Perhaps it’s the fallout of being interviewed for 16 years and being asked the same kind of questions each time, but Kareena Kapoor Khan tends to pepper her replies with safe platitudes. ‘Moderation is key.’ ‘I’m a director’s actor.’ ‘To each her own.’ You cannot squeeze any sensational headlines out of that, and that suits her just fine. More interestingly, sometimes when you’re halfway through a question, she does a sort of mental autofill and answers the question she thinks you’re asking. It leads the conversation in a different, and sometimes more revealing, direction.
Like, when asked if she’s always loved herself, she sighs, “People have this impression of me,” as if she was being accused of something like arrogance. But this quality is one of the most endearing things about her. Kareena Kapoor (way before the Khan) has always stood out for seeming completely happy with who she is. It’s no coincidence that the roles she’s best remembered for — Geet from Jab We Met, Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, the title role in Chameli — are ones marked for their rebellious self-regard. She is pure charisma on screen and powerful in the hands of more ambitious directors, like Vishal Bhardwaj (Omkara, 2006) and Govind Nihalani (Dev, 2004). But even in her item songs, Kapoor has a way of rising above the macho tawdriness of whatever scene she’s placed in. No matter what the costume, she’s always feeling her look, and it’s so fun to watch.
Whether her confidence is a defence against being stared at nearly all her life or the result of it, Kapoor is a great example of the revolutionary effects of self-love. At 35, she’s glowing with good health, happily married, satisfied with the work she does and the price she commands (she should be, she’s among the highest-paid actresses in Bollywood) and almost cat-like in her contentment with life. So sure, maybe moderation is key and happiness comes from within yada yada yada, but what specific steps did Kapoor take to get to this happy place? That is really the only question we asked her, and, eventually, she answered it.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Kapoor first consulted nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar after she was nationally panned for her appearance in Don (2006). Diwekar recalls, in the foreword to her bestselling diet book, that there was no hint of self-loathing in the star. She made the commitment to get in better shape but she didn’t beat herself up over it. Kapoor says, “I was always very comfortable in my skin. Even when I was 68 kilos, like I was in Don or Refugee.” Later, of course, she whittled her body down to a model size. But her philosophy through it all has been, “Life is too short and no amount of success, fame or money can make you happy. At the end of day, I’d rather focus on spending time with my family, playing with my dogs and eating good food.”
KEEP AWAY FROM TWITTER
Just because you’re tough enough to face criticism doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to it all the time. You won’t find Kapoor anywhere on social media. It’s a shame, because she has a personality — and a strong selfie game — made for Instagram. “Social media is like a drug: if you have five million followers, you want to get to 10, then 15 — it’s never enough. Then, there’s so much scrutiny online and everyone has to have an opinion on everything. I’m a private person and I’m happier to be out of it.” Offline too, Kapoor is picky about the company she keeps. “I’m not too much in the Bollywood circles. It’s like, I’m there but I’m not all there; I’m close but I’m not that close. It’s nice to be a little balanced in a profession like this.”
EAT THE DAMN CAKE
“On holidays, the first thing I do is get pizza and french fries.” Kapoor has frequently described herself as a ‘greedy girl’. She wants the epic red-carpet moments and the fries, and everything in between. The secret to having it all, disappointingly enough, is portion control. Ration out your pleasures so that they don’t get in the way of your goals. So even on holidays, Kapoor says, she doesn’t fill her plate or her schedule, often choosing quiet evenings by the fireplace to hitting all the sights.
PITY THE FOOLS
Over the years, Kapoor has been criticised for a variety of things: she does too many brainless blockbusters (too much Rohit Shetty, not enough Mani Ratnam), she doesn’t get along with her peers (Aishwarya, Priyanka, Bipasha) and seriously, she’s better than some of those item numbers. It doesn’t bother her like it perhaps once did, but she’s not above throwing a tiny bit of shade at the haters. “Everyone should do what makes them happy; if tearing someone else down brings you happiness, you should do that.”
PROTECT YOUR PASSION
In an interview with film journalist Rajeev Masand five years ago, Kapoor said, “I want to be like Zohra Sehgal,” meaning she intends to be an actor all her life. “Dying in a studio, that’s my dream.” Her other film idol is Meryl Streep, so you know she’s serious about this. She says, “Most people don’t like their jobs. It isn’t what they’re interested in or it doesn’t play out the way they want it to. But if you’ve found a career you love, you must protect it. I’m passionate about my work, whether I’m doing a good film or a bad film. I’ve been working since I was 18 and I will continue till I’m 80.” A Hindi film actress in her thirties does feel the ticking of time more keenly than perhaps a Streep, though. Kapoor says, “We’re constantly running after the 20-year-olds. This is the circle of life, I don’t battle it. But no one can take my talent away from me. That’s my weapon and I protect myself with it.”
SAY YES TO NEW THINGS
If you’ve loved Kapoor patiently through the Golmaals and the Singhams, you’ll be rewarded this year. She has two interesting films out, with new (for her) directors. The first is R Balki’s Ki And Ka, with Arjun Kapoor, due to release in April. It makes the point that gender does not have to define roles in a marriage. In Kapoor’s own words, this is no Bajrangi Bhaijaan and there will be no on-cue crying. “It’s about a modern relationship, where the woman works and the man takes care of the house. I’ve worked nearly all my life, but, as much as he would like it, Saif is not a stay-at-home husband (laughs). I never draw from my own life for my films. I completely succumb to the director’s vision.” The other film is Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, with Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Punjabi movie star Diljit Dosanjh. This mid-2016 release features parallel track stories, all revolving around the epidemic of drug abuse in Punjab. Kapoor says, “It’s a dark film but I play one of the positive characters, a doctor. I knew I wanted to be part of this project as soon as I heard it. I don’t know about [it being a] box office [hit], but I’ve done enough of those.”
GET A DOG
When Kapoor moved in with now-husband Saif Ali Khan, he convinced her to let them get a dog, and she’s a convert today. “I call Leo, our pug, my first-born son. All he wants to do is eat and sleep. Elvis, our Jack Russell terrier, is a handsome fellow and gets a lot of attention when he’s out on his walks.” No matter how hectic her life, Kapoor says, she makes time for Leo and Elvis.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Another one of those autofill moments happens when Kapoor is asked what the best part is about doing an item number: “I enjoy song and dance. It’s not a crime. But everyone’s so vociferous.” Warming to the theme, “There are so many issues in our country, corruption, poverty, water problems, illiteracy, yet people make these statements about how item songs are affecting society. For years now, since Helenji’s time, we’ve been doing item songs. There are different kinds of movies being made today. Everything doesn’t have to have a message. We are actors, not politicians.” No, they’re not, and that’s why we love them. For all her detours, Kapoor does end up giving you the answers you were looking for. So, again, how does Kareena Kapoor Khan manage to be so happy with her life? Discipline and greed, blockbusters and small films, living on set and reading by the fire. A little bit of everything, with fries on the side.