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Cover Story
September 15, 2006

The Taming Of BEBO

Text by Vivek Kamath. Photographs by Jatin Kampani

Mull over the number of high profile films she has turned down. Contemplate the high profile duds she signed on. Wander into Shakespeare terrain and it is almost like a comedy of errors. But Kareena Kapoor has seen success and failure and treated both impostors just the same, observes Verve

She pouts and preens. But you are in queue…. At Mumbai’s Mehboob Studio, Mickey Contractor is putting the finishing touches on Bebo’s (Kareena Kapoor) make-up. This is a silence zone. Make-up over, she will repair to the shooting floor where photographer Jatin Kampani awaits, lights and camera on the ready.

Her buddy, Niranjan Iyengar (who wrote the dialogue for Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and is here sporting a KANK jacket) has popped in to see her (“I’ve known her since she was nine and used to come for shoots with her sister”.) Soham Shah, the Dharma Productions director, who made Kaal is here as well.

It will be a while before you can get your 15 minutes of Bebo’s fame. You wonder how much you can pack into 15 minutes. You wonder if you can pack in anything at all.

You wonder.

You wonder if you should just document Bebo’s silence. Her silence, did, after all, speak reams in Omkara. She is silent in her opening scene as she rides in the back of a cycle-rickshaw, an island of serenity in the chaos of UP traffic. She silently breaks down when she senses her relationship is on the rocks for reasons she cannot fathom. And she is silent in her closing scene, as she lies on a jhoola, the doomed bride in all her wedding finery. By the time her seething husband realises his folly, death has done them part. It is a different matter that death, ironically, reunites them just a few moments later.

You wander into Shakespeare terrain. You mull over the number of high profile films Bebo has turned down. Also, the number of high profile duds she signed on. Comedy of errors, anyone? On a more serious note, but still very much in the Bard’s vein, you marvel at how she has graduated with honours from the school of hard knocks.

You decide you will muster the courage to talk about her failures and how they have shaped her. Sir William might have called it ‘The Taming of Bebo’.

A STAR IS BORN AND UNMADE
As much as a Ford is born into automobiles and a Rockefeller into wealth, Bebo was born into the movies. The question was not whether she would get into the movies. The question was whether she would start her career with Kaho Naa Pyar Hai or Refugee.

She walked out of Kaho Naa… and did Refugee. It seemed a safe bet. One was a movie with the son of a failed actor. The other paired her with Bachchan Junior. This was a dream pairing, the prince and the showman’s granddaughter.

If only she had read the tarot cards, the tea leaves. The Roshan and Roshan team hit bull’s eye and continues an uninterrupted run of success, three films and six years into the millennium. Refugee sank without a trace. It began a nightmarish run of 17 duds for Abhishek till daddy dearest stepped in and team Bachchan and Bachchan struck gold with Bunty Aur Babli, Sarkar and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.

Ameesha Patel, who stepped into Kaho Naa…, followed it up with Gadar and seemed to be making a career of being in the right place at the right time. It is a different matter she flamed out so big time that starting a barbecue restaurant was a logical move (which, incidentally, she did make).

And Bebo? She set the box office on fire with her very second film, Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai. The male lead was Tushaar Kapoor. Bebo was certainly the bigger star. She had arrived. Projects with A-list producers, Subhash Ghai, Shah Rukh Khan, Yash Chopra, Yash Johar and Sooraj Barjatya, were up next. This line-up was Bollywood’s equivalent of Mount Rushmore.

From here, the only way to go was up. That certainly was the direction Bebo’s nose took but the films, alas, faced a different fate. Subhash Ghai’s Yaadein, Shah Rukh Khan’s Asoka, Yash Chopra’s Mujhse Dosti Karoge and Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon all turned turtle. Only Yash Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham made blockbuster grade. Even that advantage was squandered when Bebo allegedly bickered with the producer over her fee for his next film, Kal Ho Naa Ho. Bebo’s loss was Zinta’s gain as the Preity woman went on to win over the industry heavyweights Yash & Yash (Chopra and Johar, if you must ask).

Her sister’s broken engagement with Abhishek Bachchan was a personal setback given how fond and protective she is of Karisma (Lolo to friends). Even professionally, it estranged her in an industry that is notorious for its cliques. Those close to Bollywood’s first family distanced themselves from the firebrand, Bebo.

It took a Bollywood outsider, Mani Ratnam, to cast Bebo in a film with Abhishek (Yuva) but even there, they were not cast opposite each other and did not share any screen presence. As for Bachchan Senior, he met his commitment to Dev, which was a work in progress. But that was about it. In Bollywood, where much is suggested but little stated, nobody talks about these things. But the subtext is there for all to see.

When Karisma got married to a businessman from Delhi, an entire section of the media busied itself reporting the guest list from the film industry. This was a time for the industry to take sides, which it predictably did.

Bebo, whose star power was never in doubt, did some decidedly fringe movies and even took refuge in numerology, changing her spelling to Kareina in the hope that matters would improve.

It didn’t work. She switched back to Kareena. The tigress had mellowed but she was still a tigress. No matter how you spelt her passport name, Bebo would always be Bebo.

A STAR IS REBORN
For a fourth generation Kapoor, stardom was almost a given. But so also, it seems, was adversity. At a time when single mother households were not as common as they are today, Bebo and Lolo were raised by their mother. “Ours was an all-women household and Mom is an immense source of strength.” She adds that she’s friends with her Dad and says, “He’s a buddy.”

Bebo admits that her mother and sister are her two closest friends. “I can talk to Mom about anything and I mean, anything. As for Lolo, no matter where I am, I call her every two hours. We run everything by each other.”

Bebo certainly has her sister’s work ethic. Never mind the lemons like Talaash: The Hunt Begins and Dosti: Friends Forever, she shone with films like Chameli, Hulchul and Yuva.

Another indication of her staying power is her list of brand endorsements (totalling five at last count). While Airtel dropped her a couple of years ago, Pepsi has retained her on their star-splashed roster for five years running. After Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, she has perhaps the longest running contract with Pepsi.

“I have learned more from failure that I have from success,” she states candidly. “Failure is a part of life. What counts is how you deal with failure.” From the bratty ‘Poo’ in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to the demure yet steely Dolly in Omkara, she has made the transition from girl to woman, while remaining every inch a star.

She’s even worked those inches. By all accounts, she’s in the best shape of her life as is evident in 36 China Town and Omkara. “My trainer, Yasmin Karachiwala, has designed a fitness programme that combines weight training, power yoga and pilates. We train every day. It’s weights one day and yoga and pilates the next. Yasmin has seen me from my fattest to my skinniest.”

Up next is Farhan Akhtar’s Don. It releases in the week of Diwali/Eid and Bebo’s rendition of Helen’s timeless Yeh mera dil promises fireworks this festive season. Then, there’s Mani Ratnam’s Lajjo opposite Aamir Khan. And a return to the Dharma fold with Soham’s next film starring John Abraham and Sunjay Dutt.

Kareena Kapoor is born again.
You can’t tell if the glow on that porcelain face is from Mickey Contractor’s brush, from her newfound success or from love. Ah, love. As if on cue, Dinah Washington’s voice rings through the iPod sound dock.

“It’s heaven when you Find romance on the menu.”

She’s off with Shahid Kapoor for a skiing holiday in Austria. He loves skiing and she’s confident she will pick it up too. Shouldn’t be too difficult. She’s been known to handle downward slopes with élan. This much you know for sure.

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