Her life and her portfolio mark Kareena Kapoor out as a risk-taker
Anupama Chopra on Kareena Kapoor’s act of disruption
When we think of female game-changers in Hindi cinema, Kareena Kapoor Khan is not the first name that comes to mind. To start with, she’s a fourth-generation actor, born into film royalty and extreme privilege. Though I suspect that even if she weren’t from the esteemed Kapoor khandaan, the green eyes and alabaster skin would have eventually led to an acting career. Secondly, she’s never been one to intellectualise her process. We rarely hear her talk about what it took to become Dolly in Omkara or Geet in Jab We Met. She says she’s a director’s actor and leaves it at that. Thirdly, there have been too many decorative roles with superstar heroes (Ra. One, Bodyguard) and flat-out awful films. Kareena’s filmography is littered with duds that provide endless fodder for memes – think Khushi with Fardeen Khan or Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon with Hrithik Roshan.
And yet sprinkled amidst the run-of-the-mill roles are outliers that suggest an artist who likes taking risks. Way back in 2004, when she was only 23 and four years into the business, Kareena did Chameli, in which she played a Mumbai prostitute who, underneath the brittle exterior, is compassionate and loving. Despite being way out of her comfort zone, she threw herself into Omkara (Vishal Bhardwaj’s reworking of Othello) and excelled as Desdemona, here called Dolly. In 2012, there was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine, a pulpy, tabloid-ish portrait of a fading star. Mahi is insecure, rash and so desperate for success that she uses her own sex tape to generate publicity for her film. Kareena let go of vanity and played her with the right mix of haughtiness and wretchedness. In 2016, she agreed to do a comparatively smaller role in Udta Punjab because she wanted to be part of Abhishek Chaubey’s searing story about how drugs have devastated the state. Her character, Preet, is the moral centre of the film.
Kareena’s life choices have also helped to shift the narrative for women in film. In 2012, she married Saif Ali Khan. Defying conventional Bollywood wisdom that audiences aren’t interested in married women, her career continued to flourish post marriage and even motherhood –– she worked through her pregnancy and after giving birth to Taimur, delivered Veere di Wedding, a female-led ensemble movie which opened at over 10 crore (a box-office record for a film predominantly about women). Kareena’s last film, Good Newwz, made over 300 crore worldwide.
This year, she turns 40. But there is no dimming of her desirability quotient –– she continues to be a style maven. She continues to be an in-demand product endorser. And she continues to be a showstopper at various fashion shows. She’s a bona fide leading lady in an industry famously squeamish about age (only for women of course).
This year also marks Kareena’s 20th year in film. She’s busy shooting Lal Singh Chaddha with Aamir Khan and will soon be playing Jahanara Begum in Karan Johar’s ambitious period saga, Takht. Kareena’s longevity is itself an act of disruption. May her tribe increase.