Sonam Kapoor’s highly-opinionated and bona fide demeanour places her in a revered league. By Rushmika Banerjee Photographs: Arjun Mark
How often does perception differ from reality?
When I met Sonam Kapoor, I walked in with my own bundle of preconceived notions. But one thing nobody told me was that she would be so effortless. From the time she stepped on to the set till the time we sat down for the interview, it was one happy, smooth-sailing ride. Sonam Kapoor is not your regular celebrity who comes with her coterie of fussy managers, overstressed stylists and ludicrous demands. She is like you and me—an uncomplicated girl who is just here to do her job—and she aces it every single day. When I walked into her vanity, I saw the star— who has been a part of industry for a decade, has the country’s best designers at her beck and call, and comes from a family of highly talented artistes—heartily gorging on homemade lunch. “I have been vegan for a year now,” she told me. From the time she made her debut with Saawariya (2007) at age 21, to when she made all those headline-making sartorial choices and when she silenced the naysayers with her performance in Raanjhanaa (2013) and Neerja (2016), the actor has gone from strength to strength in her career. In this interview, Kapoor, who recently married her long-time boyfriend Anand Ahuja, speaks about her latest flick Veere Di Wedding, the lessons she has learnt from her father, and what makes her sleep peacefully at night. Excerpts:
Did the Hindi film industry always entice you?
Contrary to what people think, I’m not much of an extrovert. I wanted to be in academics and didn’t want to be in the public eye. I feel extremely comfortable in a library or a classroom. So, I could have studied for the rest of my life. But there is another side to me which likes expressing herself through different artistic mediums. I guess I do that through my films, clothes and what I say, in general. That calling got stronger when I was 18, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali gave me an opportunity through Saawariya.
What motivated you to keep going?
Public and critical appreciation makes you believe in yourself a lot more and Raanjhanaa’s success has been very encouraging. I was 21 when I did Saawariya and I will turn 32 this year, so life has changed a lot. As you grow up, you become wiser and your choices evolve, which is equally important.
What excites you the most about this industry?
The industry is still at a nascent stage and you can be the one who can break the glass ceiling.
Looking back, is there anything you feel you could have done differently?
No, I think my journey so far has been inspiring in a way where I know I have done whatever I could to make my life better. Like to be responsible towards other people, to be authentic, to have a moral compass, to be progressive and to be idealistic. Through the ups and downs in my career, I have never faltered in what I believe in. I feel like I can sleep soundly every night because I know have not hurt anybody.
Tell us about a moment from the film sets that you will cherish forever.
My most favourite part was when my father (Anil Kapoor) came on the sets of Neerja and spoke to the cast and crew. We had Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani coming along every two three days just to pep us. Everybody knew this was a special film. They all spoke so incredibly on why this (project) is important; it motivated us so much. And then on the last day, the last person to come was my dad. We were shooting the climax and it was one of the toughest times for me and everyone else. It just felt amazing that he was there for one of the most important days of the shoot.
Post Neerja, do you feel more pressurised when selecting a movie?
I just do what I feel is enjoyable and where I can grow as an artiste and a person. If you keep doing things for somebody else, and not because you want to, you get depressed. I want to express myself and grow in the process, so I have never felt that pressure. I don’t care what people say and think. As long as I am honest and authentic, it will work and that has always been my game plan.
Have expectations from you risen after Neerja won the National Award and you received special mention from the jury?
Expectations have always been high. People loved me in Padman and they were happy that I chose to do it. They expect me to always play a titular character, but they also know I’ll always give them good content.
Which has been your favourite role so far?
Well, it’s Mili Chakravarty from Khoobsurat. I had so much fun playing the character. Though Neerja (the character) is very close to my heart, I think Mili was light-hearted and exciting. It’s interesting because it’s quite different from my real-life persona.
What are you like off-screen?
I’m just an ordinary girl who is always positive and likes working hard. It helps to be real about everything—own every line on your face and cherish every pain that you have in your body. It’s important to value those moments and not see them as defeats.
What has been your biggest learning from your father?
To be always searching and wanting to grow. It’s amazing to see how at 61, he is still the lead in 90 per cent of the films he does. He’s redefined the way people look at older actors. He is an amazing father; he brought me up with progressive point of views and he’s such a feminist. It’s incredible to see how much he believes in his moral compass.
Your relationship with Rhea and Harshvardhan has given many people major sibling goals. Tell us more about the bond you share with the two.
I’m very protective about my brother, but my sister is my best friend. Rhea and I are just a year-and-a-half apart. She is my partner in everything, whether it’s films, fashion or business. Sometimes, we don’t even want space from each other—at least, I don’t. I recall this hilarious fight I had over the TV remote with my brother, when we were kids. I threw the remote at him and he smashed it back at me, and my mom fired him because it hit me. Nowadays, when we get together we gossip and talk a lot, mostly about films.
What advice would you like to give Janhvi Kapoor now that she has begun her film career?
I have already given her enough counsel. When I joined the industry, her mom (Sridevi) helped me quite a bit, including with my makeup. I remember I used to go to her house and have a lot of conversations with her. I know she had those talks with Jahnvi already, but all I can say is, that she needs to be professional, respect hers and everyone else’s time, which is something she knows already. There will be a lot of naysayers, but she just needs to keep her head down and keep working.
You have also been quite the digital trendsetter in real life…
I enjoy social media and I don’t look at numbers. I believe that digital media, if used in a positive manner, can be a very effective tool for change and to express yourself. It could be such a creative medium—look at some of the YouTubers that we have, the amazing comics, and the amazing videos that are being produced.
Do online trolls bother you?
At the end of the day, all you need to think is that they are faceless people who have nothing better to do in life. I feel sorry for them. I am not saying it in a patronising tone; I mean it in a genuine way. Can you imagine the insecurities they carry, and the negativity and hate they must be receiving that they just sit and troll others?
What’s your take on the plagiarism debate that’s happening in the fashion industry online?
Everyone needs to be called out at some point. There has to be some policing somewhere and it’s all in good spirit and should not be taken in a negative way.
How did you prepare for your role in Veere Di Wedding?
The kind of preparation that I have done is insane. Every few months, your idea of the character evolves because you evolve as a person. I had done back stories, workshops and dialogues of every character.
What did you enjoy the most on the sets?
I was working with my best friends and with my sister, so it was so much fun. It’s amazing to work with such strong and talented women who all want the same thing. And obviously the incredibly talented Shashanka Ghosh (director, who’s also done Khoobsurat) who I admire.It’s my third film with Swara (Bhasker) and it’s always amazing to work with her. It’s my first film with Bebo (Kareena Kapoor Khan). I have known her my whole life and it’s great to see how progressive, intelligent and talented she is. For me she has always been Bebo, but when I saw her on set, I realised why she is Kareena Kapoor Khan because she is so magnetic.
What are you working on next?
A film adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s book, Zoya Factor. It is produced by Aarti Shetty, Pooja Shetty Deora and Fox, and directed by Abhishek Sharma. I am also doing Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, which is produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Rajkumar Hirani, and directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar.