India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Cover Story
January 14, 2008

Poised to Soar

Text by Sona Bahadur. Photographs by Vishesh Verma. Make-up by Vimi Joshi. Hair by Bhagyalaxmi

In a memorable line from the movie, Notting Hill, Julia Roberts tells Hugh Grant: ‘I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.’ Sonam Kapoor is a lot like that. A girl — pretty, earnest, determined – standing in front of moviegoers, asking them to love her. Verve discovers a girly exuberance beneath the grown-up attitude

Sonam Kapoor loves coasters. Their absence on the tray of snacks before us – ham and pesto sandwiches and crostini – on this day makes her fidget uneasily. The tense face relaxes into a smile only when little wooden mats find their way under our glasses. “I’m obsessed with cleanliness. I’m a neat freak.”

She also tells me that unlike Sakina, her character in Saawariya, she’s completely in control. Always. “I don’t laugh too much. I don’t cry too much. And I never giggle.” A minute later she chuckles as she dips the edge of her sandwich in tomato sauce. “We Indians love to ruin everything with ketchup!”

During the course of our hour-long conversation at her Juhu home, Kapoor quotes from Ayn Rand, Bertolt Brecht and the Bhagwad Gita. The theatre arts graduate knows her Stanislavski from her Artaud. She talks about the books she’s reading currently – The Feast of the Roses and The Twentieth Wife – and opines that Dostoevsky’s White Nights was written from a purely male point of view. She aspires to own a Ravi Varma painting one day “when I’m rich”.

It’s clear the lady wants to be taken seriously. But beneath the nerdy, intellectual is an irrepressible 22-year-old who’s excited as hell about the fact that she dressed up for a Saawariya do the day before. “I wore a red corseted Carolina Herrera dress with my Gina shoes and carried a beautiful Swarovski clutch. My hair was in curls and I wore mum’s diamonds. I felt like such a glam queen!”

Shy, fearless, sure, vulnerable, determined, confused, naïve and wise, Kapoor is an endearing combination of girl and woman. One moment she’s a hard-headed career woman, next moment she’s a die-hard romantic. She describes her style as boho chic but also loves her Chanel. She’s also trying to figure what went wrong with Saawariya. “There were so many contradictions in what the media reported. People said the movie didn’t do as well as expected. But the numbers show it did do well. People said ‘the film has beautiful sets, great performances by Ranbir Kapoor and me, good music — but it doesn’t work for us’. Well, if you liked everything about the film, why didn’t it work for you? People said the script was weak, but I think there was a clear story line. People said the film was long, but it was only two hours!”

Although her performance didn’t get the same glowing reviews as Ranbir’s, Kapoor stands her ground. “No one said I performed badly. One or two reviewers were not so favourable to Sakina’s character. They felt it wasn’t etched properly. But critics who have interacted with me earlier because of my dad gave me great reviews. They knew I had played the complete opposite of my real self. Some people complained I didn’t get to dance in the film. But I’ve been a Kathak dancer for the last 14 years. Every posture of mine in the film was choreographed. I got the lead role in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. I was the girl all the men were falling for. How can I complain?”

Dad Anil Kapoor forbade her from reading any reviews initially. “He said it ruins your innocence as a performer. If it’s positive, you think you’re too good; if it’s negative, you lose your confidence. Dad has been in the industry for 30 years. He will tell me where I messed up. I’ll only go with his and my director’s opinion.” Right now she is content to bask in her family’s adulation. “Sri (Sridevi) chachi loved me in the movie. So did Boney chacha, Sanjay and Maheep (Kapoor). Mum was in shock that I could actually act.”

Ask her about Om Shanti Om and omissions speak louder than words. “It was an out and out SRK film. I enjoyed it.”
The mention of her bête noire Deepika Padukone elicits a measured, carefully thought out response. “I think Deepika is a great dancer and a great looker. Kudos to her because she comes from a non-film background and must have worked so hard to get here. But she and I are totally different.” How so? “I don’t know how to explain. We just are. Intelligent directors will never pitch us for the same films. And even if we are competing for the same roles, there are so many production houses, so many successful filmmakers. They can’t all be taking me or Deepika. She and I won’t have the dates!”

With Saawariya behind her, Kapoor is now poised for her real innings in Bollywood. This is where she really takes off.

What advice did Bhansali give his protégé for her journey ahead? “He just said to be myself and to be honest to my art. He told me that people who went down in history were the ones who didn’t conform to fit in. Amitabh Bachchan is different looking, came from a different background. But he is a living legend. Rani Mukerji is dark, short, with a husky voice. She’s the top actress in the country. And don’t forget my dad — small eyes, not at all conventionally handsome, but look at where he reached.”

Kapoor, who says she wore Nehru kurtas and pants and went to school in Arya Vidya Mandir, Juhu, admits she has led a protected life. Late nights and staying over at friends were taboo and she was seldom allowed to go anywhere without a driver or a maid. The umbilical cord is not quite broken yet. At the Verve shoot, mom Sunita Kapoor hovers protectively, asking for lassi for ‘baby,’ guiding her through the shoot. Kapoor laughs it off as a transitional phase. “I love mom to be around. She is a support system. She accompanies me to the sets because she is a little scared I might not be able to handle myself with people. But she’ll back off gradually. Already I’m doing more things without her.”

The debutante is entirely at ease with her father handling all her professional assignments. She sees her lineage as a major advantage and doesn’t believe in being coy or apologetic about it. “I’m very much at home in the industry. Most people have known my dad and been home. On the set of Saawariya, it was easier for me to act with Salman (Khan) because he’s dad’s friend. I’ve been on holidays with him. Even Sunny Deol, who never comes to a premiere, came to mine because dad called him.”

The poor box-office faring of her debut hasn’t dampened her spirits. The promos of Saawariya were instrumental in getting her a lead role in Rakeysh Mehra’s next film, Dilli 6. “Rakeysh made a cult film in Rang De Basanti. He cast me because he liked the way I looked on the screen. Our first meeting was amazing. I was this 22-year-old sitting with a guy who’s way older and having a one-on-one conversation. It was so cool!”

Kapoor who lost a whopping 30 kilos for her role in Saawariya doesn’t lack in spunk or determination. “I relate to obsession. It means sticking to your guns, to your hope, to being committed. If you promised something to someone, you have to stick to it.” She’s committed to staying on in Bollywood. Gym workouts, artistic yoga, dance sessions with Shiamak Davar and Kathak three times a week are all part of “sticking to it”. She’s preparing for her new role and she waxes eloquent. “Once you get the internal process right, the external process follows automatically. I sit in on readings, watch movies for references, read the script again and again. I try to understand the eccentricities of the character.”

On the subject of love, the self-confessed romantic is waiting for her knight in shining armour. “He should just be intelligent and a decent human being.” He should also be slightly good looking, taller than her 5 feet 10 inches and a health freak. “You have to be attracted to the man. Leonardo di Caprio is God. And Johnny Depp is really, really hot. I also like Sean Penn, though he is a little weird.” Closer home, she finds Ranbir Kapoor very good looking but says she’d rather remain just friends with her Saawariya co-star. Abhishek Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan are both awesome. “But that’s also because they are taller than me.”

Did I detect a hint of a…. giggle?

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