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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 26, Dated July 3, 2010
Q & A

‘Walking out of a movie that failed is like walking out of a grave’

Kareena Kapoor, at the top of her game, enjoys unpretentious blockbusters and off-beat films equally. She tells NISHITA JHA that Indian audiences only pretend to want ‘alternative cinema’

Meet the diva Kareena Kapoor takes a break in her vanity van after 40 gruelling hours of shooting for Golmaal 3 and a Sony Ericsson advertisement

Kareena Kapoor is on the sets of Golmaal 3 in Film City, Hyderabad. At 28, she is one of the most recognised faces in the country. Lead her beyond the usual conversation about yoga and size zero and you find someone with an acute interest in the business of Bollywood. Between takes, she talks about growing up in a woman-centric family, the audience's confusing tastes and the advantages of being in a relationship with an older man. Excerpts:

When did you become aware of the fact that you were born to ‘film royalty’?
Ever since I became aware of the world, I’ve known that I belong to a film family, I was always aware that the attention my family was getting was because of my grandparents and Karisma. There was a lot of attention on me too — through my teens everyone knew I would join the industry one day, that all the directors would work with me. But we’re pretty normal. It just means the industry is home. We are all very opinionated when it comes to cinema. My mother loves films like the Golmaal series, Singh is Kingg — the real masala. Karisma is more mushy (laughs), she likes films like Love Aaj Kal, Jab We Met. I’m very drawn to good performances — I enjoyed Kaminey and 3 Idiots… I act in films that are highly ‘masala’ but I’m not into those films at all. I like Vishal Bhardwaj and Rajkumar Hirani’s films more.

What about your cousin Ranbir Kapoor?
No we’re not very close. While growing up, we interacted, but not too much, it wasn’t anything like those big families you see in films!

How did your parents’ decision to not live together affect you while growing up?
There was no legal separation. My father comes over every day. He’s always been around so I never missed him.

Saif has always said to me, ‘Work with whoever you want, just don’t bring them home’

Your sister made her debut at 16. How did her struggles prepare you ?
Our parents brought up Karisma and me to be independent — we were career oriented from age 10 — acting was all we thought about! Karisma struggled for many years to achieve what she eventually did. Her failures made her what she is today. It’s easy to become a superstar through successes, but very hard to emerge as a superstar out of your failures. So many actresses are part of successful films, but they are easily forgotten. Walking out of a failed movie is like walking out of a grave. I attribute everything I have today to all my unsuccessful films, to all the misinformation and vicious gossip. I used to hang out on Karisma’s sets all the time, which helped me establish great equations with all her co-stars like Ajay, Salman or Akshay. That made things easier. I felt like I was just waiting to emerge in front of the camera! I toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer for a year but it was hard work of a different kind, which I was not prepared for. This is my calling. It’s easy to get carried away with your success, so I was lucky. Even my films not doing well didn’t frazzle me much because of my mother and sister.

So what gets you frazzled?
(Pauses) False information about me used to make me vey upset… but then I realised there’s just so much of it around. I had to believe my audience was smarter than to swallow all of it. Over the years I realised that clarifications just lead to more clarifications and you end up giving importance to people who shouldn’t occupy your mind. I have attained nirvana now! (Laughs) I don’t feel the need to react anymore.

Mistress of spice Kareena on the sets of Golmaal 3

Do you feel Bollywood gives heroines their due — in terms of roles?
I don’t get to display the same kind of talent as I did in a film like Omkara. But that is the balance an actor must strike for themselves. I want to do a Dev D and an Omkara, but I also want to balance it with films like Jab We Met, Kambakkht Ishq or Golmaal Returns. My success lies in acting in a film like 3 Idiots, which is a totally male-dominated film, but Pia’s character is memorable for her drunken scene, or the dhokla scene with Aamir. I don’t want to be a goody-two-shoes or a glamorous doll all the time. Men will never be totally incidental in Indian cinema (laughs) but a lot of them also play eye-candy. Aamir, Shah Rukh and Saif are the only really concentrated actors.

Do you feel women today are as liberated as they seem? There is an overt expression of sexuality...
Most of our society has a double standard. But I think looking sexy, eating right or working-out shouldn’t be about other people — that’s how I would define being liberated. Do it for yourself, not for your boyfriend or to compete with anyone else. My profession demands this kind of attention to physical beauty; but I think women should feel mentally and physically healthy, feel good about themselves no matter where they wake up and go to work in the morning.

In an industry where people go to extremes to hide their relationships, you’ve been very open.
I firmly believe in honesty and openness. My parents have taught me to be forthright. I don’t come from a herd of actresses who hide their age or their relationships because they are afraid of losing their fans. Kajol and my sister were both at the peaks of their careers when they got married, and are still adored by their fans. If I’m in love, I want to celebrate it openly — I owe the man in my life that kind of respect.

What was it about both Shahid and Saif that drew you close to them?
don’t want to talk about the past. I want it to be a cherished memory for me, I’ve shared some lovely experiences with him [Shahid] and I don’t want it to become tarnished because it will always be an important part of my life. As far as my present with Saif goes, (smiles) I’m enjoying where we are — we do see a future together. At the moment, he is in the process of opening his own production house, I’m shooting four films this year — so everything is on hold for a year. The fact that he’s a man of the world draws me to him. He has a life apart from the movies. He does less films, chooses the ones he really believes in. He loves to read and travel… he has such an active and curious life, that’s what I really love about him.

I used to get fed up and never read. Saif taught me to enjoy reading. It makes your life richer and even improves your acting! It truly has helped me. I’m a slow reader but I like it! We both enjoy talking about movies, but another thing I’ve learnt from him is not to bring our work home. We might discuss a film over dinner, but not the gossip about cast and crew, or who’s doing what movie and why. Saif actually told me once “When they bother you, tell the press you want to be number 10 because it’s cooler, and you’ll do great work at that position. Just be the coolest chick in Bollywood.” And that’s what I’d rather be (laughs).

What is the power equation between the two of you?
It’s pretty equal — we are both free to work with whoever we want. I’ve worked with Shah Rukh, Akshay, Shahid, Ajay… so many actors in the past five years. He’s always said, work with whoever you want, just don’t bring them home. As far as decisions are concerned, he does ask me for advice — and sometimes my advice can be quite crappy, but he considers it. It works the same way for me. Sometimes I ask him to read a script for me, and he might say “I don’t think this works for you”, but the decision is ultimately mine.

What do you treasure about the way the industry was and the way it is now?
Financially we are reaching the skies. Technically as well cinema has really grown! I don’t know if it has improved on the whole though, because the audience’s taste is quite bizarre. They still like comedies like Golmaal but then I guess even Hollywood has its slapstick films like The Hangover. It’s confusing, because they love a film like 3 Idiots — a film with great human stories, but also with very typical Indian emotions. They want stories but with a commercial Zoobie Doobie twist to it. So you realise that they still need that sense of familiarity. Off-beat films like Kaminey are great, but they don’t do too well at the boxoffice. We like to say we’re ‘changing’ because it sounds cool, that we’re into this ‘alternative cinema’ but I don’t know how much of it is true!

Cinema has transformed almost completely from Raj Kapoor’s time, but that was real cinema. There was no ‘alternative cinema’ in those days, there were just great stories — well-written and beautifully told. Right now, if we tell a good story it’s classified as parallel cinema, and if it has some songs and fun in it, it becomes commercial. I miss the cinema of Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand and Guru Dutt, but I don’t know if the audience does.

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 26, Dated July 3, 2010

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