I’m like a horse with blinkers – Sonam Kapoor
Sonam Kapoor the star of Saawariya opens her heart. Sonam speaks about her father Anil Kapoor, her holiday plans, her expectations with Saawariya, and much more.
“I’m like a tap,” says Sonam Kapoor, about her histrionic ability to turn on laughter and tears instantly, at the thud of clapboard. “I can cry and laugh really fast.”
I don’t doubt that, but this is as good an opportunity as any to put the hyperactive newcomer on the spot. Cry, I say. “Uh, right now? Like, right-right now? You’re serious?” Sonam, smiling yet visibly confused, for one brief second, interprets the silence as solemn. Her lower lip quivers half an inch before I grin and she promptly breaks into hysterical laughter. Damn, how I wish we had video.
There is, shall we say, a lot of the aforementioned manic laughter in a conversation with this girl. Daughter to Anil and Sunita Kapoor, Sonam makes her motion picture debut in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya, barely a fortnight away. I’m sitting in her palatial drawing room in Mumbai’s starry Juhu suburb, massive canvases across the walls, ornate sofa arrangements and coffee tables adorned with much bric-a-brac. The tall heroine walks in, yawning and grinning at the same time, apologizes for being asleep and begs someone to get her coffee.
I should have known she didn’t need any. As if dropped into a cauldron of Red Bull as a baby, this girl is breathlessly full of beans and immensely wired, to say the least. So yes, when she says the toughest part of acting in Saawariya was being still, you believe her. “And I had to be still a lot. And I’m usually in emotional havoc all the time.”
Right now, the film has massive buzz. Not just is it one of those Bollywood events, a Sanjay Bhansali movie, but it is Sony Pictures’ first Indian production.
The budget has been massive and the hype machine is in complete overdrive, readying for the mega release on November 9. “It’s been overwhelming, sort of. It’s like a riot of emotions inside me. But it’s fun.” And the scary bit? “I’m the sort of person who feels everything at the same time, I feel too much. Every emotion is heightened, I’m an extreme person,” admits Sonam. “And I think that’s scary.”
Obsessed with cinema and all things creative, Sonam went to the United World College in Singapore, dabbling more with art direction. “I never really got into acting,” she smiles, vocally italicizing the word as she seems to do all relatively unreal, larger-than-life words — actress, Bollywood, Salman. “I did monologues for plays and stuff but that’s because I wrote the monologues. Otherwise, I never wanted to be an actor. A dancer maybe, not an actor.”
Bhansali changed that when she came aboard his last film, Black, as one of many Assistant Directors — including her Saawariya co-star Ranbir. “The first day I came to work on the sets and sir looked at me and said, `you’re an actress.’ So the seed was in my brain, and then I realized `Hmm, I like what Amitji and Rani are doing in front of the camera, I’m a little more interested in that, maybe.’”
Sonam, 21, has been learning Kathak since she was 6. “And like in dancing, acting also makes you use your body as a tool. I think it’s beautiful, the process of creating people, creating characters, through you.” She then randomly guffaws, going on to try and make me feel bad for making her miss dance class because of this interview.
Her dad never had reservations about her joining films. “Why would he be a hypocrite? He loves working in the film industry.” The shock was for her mom. “Well, her big thing was that I would be skipping University. Wasn’t because `I’m a girl’ or anything, but skipping Uni was a big step. My sister’s in New York University right now and my mom comes from a family of bankers and doctors. She was a little iffy about it but she’s chilled out now, because it’s the biggest launch anybody can get.”
“And she’s like, `you want to become an actor and you have Sanjay Leela Bhansali as your debut director, how can I have a problem with that?’” With mock-theatrical exaggeration, Sonam tosses her long straight hair back, and slips momentarily into tones of over-the-top melodrama. “As long as I’m happy,” she laughs. “And I am.”
“See, I am obsessed with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s work. I find a lot of layers in it. I mean, Devdas is not just a commercial film. It has heightened emotions, and flawed characters in a beautiful setting. He does overdramatise everything, and that is to reach to the front-row audiences. But the back-row audiences also go through the layers. I love the layering he gives. Everything is beautifully thought out, beautifully synchronized.”
Bhansali is known for being an extreme perfectionist. “Yes, but at the same time he’s very spontaneous and loves improvising. So that contradiction is amazing. Someone who thinks about something so much, and then can be so impulsive — I think that’s what makes him such a genius. I think I learnt that from him, to have a thought where you know you need to go from point A to point B, but that journey can be spontaneous. I like that.”
Fair enough, but does that makes it difficult for a first-timer playing his leading lady? “He’s always been a teacher to me, he’s my guru. And the thing is, it’s just like a subject change. From direction to acting. Now the professor’s teaching style won’t change, be it History or Literature, will it? So this is just a subject change,” she explains, before breaking into a cheeky smirk. “And I, like, get to look prettier.”
There are all sorts of technically bizarre stories about the notoriously reclusive Bhansali, about how he worked for three days on the lighting of one set. Sonam, however, doesn’t feel this obsession hampers the film. “He is the best director to work with, for any technician. He gives you the space and time you need. And if you’re conscientious of the fact that he’s giving you that, you try to do your best and do it as fast as you can and be respectful to the producer. I’m a producer’s daughter also.” Indeed.
Asked her favorite Anil films, she rattles off a list breathlessly, featuring Mr. India, Virasat, Tezaab, Lamhe, Ram Lakhan, Woh Saat Din, before giving up. “I like all his films, they’re all hot.”
Loving everything from Lawrence of Arabia to hardcore masala movies, from Chak De India to her father’s first production, Gandhi My Father, she leans forward almost conspiratorially before revealing another film she liked this year.
“I liked Jhoom Barabar Jhoom,” she says solemnly, waiting for a stunned reaction and then bursting into embarrassed giggles. “Yeah, I know! It’s so bad. Anyone I tell that to goes `whaat?’ You know, the thing is I went with a lot of friends and I had a buh-last! And it was after a long shooting schedule and I had to see it `cause I love Abhishek. And there’s music and colour and it’s a party, man! You have to leave your brains at home. It worked, didn’t it?” Um, no. She laughs, unquestionably candid.
Despite a tailor-made role written specifically keeping her in mind, don’t expect to see the effervescent Sonam playing herself on screen just yet. “The character is the complete opposite of me,” she says, putting a finger to her lips when asked about the character. “You know I can’t talk about it. I can just tell you that she is love. If anybody has to learn how to love they should learn from Sakina. I don’t think anybody has that strength, especially in this day and age, to love like that. It’s amazing.”
She’s known Ranbir forever, and can’t get over the coincidences. “It was so weirrrrd,” she says, stretching the word for emphasis, “because I and Ranbir even went abroad at the same time: he went to America and I went to Singapore. It’s just that everything that’s happened to us was always really at the same time. He’s one of my best friends, and I was so happy that he was my first co-star, because I can behave like an ass and it wouldn’t matter.”
Apparently – and this one should have no trouble believing – the lady puts her foot in her mouth rather frequently, according to herself. “He can’t judge me. Because he does all bodily functions, like burping and all in front of me,” she chortles. “We’re friends, man. And as an actor, you can’t have your guard up. You have to be completely open and vulnerable, and I can be that in front of Ranbir because I’ve known him so well, for all my life. So it’s cool like that.”
And she also had big co-stars, didn’t she? “Yeah, Hot Salman,” she giggles. “He was amazing. I had the most fun working with him. Because he’s so chilled out, and he gets the best food!” Yes, more uproarious laughter. “I was in awe of him ’cause I’ve been his fan. He and Shah Rukh are like my gods. I’ve gone for one or two holidays with Salman because he’s really close to my dad. As an actress I kept thinking I was going to die, but he was so cool about it. And the amazing thing about Salman is that he treats everybody the same. He is such a cool dude; he’s like a rockstar.”
And then there’s the question of competition. Saawariya is releasing alongside Om Shanti Om, a Shah Rukh Khan production determined to pull out all the masala stops, with Khan’s newly-acquired six-pack all over news channels. Pressure, then?
“No! Hello, Gadar and Lagaan released together, did anything happen to any of their businesses? It’s each one’s taste.” And then there’s a mischievous gleam in her eye. “What do you wanna watch? Tell me!” I try to get away, but admit I’d like to watch the fun SRK film first. “See, its cool,” she says, amid mock-sniffles, lending credence to her crying-at-will claims. “I want to watch it too, but I want to watch Saawariya first. It’s finished but nobody’s seen it. I’ve seen portions during dubbing, but I haven’t seen the whole film in a go.”
She refuses to say how she thinks she’s done. “I don’t know. I have no perspective, about myself. I can tell you that Ranbir is outstanding in the film, and Sanjay Bhansali is a genius. And Ravi K Chandran is… oh, everything is amazing about the film, but I can’t judge myself! No way!”
Sonam’s waiting eagerly to read the reviews, something her father doesn’t encourage, suggesting instead that she start working as soon as the film releases. “I said `doing what?’” she laughs. “He’s like, `go on holiday’ and I’m, like, `where?’ He said, ‘just try not to think about it.’ And I’m like, `how can I not?’ He doesn’t want me to hear the good or the bad. He doesn’t believe in competition, believing that it only exists with you. Just better yourself.”
And what if there are negative reviews about her? “I don’t know I’ll be cool about it?” she asks. “Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. And it can help to improve you, right? Or maybe, depending on the reviewer, feel better about yourself.”
“You know, I’ve worked for the last 4 years,” she says, suddenly putting on a martyred tone. “I haven’t had a holiday since I was 17 years old. I started working on Black, and till date…” She trails off, and then grins. “Movie offers are coming in, but seriously, I do need a break. I guess I’m too young to say that, right? I’m going to let my dad decide, because he has the experience and the knowledge, and wants what’s best for me. And I just really want to chill.”
“I’m like a horse with blinkers, to put it really delicately,” she smiles, almost coy. “I’ve been focusing so much on Saawariya that I don’t know where the film ends and I begin. I need some space, don’t you think?”