Sonam Kapoor is successful, gorgeous, opinionated and independent. A flourishing actress and fashion star, she’s unafraid to brazenly speak her mind. In a candid tête-à-tête with Farhad J Dadyburjor, she opines on the Tarun Tejpal scandal, how the Indian male mindset towards women needs to change and whether Bollywood is a sexist industry.
Unlike several of Bollywood’s denizens who have an opinion on everything under the sun when they have a film to promote but remain fastidiously tight-lipped when a news controversy or exposé breaks, Sonam Kapoor prefers to be the opposite. She understands the importance of having a voice as a celebrity and is happy to say it as she sees it. “I think it’s very irresponsible not to have an opinion especially when you are at a stage where girls or young people are looking up to you as someone they can follow. And if you are diplomatic and say I have no opinion on this or no comment, then I think it’s a little irresponsible because as young Indians if we don’t have an opinion or don’t say it to the public then I think there’s no way we can progress. Because if there’s anything that we have, it’s our voice,” says Sonam. “It’s necessary to have a mind, it’s necessary to have an opinion, it sets the trend for people to follow.”
Having always been a supporter of women’s rights and extremely vocal in her outrage about the recent Shakti Mills gang rape incident whether on social media or at the rally held on Carter Road, Bandra, this interview comes in the wake of another shocker in crimes against women. The editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal has been accused of allegedly sexually molesting a young journalist of the magazine. “Honestly, you never know who is right and who is wrong especially when it comes to such high-profile cases. It’s very difficult to judge something that is so high-profile because often people want to make a bakra out of somebody,” explains Sonam. “Besides the fact that Tarun Tejpal has a lot of enemies who will put him out there in the media and say whatever they have to say, he is someone who has done a lot for the country and the media and if you look at some of the work he has done it is quite commendable. But at the same time I am sure there is never any smoke without fire!” she states. “I think at the end of the day it can only be figured out in the court of law. In a case like this, you can’t actually say who is right or who is wrong, it will depend on the facts that come out in court.”
She goes on to add, “But it’s a good thing that so much noise is being made about it because it’s also about the male mindset towards a woman. It’s about the way men look at women in India.” With the number of horrific stories of violence against women that get reported day in and day out, Sonam admits that it’s possible to get desensitised. “What really needs to change is the way mothers bring up their sons. They need to bring up their sons educating and explaining to them that a woman is someone who has given birth to you, a woman is someone who is probably way more capable than a man in taking care of everybody and everything around them, and that they are equal to them. At the grassroots level it comes down to the values that a mother puts into her son’s head because the most influence a child has is from his mother. And this can only come about with self-awareness, education and literacy,” feels Sonam.
What about with her own industry—how does she think Bollywood can bring about a change to this diseased mindset? “I’m a firm believer that art is always a reflection of society. And sometimes art can also propel change,” says Sonam. “So maybe there will be one or two films that will really wake the nation up and bring about an avalanche of change.”
Considering that male stars have much more longevity in the industry not to mention a fatter pay packet, does she ever feel Bollywood is sexist? “I think anywhere in the world, in every industry, it is a sexist industry. Whether it’s Bollywood, Hollywood or Tollywood,” states Sonam candidly. “I hope it changes...becomes equal. I think there was one point when Sridevi was as big a star as any of the actors. But you see, it’s all about the business you bring in, what is your opening at the box-office, and that’s how you get paid.”
Coming from a gene pool of film talent (her grandfather was a producer, her dad is Anil Kapoor, her aunt is Sridevi), growing up did she ever feel intimidated surrounded by such icons? “I didn’t look at them as actors or icons. They were my dad and my aunt. It was a profession at the end of the day, so I looked at them as relatives and not anything else,” says Sonam. “I mean, he was my dad and it was a job...at the end of the day I can’t separate him from anything else,” she laughs.
But surely they must have contributed to her wanting to be an actor in some way? “No, it wasn’t because they were actors that I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be an actor because I wanted to be an actor; and it was after I was discovered by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and he decided to cast me in his film that it all started. I think at the end of the day you should do what you want to do,” says Sonam, adding, “Growing up I wanted to be a director or a writer, but at the end of the day I guess destiny takes you where it has to take you.”
While this year saw both of Sonam’s performances in Raanjhanaa and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag being lauded by the critics, next year will see her in sister Rhea Kapoor’s production Khoobsurat. “We are currently shooting all over Rajasthan for it. We have the rights of the older Khubsoorat (the 1980s classic starring Rekha), but what Shashanka Ghosh (the director) decided is that he didn’t want to touch the earlier version and just use the spirit of the character in this film. It’s about how a girl can come into a family and bring about change and make it beautiful. It’s a romcom and a really happy film,” says Sonam, who will also be seen opposite Ayushmann Khurrana in Bewakoofian.
While her hold as a fashion icon remains undisputed, with Sonam being the face of several big-ticket brands and a muse to fashion gurus, when it comes to the craft of acting what does she think is her greatest strength? “I don’t know if I have any strength that is not anybody else’s (strength too). I think everyone has their own strength as actors...” says Sonam. “And I don’t know if I can say that this is something that only I have because it would be extremely immodest of me, but I think my strength is that I don’t shy away from working hard or doing things which are different. I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again.”
With another year coming to an end and just a few weeks to go before 2014, will she be partying or like some actresses working on New Year’s eve? “I don’t ever work on New Year’s or my birthday, I’d rather not have that money,” laughs Sonam. “I need to experience life... I can’t miss out on life whilst working. I always spend New Year’s with my group of girlfriends and my sister.”
Which brings us to her love life—the one area that Sonam maintains a stony silence. While rumours of an on and off relationship with director Punit Malhotra have been circulating on the grapevine for some time now, Sonam is not about to clarify anything. “I have always made it a point to never ever speak about my personal life since I’ve joined this industry. Right now, I’m not in any relationship. And until I decide to get married to someone, I will not be speaking about my personal life to anyone.”
This article first appeared in December 2013 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine