Scene 1: The lo(u)ngueur
There are eight other journalists waiting in the lounge of Sonam Kapoor’s office. Most of them have been waiting for more than an hour now. “Please help yourselves to tea and snacks,” says Litya Harjani, Sonam’s manager, with an apologetic smile. “It is a busy day. Sonam has been decked up from 1 p.m. for the TV interviews lined up at night.”
It is 3.30 p.m. Tea arrives. An hour passes and more journalists drop in. Dressed in chic clothes, accessorised tastefully with danglers or a neckpiece, every member of Sonam’s PR team is armed with a sheet of paper and a pencil, busily ticking and scratching off names. At four, a boy comes with a tray loaded with pound cake, pizzas, samosas and biscuits. The third round of tea and coffee follows soon after. There is some yawning, some cosying up on the comfy couches, many glances at the watch and some swearing under the breath.
Scene 2: Meet the star
Finally, at five, my phone rings. “Sonam is ready for you,” I am told. Turns out we are not the only victims of ennui. Sonam’s pet Pomeranian, Bacardi, lies asleep at the foot of the stairs and doesn’t even flinch when we pass by. As I reach the landing, Sonam’s high-pitched laughter and sing-song banter lead me to her room. Marble flooring, silk upholstery and antique furniture—the room reminds me of a Maharaja suite in a five-star hotel. Sonam, dressed in a green and blue Ekru ensemble, is in a position halfway between sitting and lying on the long couch. Evidently bored and restless, she stretches her long legs, plays with her hair and talks animatedly, spicing it up with ample gesticulation.
Scene 3: Innocence unlimited
We start with some small talk. She tells me the same things. “I am doing a special appearance in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,” she says. “It is an essential yet small role.” Sonam charged only Rs 11 to act in the movie. True? “Yes, that’s true,” she says. “I did it for the love of the script and for the love of [director] Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. Milkha is a passion project and it is amazing to be a part of such a huge project.” There is a twinkle in Sonam’s eye. “You know what?” she says. “I realised that the only way to be a part of this film was by not charging any money.” She laughs with her mouth wide open. An innocent, naughty laugh.
Scene 4: Me, the headliness
So, how does she handle her critics? “I have never been criticised as an actor,” says Sonam. “I am very self-critical. I am never satisfied with my performances. Be it in Raanjhanaa or Milkha.” She takes a long sip of something hot from her mug. “But I have criticised a lot of people myself,” she says. Her PR manager throws her a warning look. “It is true,” she says with a laugh. “I have! That is the only thing people criticise me for—being a little too straightforward. But I give good copy, no? So, it is fine!” She adds, “You know what they call me? The headliner… or was it the headliness?” But hadn’t she recently decided to be ‘more diplomatic’? “No!” she shakes her head in disagreement. “I have never said that. I will always be straightforward. I don’t think I have any diplomacy in me.”
Scene 5: Under a spell
Sonam loves stories. As a child, her mother would read out fairy tales to her, sitting by her bedside. She tells me her fairy tale now. “I always wanted to be a filmmaker,” says Sonam. “But, suddenly there was this amazing mistress who came to me and said, ‘Come! Fall in love with me!’. Her name was acting.” She pauses for a dramatic effect. “And, I fell in love with her,” she says. “So as soon as I fall out of love and get fed up with my mistress, I will go to another one called filmmaking.” Has the mistress ever disappointed you? I ask. “Not at all,” she says. “There is no downside to being me. I love every minute of the last six years I have been working. I love the way I have changed and grown as a person. I feel I have a long way to go as an actor. I can be a much better actor. I can be a much better person. I have to learn a lot.”
Scene 6: Sartorially speaking
The make-up woman touches up Sonam’s face with a thick brush. She sets her flowing skirt right and starts curling up a strand of her hair on her finger. Does the ‘fashionista’ tag bother her? “Noooo! I looooovee it. I am a girl and I love dressing up. Now they have started talking about my acting also, no?” she asks. I smile.
Scene 7: Paperback princess
“I am a geek,” says Sonam, when I ask her about her interests beyond movies. “I like reading. I love travelling. I love eating. I like good food. I like good wine. I like anything that is indulgent to the senses.” She smiles in the satisfaction of having aced that one. Readathons are her favourite sport, she says. Nothing but reading, non-stop, day and night. “I just finished reading a very bad book called Inferno by Dan Brown and this really cool book called Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn,” she says. “Right now, I am reading a novel called The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Have you read it? It is really nice.”
Scene 8: Sonam, the feminist
In a 2012 interview at the Cannes Film Festival, Sonam said, “I am a hardcore feminist. I could burn my bra like now.” She seems to have changed her mind. “Maybe, I don’t want to burn it now,” she says, laughing. “But, that doesn’t mean I am not a feminist. I love being a woman and I celebrate it.” People should stop complaining that women are being depicted badly on screen, she says. “Honestly, I think 98 per cent of art reflects what is happening in society.” So, does she believe that art has no influence over society? “It depends,” she says. “There is always that one unconventional thing, be it a play, painting, movie, speech or song, that shakes everybody to the core. Like Dil Chahta Hai changed a lot of things. The Dirty Picture and Kahaani are other such milestones that made a huge difference.”
Scene 9: Family first
Although she is fiercely independent, Sonam still stays with her parents. “It is only because of my dad that I am in the industry today,” she says. “I did have it easy but I believe that a star kid can sustain stardom only with talent.” Sonam says she learnt her first lessons in fashion from her mother, Sunita Kapoor. “My mother is a strong and incredibly idealistic woman,” she says. “She is my role model in life.” But when it comes to films, she idolises yesteryear heroines Waheeda Rehman and Nutan.
Scene 10: Slow and steady
Six years and just nine films. Why so slow? “I am ambitious. But I am not here to do n number of films,” says Sonam. “I like to take my time. I don’t like to do too many things at a time.” Did a series of flops—Thank You, Mausam and Players—make her cautious? “Definitely not!” says Sonam. “I had, in fact, signed Raanjhanaa even before Thank You or Players released. I was offered many big projects but I was waiting for the correct thing for me to do.” The character, director and how the film will help her grow as an actor and person are the criteria that decide whether she will do a film or not. Mujhse Fraandship Karoge director Nupur Asthana’s untitled rom-com with Ayushmann Khurana and Shashank Ghosh’s remake of the 1980s hit Khoobsurat are two films that have caught Sonam’s fancy now. “But, before all that, after Milkha releases, I’ll take three months off,” she says with a yawn. So, I decide to end the interview.
As I get up to leave, Sonam gets a quick touch-up done. It will be another five hours before she can take off the make-up and curl up with a book. But Sonam smiles the same way she did when I entered the room and slips into a playful banter. The girl is not lying. She enjoys every bit of the stardom.