's her film. She'll become a legend after 'Black'," her co-star Amitabh Bachchan predicts fondly.