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The will to be free

Kapoor hates the fact that women in Bollywood are slotted as being either beautiful or intelligent.  

Sonam Kapoor is happy to talk books, art and feminism right before her film's release. She is in no hurry to impress upon me how fantastic her role is, how different it is from any character she has played before, or how hard she has worked.

Perhaps she has done too many promotional interviews for Neerja, that releases today at the box office. Or maybe her interests stretch far beyond her sphere of work. Nursing a sore threat, she sips some warm water from a mug, and begins talking. “While I was growing up, I realised I had a very eclectic taste for a young person,” she recounts. “I used to read a lot of heavy books, as well as fantasy and science fiction. I found it difficult to communicate with people my age,” she recollects.

Do her friends in the Hindi film industry read as much as she does? Kapoor cannot recall any of her co-stars who relish the company of books but she mentions three filmmakers who do -- Ram Madhvani who directed her in Neerja, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who worked with her on Delhi 6, and Shashanka Ghosh who directed her in Khoobsurat.

In fact, Madhvani gifted her a Kindle recently, so that Kapoor can continue reading even while she is on the move. She likes fiction as well as non-fiction. These days, she is reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks, and The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.

Kapoor hates the fact that women in Bollywood are slotted as being either beautiful or intelligent, as if the two attributes cannot co-exist. She remarks, “Stereotyping is a disease that affects the whole world. For me, fashion is art. People inclined towards the arts often have strong ideas about what they wear. Look at Frida Kahlo and Katharine Hepburn, for instance. I find dressing up very artistic.”

Kapoor, who studied theatre and arts at the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore, is a diligent follower of the art scene in India. “Among contemporary artists, I like Jayasri Burman, Shibu Natesan, Anju Dodiya, and Atul Dodiya. Among the masters, I love Jehangir Sabavala, S. H. Raza, Amrita Sher-Gil, Jamini Roy, and some works of Raja Ravi Varma. Then there is this Sri Lankan artist called Senaka Senanayake. I am also interested in Pakistani miniature paintings.”

She tells me that she wanted to go and see the Jehangir Sabavala exhibition in Mumbai in 2015, and listen to Canadian writer Margaret Atwood at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January this year. However, she had to give both a miss. “I have been a mainstream film actor since the age of 22, so that identity follows me. I would love to just sit and listen like everyone else. But I guess I can now go only as a guest.”

Has this been a heavy price to pay -- the fact that being famous does not allow her to do ordinary, fun things that other people can? “There has been a price, certainly. But a small price, not a heavy one,” she remarks. “Because of my work, I have also had opportunities to travel all over the world, meet some extraordinary people, and have great conversations. I've also got a platform to speak up about things that matter, to connect with young people like myself and effect change.”

Lately, the actor has spoken up in support of the LGBT community against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Kapoor shares, “Some of my closest friends are gay. Why can't we be tolerant of who people want to love? I don't think we should be close-minded. Everyone should have the freedom to be who they are.”

Kapoor is known for being articulate, and she feels inspired by women of courage and conviction. She plays the titular role in Neerja, based on the real-life story of Neerja Bhanot, chief flight attendant on the hijacked Pan Am flight 73 at Karachi Airport in September 1986. Bhanot was murdered while saving the lives of over 300 passengers from terrorists who had boarded the plane.

Kapoor says, “I love Neerja because she did not differentiate between Hindu, Muslim and Christian passengers, or between American, Pakistani and Indian passengers. She did her duty, regardless of the situation she was in. And she did not lose her self-respect.”

She adds, “Neerja was honoured by the governments of India, Pakistan, and USA. That was probably the only time all three countries agreed on something. Moments of incredible human kindness can unite people. I know this sounds a bit filmi but sab ka khoon laal hi hota hai. Being Indian does not mean that I cannot be friends with Pakistanis. Being Hindu does not mean that I cannot love people of all religions. Deshbhakti or patriotism is not about blindly following or loving everything about your nation. How will we grow if we overlook what needs to change? It's the same at a personal level as well. As an actor, if I surround myself only with yes-men and sycophants, I will never grow.”

Kapoor describes herself as a feminist, and is surprised that many young women are reluctant to embrace feminism. She thinks that the real meaning of feminism has been lost because of the misperceptions floating around. “I might not burn my bra but I am very proud of being a woman. Feminism is about giving women equal rights. It's an approach that can be owned by anyone who believes in equal rights for women. Men can be feminists too. For some strange reason, people do not seem to know this.”

She mentions her father, actor Anil Kapoor, as an example of one such man. “My father has inculcated in me the idea that I should never shy away from having a certain opinion. I am proud of my upbringing, and I hope every woman can be fearless - like Neerja.”


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 4:15:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/in-conversation-with-sonam-kapoor/article8256361.ece

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