India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Cover Story
October 15, 2011

The Royal Bride

Photographed by R Burman. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani. Make-up by Arjun Bundela. Hair by Bharti Chavan. Special thanks to Louis Vuitton. Special thanks to Rose. Location courtesy: The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur

Two years into her relationship with actor Kunal Khemu, Soha Ali Khan believes that being married to him “wouldn’t be so bad”. The disarmingly forthright, fuss-free and sublimely complexioned actor spills some family secrets, confesses her deep desires and contemplates her love life so far in a freewheeling conversation with Nisha Jhangiani

‘Once in a while, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.’ – Anonymous

Sharmila Tagore and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s love story is definitely one to tell their grandchildren about. Soha recounts, “They met at a filmi party. They were both the talk of the town at the time. Initially, my father thought she was quite hot, which is not surprising. I don’t know what she thought of him, but she did keep him at arm’s distance; she was probably suspicious of these Nawabi types; they didn’t have the best reputations!”

The story goes that he bought her seven refrigerators. “Maybe fridges in those days were rare or cool, or it simply could have been a manoeuvre to get her to call back inquiring why he bought her seven refrigerators – at which point he asked her out to dinner. They had a four-year courtship before marriage. Jumping onto planes when dropping each other to airports was common – he would ask her to join him at the last minute and she would hop on. He proposed to her at the location shoot of An Evening in Paris – and you can see she’s wearing her engagement ring in one of the penultimate songs.

“I think it’s quite amazing that my mother, being an actor, chose to get married at the height of her success and have a child soon after. Aradhana released post her marriage and it could’ve meant the end of the road for her career, but it didn’t. She did exactly what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it and remained an exception to the rule. My father came from a strict Muslim background, was into cricket; he did not watch any of her films…and yet, they’ve managed to be in a successful marriage for 40 years. There’s something to be said for that. I get a good sense of faith, security and optimism looking at them.”

‘And what’s romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it’s always daisy-time.’ – D. H. Lawrence

Soha’s romantic history dates back a long way. “I had a pretty healthy normal childhood and adolescence. My first crush was when I was six! I was Sleeping Beauty and he was Prince Charming in our school play; his name was Timothy and that’s all I remember – not even his face. Then there was a boy in my sister’s class; I had a three-year crush on him, he didn’t know I existed, so I went through all the typical pain and feelings of rejection. My first relationship was when I was 16, just before I left school to study further in the UK. It was very innocent – but don’t all us girls want to marry the first guy we hold hands with?”

‘I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.’ – Elizabeth Browning

“I always enter a relationship thinking it will last forever. It’s been two years (with Kunal Khemu) now. We’ve spoken about marriage but not in a definitive way, more a romantic, what-if kind of way. Kunal is a normal young man; he starts to shiver and go pale when we talk about things like this. He’s still embracing his bachelor status.” Ask her what drew her to him and she muses, “Initially, I thought he was very different from me. He’s from Kashmir; he was brought up there and had to leave in the exodus. He’s seen more than I’ve seen, been less protected than me. That’s been an attraction factor; that he can look after himself, and as an extension, look after me – in spite of all my independence, it’s comforting. I think he’s very talented and passionate about his work and he has a great sense of humour. Background is an accident of birth; it’s what you achieve that matters. I will never be able to live up to my parents; he has gone leaps and bounds beyond anyone in his family.”

But men were created to test a woman’s patience. What does she find exasperating about Kunal? “So much,” she mutters softly. “We are both strong-headed individuals but I think he’s been less exposed to people in this capacity, so he gets quite frustrated by my independence and we sometimes clash. What annoys me about him also endears him to me. He is so expressive – he’ll communicate insecurity or jealousy clearly; he’s not encumbered by being sophisticated about it. Sometimes we have very spirited arguments, but it’s all over quickly, a passing thunderstorm.”

Does he make up first? “Always!” is the quick-as-lightening answer. “My biggest weakness is my pride. He is very moody. That throws me off sometimes – when that happens, I let him be by himself for a bit.” The big picture remains thankfully rosy. “In general, he’s always aware of where I am, whether I’m okay; there is always a connection no matter where we are.

“We vibe well, temperamentally we are similar. He sleeps and wakes up early, I am the opposite. In the initial days, if we went out until 4 a.m, he would still call at 8 a.m. I like reading, he likes watching films. We both are quite sporty. I play badminton, he plays cricket and football. We play pool together sometimes. We like to travel. He’s never been to England though and a lot of my friends are there.”

Soha has managed an impressive buy of eight saris in the one hour we kept aside to take her shopping in Jaipur, however admitting that, “they will stay in their bags for a long time”.

Does Kunal approve of his lady love’s laidback attitude towards dressing up? “He does comment on my casual choice of clothes, but he also understands that I’m kind of a lost cause. I only wear make-up if someone is paying me! I know it’s just an excuse for my laziness – because I can’t be bothered, or because something hasn’t been ironed or because something has a dal stain on it. He will love these sari purchases though; at least he’ll know I tried.”

‘You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?’ – Dr. Seuss

Having lived life on her own terms, Soha is very much her own person. “I would like to think I’m a delight to be with but I’ve been told otherwise,” she admits with a cheeky grin. “The criticism I have received is that I can be stubborn, very set in my ways, argumentative, sometimes selfish. When I fight I become detached and clinical – it can be quite frustrating for the other person. But I’m also quite easygoing – that’s the good feedback – fun to be with, down to earth and giving. I do make that person very important in my life, without conscious effort.”

She nibbles on honey-lathered toast and boiled eggs and continues, “I am a creature of habit. I can eat the same things every day – yellow dal, tandoori chicken, chocolates, aerated drinks. I can’t order à la carte, it’s always an order off the menu and a 10-minute discussion with the waiter (Kunal will eat anything under the sun so he thinks I’m incredibly difficult).

“I only need to have a few good friends; I get confused if too many people are around me. I have a single-minded approach and I can’t multitask or take risks; even my hair is the same way, I wear the same chappals every day, I use the same bag till it falls to pieces, then I try to mend it. I’m like this in every aspect of my life. It’s attachment, to people and things. But it’s a dangerous pattern because I tend to eventually get bored and move on.”

‘What do girls do who haven’t any mothers to help them through their troubles?’ – Louisa May Alcott

On mum Sharmila Tagore, Soha’s unflinching boulder of support, she says, “Amma and I are able to talk quite openly, increasingly more so now. She’s shown her approval and disapproval – mainly disapproval – quite clearly. It starts with no one being good enough for me, they would have chosen better, but finally, as long as I’m happy, they’re happy.

“My mother still has the mindset that families must get on – factors like educational background and status come into play with her. But in the most recent conversation I had with her, she said I am right – if someone is good to me, that is what is important.”

In the ultimate analysis, she is the product of her genes. “Either you become your mother or the opposite of her – I can already feel myself becoming her. Which is good, because she’s managed a great balance – commanded respect and obedience but also given us the healthy ability to argue and ask why. She never finished her education – maybe not many people know that – and therefore was keen that her kids complete theirs. Life has taught her so much and she’s so incredibly well-read. She made her own decisions and balanced work with personal life; gave importance to each when they demanded it. She had to change a lot to adapt to my father’s side of the family and she fully embraced that.”

Which brings us to the inspiring male presence in her family – Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. “My father is a man of few words – he will give a 10-word solution, useful when needed. Abba is actually open-minded, and always says, contrary to popular belief, that you marry the individual, not the family, and you must have chemistry with that person. He’s a very cool dad. His command over the language, the way he writes and thinks is so impressive, he’s very aware of history and politics, he’s very succinct in the way he explains things, he’s calm; I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He has a commanding authority; he doesn’t need to demand anything. I look for that in a partner and aspire to it myself.”

Siblings make for great sounding boards too. “My sister is very involved in my life – talking to mum is like talking to her. My brother provides a fresh perspective on everything and I think it’s important to have a young male viewpoint. He’s sometimes a friend, sometimes he’s the big brother. Normally, when I complain about Kunal, Saif is sympathetic towards him even before he knows what I’m complaining about. Saif talks to me more than I talk to him – probably also because he likes to talk a lot and it’s difficult for me to get a word in! We four (Soha, Kunal, Saif, Kareena) do meet socially. Recently we went out for dinner; we often go over to Bhai’s house as well.”

So is she Daddy’s girl or Mummy’s princess? “I generally think I’m both of their favourites. I do. Maybe my sister and brother think the same way and it could be a testament to the way we’ve been brought up.”

‘For two people in a marriage, to live together day after day is unquestionably the one miracle the Vatican has overlooked.’ – Bill Cosby

“I’ve always imagined marriage to be an extension of a relationship…maybe it’s just my naiveté. I live alone and I love that to a point where it’s bad for me, because sharing and living with others is something I’ve not done for a long time. You can’t tell your partner to get out of the house when you’re married. But I still don’t think I’ll be waking up early to make him breakfast!”

What does mum advise? “At the moment, Amma is just concerned about my cooking skills; she says it’s important to learn, not just for marriage but to get through generally in life. She cooks very well, as do my sister and father.”

What about a brood of babies – does she look forward to motherhood? “I think things will definitely change with a child. That’s when body, priority, everything changes and it all scares the hell out of me. I am so important to me – the idea of putting someone else before me is so alien! It’s easy to say I’ll take a bullet for someone, like my mother feels for me, but I can’t comprehend it.”

‘The woman cries before the wedding and the man after.’ – Polish proverb

“I hope I inherit an enviable trousseau – I should, right?” Soha has just changed into a zari embroidered tissue and silk sharara that has been delivered to us, delicately wrapped in mul; an exquisite pista green and almond shaded ensemble, belonging to her grandmother and worn by Sharmila Tagore on her wedding day. “Oh, is this Amma’s? I don’t even know what all my mother has – my sister has kept track of the family jewellery, she knows what is going to her and coming to me and Bhai. Amma already passes things on. But I live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in Bandra; where will I keep all her stuff?”

This is one girl who is going to be a rare clueless bride. “I have no idea what I’ll be wearing. I’ll leave it to those who know better, like Amma. If it were up to me, I’ll be getting married in shorts.” Not the kind of vintage heirloom she has on, at this moment? “Saif’s wife will be more likely to wear this than I!”

Sentiment allows for decisiveness though. “I do know that I definitely want one function, if not the actual wedding, to happen in Pataudi.”

‘Go to a place where you’re not going to be stressed, because a honeymoon itself can be a stressful thing.’ -Diane Von Furstenberg

Now this is more up her alley! “I wish I’d never been to the Maldives, as that would be ideal. I definitely think about the honeymoon more than the wedding. I like the beach, Kunal does too; it’s fun to just lie around all day and do nothing. I love cities too – New York and London, which is really home. I really want to visit South America, Ladakh and Kerala.”

‘It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.’ – Pablo Picasso

Soha has chosen a man who loves his choice of career, as does she. “The pros of being with an actor are that he will understand your work and your timings. The intrusion of privacy doesn’t bother me – mainly because I was brought up reading about my family in the papers, and I’ve seen my mother dealing with it. I’m not as famous as my brother or many other stars so it’s never been an obstacle to my life.  I enjoy my job; I would want to tire of this profession before it tires of me.”

‘If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.’ – Katherine Hepburn

A mantra to live by? For Soha, certainly.

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