A star is reborn: Anupuma Chopra on Kareena Kapoor Khan - Hindustan Times
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A star is reborn: Anupuma Chopra on Kareena Kapoor Khan

Nov 10, 2023 08:05 PM IST

The actor is sidestepping glamour, to play women driven by grief and desperation. It’s a far cry from Poo and an exciting new direction for her, Chopra says.

“I don’t want to do stardom anymore,” Kareena Kapoor Khan said to me a few days before the release of Jaane Jaan, looking every inch the star. Styled in Sabyasachi, her skin glowing, by turns cheeky and charming, she floored the live audience at our interview (a Film Companion Front Row event).

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays a detective grappling with personal tragedy, in her new film, The Buckingham Murders. PREMIUM
Kareena Kapoor Khan plays a detective grappling with personal tragedy, in her new film, The Buckingham Murders.

Her co-stars in the film, Vijay Varma and Jaideep Ahlawat, both graduates of FTII (the Film and Television Institute of India, in Pune), seemed a little in awe of her industrial-strength stardom. At one point, Jaideep told the story of how, on the first day of their shoot, she made him pout for photographs. To which she replied: “Kyun, FTII mein pout karna nahi sikhaya (Why, didn’t they teach that at FTII)?”

Late-career Kareena is a thing of beauty. She owns every bit of her talent, allure and fame. She has been an actor for 23 years now, and has a filmography littered with successes such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Jab We Met, 3 Idiots, Singham Returns, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Veere Di Wedding. But through her oeuvre, one can spot streaks of rebellion. There is Sudhir Mishra’s Chameli (2003), in which she played a sex worker; one of her finest roles, Dolly (the Desdemona equivalent), in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006), a reworking of Othello; the small but memorable role of a doctor trying to save the few she can, in Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (2016), about how drugs have hollowed out that state.

This subversion of the stereotype of the Hindi-film heroine seems to be in full bloom now. In Jaane Jaan, Kareena plays a single mother who uses everything she has, including her allure, to keep her daughter out of the shadows of her own troubled life. Her desperation and determination acquire a power of their own.

Her new film, The Buckingham Murders, is far more unexpected. Directed by Hansal Mehta, she plays a detective coming to terms with a personal tragedy as she attempts to solve the case of a missing child. Jaane Jaan, directed by Sujoy Ghosh, has moments of playfulness and mischief. The Buckingham Murders is awash with pain. Bereft of make-up and even a smidgen of seductiveness, Kareena powers the film. It was the opening screening at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival late last month.

It’s interesting to think that one of the actor’s most iconic roles is that of Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001), a fashionista who famously declares she is only interested in “good looks, good looks and good looks”. In The Buckingham Murders, the actor, now 43, is willing to look frayed, even haggard, because that is what the character requires. And here’s the kicker: she was recently shooting for the next instalment in the Singham series, with Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh. Any actor who can juggle projects by Hansal Mehta and Rohit Shetty has my admiration.

In a previous interview, I had shared with Kareena my theory that as a glamorous, middle-aged, married mother-of two, she was reshaping the idea of what constitutes sexy in Bollywood. She smiled and said: “Just because I’m 40 doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be desirable.”

Indeed. And the desirability is powered by performance, which makes it even more potent.

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