19th December, 1.33 a.m.
I’m munching on a surprisingly edible cottage cheese and corn puff at the Clipper Lounge, whilst waiting for my cover girl Sonam Kapoor to finish with the check-in process of her two luggage pieces stacked with six bikinis, eight sundresses, 23 wraps, three beach slippers and four evening sandals. This is a downsized selection; I have spent the last evening at her tastefully furnished Juhu bungalow, trying to get her to discard the extra load. After all, we’re only heading to the Maldives for a one-and-a-half day shoot, where she will be changing in and out of Christian Dior ready-to-wear instead of her own.
But that’s Sonam for you – delightfully enthusiastic and always fashionably prepared for any situation. It’s a different matter that the most practical accessory she may need, a pair of Bottega Veneta shades, have been crammed without their protective case into her quilted Chanel tote. “The cover was too bulky babe, it wouldn’t fit in my bag,” she says and shrugs.
All offers of sustenance are refused as a new ‘diet plan’ is in action. But that doesn’t stop us from discussing mouth-watering favourites, “Kobe beef and black cod at Wasabi. Pav bhaji and pani puri at Elco Market. Cheese and caramel popcorn. Edamame with a spicy chilli powder. Mumbai-style Italian at Mangi Ferra. Bukhara in Delhi, Nobu in New York, London and Milan. Thai Pavillion at the President; actually, Thai anywhere in Bangkok and Singapore,” Sonam rattles off. “Good food is good for my well-being.”
4.00 a.m.: As we try to catch some shut-eye on the short flight to Colombo, I’m smug in the knowledge that this shoot will be a total breeze. I have a friend cum can’t-get-a-frame-wrong, model-like lithe superstar as Verve’s face of February. A photographer who has given us some of our best covers in 2008. A make-up artist who got the brief within two minutes of our telephonic conversation.
6.23 a.m.: Six groggy-eyed passengers from the Verve crew and one fresh-faced, buoyant Sonam Kapoor make their way through the transfer hall in Colombo, onwards to the flight to Male. We arrive at eight a.m. and have a couple of hours rest before hair, make-up and a whirlwind photo session begins.
12.15 p.m.: Diets be damned. Urgent refuelling is the order of the day with baskets of croissants and muffins, ham and cheese omelettes, onion uttapams, salmon and cream cheese bagels and waffles with maple syrup. Washed down with repeats of pretty pink lemonade (or more accurately, rose flavoured nimbu paani). The excitement is palpable as we discuss Sonam’s second release, after a gap of more than a year. Knowing her penchant for high fashion and her almost fanatic fervour to find the perfect outfit for every occasion – and that includes a trip to the manicurist – I wonder if this passion extends to her portrayal in films as well. “I am very particular. I’ve learnt from my father that it’s important to work with the director, understand his palette for the film and then make suggestions. And I’ve been lucky to have worked with intelligent directors who appreciate my sense of aesthetic. I insisted on designer Anamika Khanna for Delhi-6. Her sense of fabric, colour and print has made my ‘simple girl’ look in the movie so different.”
3.00 p.m.: The process to create the Verve look begins. Tonged extensions, golden skin, sweeps of aqua and hot pink and a fringe of lashes. Having seen the sophisticated, grown-up allure of Sonam in numerous editorial avatars, we have decided it’s time to explore the youthful, sometimes-soft-sometimes-fierce raw sensuality of this captivating 23-year-old. She sits patiently through the ritual of glamazonian transformation. “I believe in shringaar, it’s part of our culture. Although I take only 20 minutes to get ready for anything.” (I later verify that the time taken is closer to an hour).
4.30 p.m.: I dramatically unveil the Dior booty. We’ve undergone a clothes trial a few days prior to departure, but the shoes, bags and accessories are like new eye candy for this irrepressible addict. I gently remind her of the family conference that took place on the evening of the trial, when she was severely reprimanded for her outrageous spending over the last few months. “Rhea and Harsh are more spoilt than me,” she counters, commenting on her siblings. “But I do spend more money than them,” she quickly admits. It’s possible that this deep-rooted obsession with fashion is connected to some childhood experience. With a vigorous nod, the blame is squarely placed on the shoulders of “my mom and masi. They were always surrounded by beautiful things and would buy me the most outrageously fashionable clothes…a dream for any little girl. My sister and I have grown up to appreciate Roland Mouret, Geoffrey Beene, Hervé Léger – some of whom have become insanely popular only recently. We adore vintage – I often shop at Frock, New York and One of a Kind, London. We love shoes too – you should see Rhea’s collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin. And jewellery – antique, art deco, old, new, jadau, diamonds, you name it. My mother designs her own pieces so I liberally borrow from her but I am eyeing Prada’s new selection of costume jewels and some Chanel is always welcome. I would love to buy Cartier eventually; can’t afford it at the moment. I am really trying to understand and appreciate the current recession.” (That doesn’t stop a white Grecian Monisha Jaising tunic, black sequinned Armani ballerinas and a purple Givenchy clutch quietly making their way into her wardrobe a couple of days later.)
5.30 p.m.: Make-up and hair done, sea green chiffon dress slipped into and chunky turquoise and beaten gold necklaces affixed, the first shot of the day is about to begin. And that’s when our creative director, Falguni Kapadia, decides to dunk Sonam in the azure waters swirling around the stilts of her ocean-side villa. I am horrified at this risky and risqué move; we are definitely about to ruin a carefully constructed look, not to mention totally squelching the gently billowing folds of couture. Will we achieve sexy without going overtly sexual? Before I can argue my point, Sonam cheerfully descends into the role of mermaid. I watch in wonder (and some concern) as she morphs from mischievously playful to sublimely come-hither to quietly beatific. When the clouds go suddenly grey and a tugging tide threatens to drag her away, we pull her out. Shivering and spluttering, she still pauses to interact deeply with the camera lens. Fifteen minutes later, we sit back enthralled, knowing a nymph goddess has been created before our eyes.
7.00 p.m.: Pack-up. We decide to reconvene in a couple of hours to celebrate a good start with some wines at the sea-facing bar.
9.00 p.m.: A hurricane wouldn’t get us out of bed. So much for this party-loving motley crew’s debauched evening plans.
20th December, 6.30 a.m.
I head towards villa 403 with a flirtatiously girlish short fitted dress and a pair of bright blue flat sandals studded with Swarovski. Naturally, Sonam squeals with delight on spotting the latter, insisting on buying them on the spot; her valid reasoning for this purchase being a consistent demand and scarce supply of chic, heel-free footwear to keep her five feet nine inch frame in check. I refuse to part with the pair (the memory of the family conference hasn’t faded yet). Miss Kapoor pouts, managing to enhance her effortlessly sexy aura which is being complemented with tousled curls and a printed off-shoulder LaRok tunic (one of her many packed separates has come in use this morning). “Right now, I am more grunge, more Boho,” she explains, as I comment on this style statement. “I would love to describe myself as Audrey Hepburn with a twist. As I grow older, I will veer towards cleaner lines and brands that suit my age, like Calvin Klein and Hermès.”
8.30 a.m.: We attempt to walk through a ridge of rugged stones to reach the very tip where Sonam will sprawl carelessly, one with rock, water and sky. Only, the trillion vermillion crabs halt our progress. That’s about the point when the thunderstorm envelops the Taj Exotica with full force. Oh, did I mention this shoot was going to be a total breeze….
11.00 a.m.: Dolefully sipping on pink lemonade and mindlessly munching on pretzels. One could call a rainy atmosphere almost romantic I presume. “Romantic is watching a great film, with strawberries, cream, chocolates and a guy who smells really good by your side!” Sonam exclaims. “Romance is giving meaningful gifts, even a simple note that says ‘Miss You’. Romance is knowing that I invoked a feeling in my guy without his realising it.” Well, so the rain has really no use then.
12.30 p.m.: The storm looks like it’s going to lash at us for another month; Vishesh suggests a back-up plan involving sensual mood shots, soft lighting and the dry environs of the indoor Presidential Suite. I refuse to compromise; I want bright sun, clear skies and a gloriously tanned Sonam Kapoor standing tall amidst this breathtaking backdrop of nature. We argue back and forth, reaching no conclusion. A bottle of wine is uncorked and peace ensues.
1.30 p.m.: We head to the all-day dining restaurant, moderately uplifted by the thought of gorging on Vietnamese curry with prawn crackers. On the buggy, alighting at the lobby to collect umbrellas, walking past the hotel boutique – every step of the way – Sonam stops to greet members of the staff with brilliant smiles and gracious pleasantries. Where does she find it in her to be so easily approachable when all that the rest of us can manage is a disgruntled nod? Freak of impeccable upbringing, I guess.
2.30 p.m.: A sliver of golden sunlight peeks through swollen clouds. Food forgotten, we rush to retouch make-up; the short dress is quickly zipped up again and we resume with regained hope.
3.30 p.m.: “Get me out of these ridiculous heels!” Teetering on six-inch stilettos while maintaining lissom poise on wobbly wood planks cannot be easy, but who said torturing your favourite celebrity is out of order? Vishesh is on a roll as we smoothly pace through one outfit after another with blinding speed….
5.30 p.m.: We discuss favourite vacations when the camera finally takes a short break. “A family holiday to Rome in 2007 and a few weeks in New York with my sister in 2008. For me, good food, scenery, shopping and meeting new people make for a great holiday. I don’t plan ahead; no lists of where to eat, what to buy. I love exploring the culture, history and architecture of any city – going to museums is a must, especially the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).”
8.00 p.m.: Our evening of revelry begins. As we slowly devour our three-course meal of lobster ravioli, lamb steaks and grilled fish, the intimate setting and honeymooning couples around us inspire a swap of love stories. “My parents are obsessed with each other to this day. Theirs has been a typical poor boy-rich girl romance…one from Chembur and the other from Nepean Sea Road! To date, they speak on the phone at least five times a day; Dad can’t do anything without Mom. Their marriage gives me hope, but at the same time it raises expectations.”
No one can match this endearing tale; the conversation swiftly moves towards the topics of wine and parties. “We’ve always had big parties at home. Great wine, flowers, candles and catered food from The Leela are a must. If it’s food cooked at home, we do authentic Indian or American. Music selection and the right mix of guests is important too. If it’s a sit down dinner, we do a course by course meal on the terrace, otherwise it’s buffet style with lots of finger food like stuffed mushrooms with cheese, asparagus sticks, crêpes, olives and lavache with hummus. One of my favourite parties has been our Diwali bash in 2007, the day Saawariya released. Everyone from family to friends was there; it was a typical Punjabi party with lots of dancing.”
21st December, 5.30 a.m.
The previous night of fine dining has been long forgotten. The last leg of the shoot is yet to be completed; we head to our designated spot and Sonam executes a sinuous panther-like stance. And that’s it; our finale shot is captured in a matter of moments and we wrap up. There’s still a few hours to go before Sonam’s departure (she leaves on an earlier flight), so we stroll leisurely through the library, beach and spa – all our plans to snatch an hour here or there and float along the pool or try an aromatic massage have crashed. As always, work takes precedence and Sonam is heading back to Mumbai for more of the same. She will soon be announced as the latest brand ambassador for make-up giant L’Oréal, in celebration of their centennial year. “I’ve been refusing brand endorsements so far; I never found the perfect fit until now. L’Oréal is an ethical, resilient brand; they look for longevity with their ambassadors and always opt for women with substance – like Penélope Cruz and Aishwarya Rai. I couldn’t refuse an opportunity like this.”
11.00 a.m.: As Sonam stops to offer a few words of thanks and encouragement to every hotel employee on her way to the speedboat, I sense a rush of sadness on being separated from this infectiously sunny presence. She’s gotten under our skins and wowed us with her style, her honest confessions, her giggly chatter and most of all, her no-holds-barred genuine warmth. She’s a wonderful friend to have and that’s her biggest asset.
As for the shoot, what did I tell you…it was a total breeze….